McGirt v. Oklahoma: Responses from Queer Indigenous Oklahomans

In July 2020, the Supreme Court ruled for McGirt in McGirt v. Oklahoma, acknowledging that Congress has never extinguished the reservation lands set aside for the Muscogee Creek Nation in 1866. This means 47 percent of the state of Oklahoma, an area that’s home to 1.8 million people, is still Native land. We asked two Indigenous and queer Oklahomans what that decision means for them.

Lane Holcomb, 24, Cherokee, Sallislaw, Oklahoma, she/her/hers

My relation to the lands of Oklahoma is complicated. Being Cherokee means my actual homelands are half-a-country away, but the Cherokee Nation here in Oklahoma is where we thrive and survive, continue to pass on traditions that have been upheld for centuries. I was born and raised here. I was fluent in my tribal language when I was younger. I’m born of a long line of beautifully independent women who have built a home for themselves in Oklahoma. Colonizers tried to get rid of us, but our ancestors survived. Our elders are still keeping our arts alive—basket-weaving, speaking our language—they’re here and ready to teach young people those things. That’s what this land means for me.

I hope the McGirt v. Oklahoma decision helps jumpstart the activism movement that I’m seeing begin in Oklahoma. People are starting to move to support Black Lives Matter and other activist fronts. There were protests in Tulsa and Tahlequah earlier in the summer in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. It was refreshing to see such pride. We’re an extremely southern state, part of the Bible belt, so it’s hard to find ground where voices aren’t being muted by conservative voices, which are a majority here.

I’m still hoping we can move toward more recognition of the injustices and disparities faced by the Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ movement, and inclusion of those voices in the protests. In the protest in Tahlequah, I didn’t see any trans or queer people. I don’t know anyone from that community who went. No one chanted “Black Trans Lives Matter.” It’s sad to feel overlooked even in movements for justice. But there’s definitely starting to be a shift, and I think McGirt is part of that. It makes me hopeful. It makes me want to be a part of it. Just because you hear of Native activists, bloggers, or actors using their voice for the better doesn’t mean the job has already been done—we turn their voices into our voices. We’re better and louder as a community.

Kao Morris, 25, Creek Freedman from Muscogee Creek Nation, Claremore Oklahoma, he/him/his

Community engagement and service has always been part of me. I work for Oklahomans for Equality in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, part of the Muscogee Creek Nation. I’m the BIPOC Program and Digital Media Coordinator, and Director of Tulsa Pride. I wear many hats: media content editor and program facilitator for the centers’ People of Color and IndigiQueer programming. I also serve on the Mayor’s Police and Community Coalition to help address police and community relations and develop recommendations to better serve our community.

Before Oklahoma became a state, it was Indian territory. The land bolstered successful Creek and Black towns and communities, including Greenwood (aka Black Wall Street) in Tulsa. Greenwood was one of the most successful Black communities in existence, because the Black Native freedmen could live free lives in the Indian Territory. After Indian Territory became a part of Oklahoma, Greenwood was destroyed in 1921 by white citizens of Tulsa.

I believe the McGirt ruling can return Eastern Oklahoma back to the equity and prosperity it had. A Nation of Natives that is inclusive and committed to serving all its citizens and those who live within its borders. My relationship with all reservations is freedom. That freedom was denied and stolen, but now it is handed back. As a symbol of this, the Dennis R. Neill Center flies the Muscogee Creek Nation Flag.

The reassertion of tribal sovereignty in Oklahoma through McGirt has impacted me as a 2SLGBTQ+ person by not recognizing one of my identities—as a bisexual man. If I wanted to marry my boyfriend, my marriage wouldn’t be recognized. Our tribal constitution prohibits same-sex marriage and same-sex marriages performed in another state or an Indian Nation aren’t recognized by the Creek Nation. This is one of the issues the McGirt ruling has brought to the surface. This tribal code leaves our queer Native brothers and sisters vulnerable and excluded, especially those living within the reservation.

We must take a stand and be loud, be bold in fighting for our rights and visibility. Our tribal ancestors walked the Trail of Tears and it was our Two Spirit people who buried and took care of our fallen ancestors along their journey.

I want to end by saying that Oklahoma is more than what people may think. We are diverse. We’re strong and resilient. Living in a highly conservative environment has made our Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ community strong and focused on what matters. I know a lot of people say things about moving to bigger cities or liberal states, but if we abandon our home and community, who will be the one to stand up and say no? Who will be the voice for those here who don’t have a voice?

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