HomeInvestmentA Cherokee Official’s ‘Treasonous’ Dissent

A Cherokee Official’s ‘Treasonous’ Dissent

The Seal of the Cherokee Nation at the Cherokee War Memorial on the Nation’s Capital complex, Tahlequah, Okla.


Brent Soule/Zuma Press

Wes Nofire

is a former professionally ranked heavyweight boxer running for Congress in eastern Oklahoma. The June 28 GOP primary for the 2nd district features more than a dozen contenders, including a state Senator and a police chief, but Mr. Nofire has a unique selling point.

He’s a sitting lawmaker on the Cherokee Nation’s 17-person Tribal Council. And he thinks the Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling has been disastrous for everyone. “Right now, it’s dangerous to every Oklahoman,” he says, “whether you’re an Indian or you’re non-Indian.”

This position hasn’t made him friends among his tribal colleagues. One recently said Mr. Nofire’s view “borders on being treasonous and traitorous to Cherokee Nation.”

The McGirt ruling, decided in 2020, revived six Native American reservations in Oklahoma that cover close to half the state and almost two million people. Mr. Nofire, who says his father’s first language was Cherokee, initially thought it might be a proud moment to get tribal recognition from the highest court in the land. “But with that,” he adds, “it takes great responsibility, and like any government, you have to hold the government accountable.”

The immediate challenge is what Mr. Nofire calls a “crime wave.” Oklahoma can’t prosecute crimes within reservation boundaries if they involve Native American perpetrators or victims. The federal government has jurisdiction but is overwhelmed. The Tulsa World newspaper reported this week that since McGirt was handed down, eastern Oklahoma’s U.S. Attorneys have received 5,847 criminal referrals that have gone unprosecuted. Tribal courts can pursue Native suspects, but their efficiency is disputed.

Mr. Nofire points to news stories about

Tyler Tait,

a former physician in the Cherokee Nation’s health system. Mr. Tait was charged with domestic assault and battery in January 2021, according to the Cherokee Phoenix. That charge was dismissed under McGirt and sent to tribal prosecutors in April 2021. Months passed. In October, Mr. Tait was arrested for allegedly murdering a nurse. He pleaded not guilty.

Suddenly, the tribal court moved on the previous domestic assault. “The next day, you see that Cherokee Nation refiled those charges in their court, so you know that they could have done that,” Mr. Nofire says. “But there’s a problem and there’s a broken system in play.” He thinks most Cherokee members see McGirt the same way he does, in contrast to the tribe’s leadership.

Mr. Nofire is running in a GOP primary, so he emphasizes his opposition to abortion and support for gun rights. He also has bigger criticisms of Cherokee officials. “They have such a connection to

Joe Biden

that he sent his own wife down here to meet the chief,” Mr. Nofire says. “They’re now trying to turn Oklahoma into a border state.” The tribe is in talks to open an immigration facility that could house 4,000 minors seeking asylum, although Tulsa County last week denied a requested zoning change.

Those criticisms aside, Mr. Nofire hopes that if he wins election to Congress, he can serve as a bridge between state leaders and Oklahoma’s tribes, leading to some type of mutually agreed McGirt settlement, along with whatever federal legislation is required to bless it. “Because I’m a half-blooded Indian man, and the way I speak,” he says, “I’m able to thread that needle and bring everybody back together.”

Journal Editorial Report: The week’s best and worst from Kim Strassel, Kate Bachelder, Mene Ukueberuwa and Dan Henninger. Images: Paramount Pictures/Zuma Press/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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