The U.S. Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. State of Oklahoma clearly changed the criminal justice system in Oklahoma. In reaffirming an aspect of sovereignty that never went away, the ruling required tribes to beef up their law enforcement and court systems. This couldn't happen overnight, but that's no reason for naysayers to grumble. Considering how long it took Oklahoma's processes to evolve, it's remarkable those facets of Cherokee Nation government have come together as quickly as they have.

Perhaps certain cases aren't wending their way through the system as quickly as some might like, but prudence and a thorough approach that takes in the "whole picture" have always been part of the Native character. "Justice" is complicated, and it may have many more layers in Native philosophy. It's not about vendettas, but about righting a wrong.

Also affected by McGirt is how the media reports crimes and court proceedings. Shortly after the decision was issued, members of the "mainstream media" - which includes the Tahlequah Daily Press - had discussions with communications teams from various tribes. That was an important step, because availability to the public of information on state, or district, cases follows a different timeline than with federal cases - and by extension, tribal cases. Native tribes may be subject to federal law, but not state law, much to the chagrin of Gov. Stitt and others.

It's complicated, but in a nutshell, while the media has access to crime reports, arrest records and pending charges in state cases, they generally aren't privy to details on federal - or tribal - cases until formal charges are filed. That's an important distinction, because some readers have carped that while newspapers publish reports of arrests from "the white man's cop shop," as one perpetual complainer crudely put it, they seem to give tribal members accused of crimes a pass. In the same breath, the malcontents accuse tribes of "suppressing" crime stories involving their citizens.

A staple of jurisprudence is "innocent until proven guilty," and the same holds true for these allegations. There is no evidence at this point to suggest tribes have mounted a wholesale coverup operation for their miscreants, any more than would be true of other law enforcement agencies. Yes, certain law enforcement agencies have been known to hide reports implicating their own employees or prominent citizens, so it stands to reason that sort of behavior could occur with tribes as well. However, it makes more sense that tribes would want everyone living in Indian Country, regardless of race, to know they are doing their best to protect and serve, and to mete out justice in a timely fashion.

Newspapers, including TDP, have been publishing information from communications teams of both the U.S. Attorney's Offices and tribal governments in their coverage areas. A number of people convicted in state courts, then released due to McGirt, have already been put back behind bars. The observation of most media following this evolving situation is that tribes and feds are working at a steady pace to bring these cases to bear. Sometimes the cases will be reported in a lump sum, and at other times, through a single release.

Not all tribes have open records and meetings acts, but the Cherokee Nation does, and while there may be different processes for obtaining information, media in the 14 counties are working with tribal employees to ensure full disclosure to the extent that it's possible within the law. No one is "covering up" anything, either from the tribal or media standpoint. After all, if that happened, it would quickly become public knowledge.

As with anything else, patience is a virtue, and eventually, the truth will always come out.

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