Kickapoo reservation disestablished over 100 years ago, appellate court rules

An Oklahoma appellate court rejected the appeal of an Indigenous man who claimed the state did not have the jurisdiction to prosecute him for a crime because it was committed within the boundaries of the Kickapoo Tribe’s Oklahoma reservation.

In a 15-page ruling handed down Thursday, a state Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that while 52-year-old Aaron Charles Buck was correct in his assertion that Congress did establish a reservation for the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma in the central part of the state, he was incorrect in his claim that the reservation still exists.

“We affirm the trial court’s legal conclusion that Congress explicitly disestablished the Kickapoo Reservation and find that Buck was properly subject to the jurisdiction of the District Court of Pottawatomie County when he was tried for the crimes charged in this case,” the Court of Appeals wrote.

This ruling means only six tribes in Oklahoma have seen their reservations continued existence reaffirmed following rulings by either the Oklahoma Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court. The Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminole, Quapaw and Choctaw tribes’ reservations have been acknowledged as existing reservations with the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling that determined the Muscogee Nation reservation had never been disestablished.

Buck is currently serving a 90-year prison sentence after a jury in Pottawatomie County convicted him of three counts of lewd or indecent acts to a child younger than 16. He was convicted in 2021.

According to the tribe’s official website, the historic boundaries of the Kickapoo tribe are in Oklahoma, Pottawatomie and Lincoln Counties. The crimes were committed in Pottawatomie County.

The court agreed with the trial court’s findings that the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma reservation was established by Congress in 1883. The court also agreed that in 1891, the tribe gave up a major portion of its reservation to the U.S. in exchange for 80-acre land shares for each of the tribe’s 300 citizens.

In December, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that in 1900, Congress disestablished a reservation for the Comanche, Apache and Kiowa tribes in western Oklahoma. This overruled previous claims that the state did not have jurisdiction there.

In his appeal, Buck also challenged his conviction and sentences based on the use of the word “victim” by the court during the trial in front of the jury. He also claimed that he was provided with ineffective assistance of council. Both challenges were denied by the court.

The appellate court acknowledged that the court called the complaining witnesses “alleged victims” during Buck’s trial. However, the trial court instructed the jury in written instructions about the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.