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CFR Court History

HISTORY

The first Court of Indian Offenses in the area that was to become the State of Oklahoma was originally established prior to statehood in the Indian Territory in 1886. The original Court of Indian Offenses was created to provide law enforcement for the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache (KCA) reservation. Several prominent Tribal leaders served as judges of the court including Quanah Parker (Comanche), Lone Wolf (Kiowa) and several others. An Indian police force provided the law enforcement for the KCA, Cheyenne-Arapaho, and other reservations. Thus, the Court of Indian Offenses pre-dates Oklahoma state courts by several decades.

After the reservations in Oklahoma were opened by land runs to non-Indian homesteading, and federal Indian policy sought to weaken Tribal governments and break up Tribal land holdings, the courts over time lost their funding and consequently ceased to function. With the void in the enforcement of Tribal law, the state began to assert its authority over the remaining tribal and allotted Indian lands even though no jurisdiction properly existed. In recent decades, the Indian Tribes have regained the jurisdiction over these lands and have re-established Tribal court systems.

The State of Oklahoma once contended that Tribal governments had no authority to operate their own justice systems, arguing that the Indian nations had no land remaining under their jurisdictions. Much confusion arose because many thought that Tribes only asserted jurisdiction over “reservation” lands. Many people in Oklahoma incorrectly assumed that reservations were terminated at statehood. Recent court decisions have made it clear that Tribes assert jurisdiction over all lands that are “Indian country”, including reservations, dependent Indian communities, and Indian allotments. These Indian country lands from the basis of Tribal jurisdiction today. Since few Indian tribes had operating judicial systems in place in the late 1970's. When Tribal jurisdiction was re-affirmed, the Court of Indian Offenses for the Anadarko Area Tribes now the Southern Plains Region Tribes was created. Courts of Indian Offenses are established throughout the U.S. under the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), providing the commonly used name — the “CFR” Court”. Until such time as a particular Indian Tribe establishes their own Tribal court, the Court of Indian Offenses will act as a Tribe’s judicial system. The only difference between CFR Courts and Tribal Courts is the form of laws they enforce.

When the court was re-established in western Oklahoma in 1979, there were four CFR Courts covering eighteen Indian nations. A number of Tribes have since established their own systems of justice. Accordingly, the CFR Courts for these Tribes have been deactivated. In 1991, a separate CFR Court system was established for Eastern Oklahoma Region Tribes covering eastern Oklahoma, which is headquartered in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

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