Chairman John Berrey of the Quapaw Nation testifies at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing on agricultural issues in Indian Country on January 17, 2018. Photo: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

John Berrey: Oklahoma governor threatens tribal economies

The following is a statement from John Berrey, Chairman of the Quapaw Nation, in connection with the Cherokee Nation v. Stitt litigation. The lawsuit was filed by the Cherokee Nation, the Chickasaw Nation, and the Choctaw Nation on December 31, 2019, in order to determine whether the tribes can continue to operate Class III gaming under the terms of their government-to-government agreements with the state of Oklahoma.

Last July, Governor Stitt sent a letter to Oklahoma tribal leaders announcing that he intended to renegotiate the existing tribal-state gaming Compact in its entirety — regardless of the plain language of the Compact. In fact, the Compact provides that it “shall automatically renew” for successive 15-year terms so long as Oklahoma continues to authorize other entities to conduct electronic gaming. The Quapaw Nation consistently has stood with the other tribes in inviting the governor to discuss the provisions subject to re-negotiation — including compact rates. But we have insisted that the governor do so under the process provided in the Compact.

Governor Stitt has refused to honor the language of the Compact. Instead he has increasingly created uncertainty about Oklahoma Indian gaming operations. The governor has been making unwarranted threats against the businesses that support Indian gaming, and he has been implying that gaming industry jobs are in jeopardy. The governor’s actions have begun threatening the stability of tribal gaming, and thereby the revenue bases of tribal governments and the countless gaming industry jobs across the state that provide livelihoods to Oklahomans.

To obtain a resolution of this issue, the Cherokee Nation, the Chickasaw Nation, and the Choctaw Nation today filed a federal lawsuit seeking a judicial determination that the Compacts automatically renew on January 1. The Quapaw Nation stands firmly behind these tribes.

The automatic renewal provision was and is a very important part of the Compact. Tribes entered into the Compact with the comfort that this provision would ensure decades of stability and certainty. Many tribes have taken risks and have invested substantially in gaming — and in Oklahoma — on this basis, and have financed and built quality facilities — including fine, destination resort hotels — and they have built a first‑rate hospitality industry the state never had before. They would not have done so if a governor could simply walk away from the Compact overnight.

Indian tribes and their gaming operations are important to Oklahoma — particularly to the many communities where they have created futures for Oklahomans where none existed before. We deserve to be treated with respect and as contributors to Oklahoma’s future. The tribes have a memory of many agreements that were made with them but not honored. We expect Governor Stitt to honor the agreement the state made with the tribes, the Compact.

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