OKLAHOMA CITY — A recent landmark ruling from the nation’s highest court clarifying tribal reservation boundaries doesn’t mean Oklahomans should skip filing their tax returns this week, officials said.

State tax officials said personal returns and taxes owed should still be filed like normal by Wednesday, regardless of whether Oklahomans live on reservation land.

“(Our) legal division always thoroughly reviews cases with potential tax implications for Oklahoma citizens,” said Paula Ross, a spokeswoman with the Oklahoma Tax Commission. "We would currently advise citizens to proceed in the manner that they normally file their Oklahoman taxes.”

In a 5-4 decision last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that large swathes of eastern Oklahoma, including parts of Tulsa, fall within Native American reservations. Experts said the ruling could alter criminal justice proceedings because Indigenous people who commit crimes on reservation land must be prosecuted in federal or tribal courts.

Some observers, though, also questioned whether the ruling also would have broader implications over areas like taxation and property rights.

“State and local individual tax liability is fact-specific and will depend on the person’s circumstances, as is the case now,” the state’s Attorney General’s Office said in a one-sentence response.

It did not elaborate further.

Alex Gerszewski, a spokesman for Attorney General Mike Hunter, said the ruling would have no impact on property taxes.

Earlier this year, the Tax Commission and the federal government extended the normal filing tax deadline from April to July 15 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That extension included the annual requirement to both file returns and pay any taxes owed so that nobody would face any penalties or interest.

Oklahomans also can apply for both a federal and state extension that would push filing until Oct. 15, Ross said.

But state records show the vast majority of Oklahomans already have filed their taxes.

Through July 10, Ross said, the Tax Commission said it had already received more than 1.6 million returns. Through the same date last year, the agency received 1.7 million.

Nearly 65% of filers have claimed refunds, which average $403.27.

In all, Oklahoma processed nearly 1.85 million personal tax returns through Oct. 16, 2019, Ross said.

“Federal Indian law is complex, but when all is said and done, this ruling is great for the Tribes, though most non-Indians will not really notice much of a change,” said Stephen Greetham, senior counsel for the Chickasaw Nation.

He said resource and jurisdictional matters still must be addressed, particularly with respect to criminal law enforcement.

“Work on those issues is important and, for better or worse, may not be well-suited to a 24-hour news cycle,” he said. “At the same time, it would disrespect the significance of the ruling and the work being done by giving credence to hyperbole and speculation. Folks need to take a breath. It’s going to be OK.”

Greetham said state and tribal leaders are committed to a framework that addresses sovereign interests and rights to self-government. The goal is to affirm jurisdictional understandings, procedures, laws and regulations supporting public safety, the economy and private property rights.

“That result is in everyone’s best interest,” he said.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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