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'I don't think he can spell sovereignty': Oklahoma governor faces fire in high-profile gaming dispute

Tribal leaders ripped Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) to shreds in a blockbuster story that raises significant doubts about the Cherokee ancestry of the state's top executive.

“He has a total ignorance of Indian Country,” Rocky Barrett, the longtime chairman of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, told The New York Times and High Country News for a collaborative story.

“I don’t think he can spell sovereignty,” said John Berrey, the chairman of the Quapaw Nation.

It gets worse. While Stitt is technically a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, a prominent Cherokee genealogist found no evidence of a Cherokee ancestor in the governor's family tree, The Times and High Country News reported.

The person Stitt traces Cherokee descent from is not actually Cherokee, according to documents reviewed by The Times and High Country News. Despite evidence of bribery, the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, a federal entity, allowed the Dawson family to be listed as "Cherokee by blood" in the Dawes Roll over the tribe's objections.

Stitt, who traces his Cherokee ancestry to his great-grandfather, Robert Benton Dawson, did little to dispel the claim. When asked about the genealogical research, he dismissed it only as “unsubstantiated slander.”

“If he’s going to claim to be Cherokee, then I hope that he goes and learns about his heritage," Chief Justin Wood of the Sac and Fox Nation told The Times and High Country News.

Stitt apparently didn't want to address the meat of the matter, either. He declined "several" requests for interviews and only sent a "brief statement" about a Class III gaming dispute that has led to litigation in federal court.

“The state made several formal offers over the past eight months to demonstrate that the door is open, and remains open, for discussing ways the state and all of Oklahoma’s sovereign tribes can move forward together to address a compact that expired,” Stitt said in the statement to The Times and High Country News.

The Cherokee Nation, the Chickasaw Nation and the Choctaw Nation sued Stitt on December 31, 2019, a day before he claimed their Class III gaming compacts "expired. Since then, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, the Comanche Nation, the Delaware Nation, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, the Ponca Tribe, the Quapaw Nation, the Seminole Nation and the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes have been allowed to intervene in order to protect their sovereign rights. The matter has been referred to mediation.

“I’ve never heard of a governor in this modern era treat an industry this way, make those sorts of threats, let alone a governor who campaigned on issues of private sector growth and limited government,” Cherokee Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., told The Times and High Country News. “That’s breathtaking to me.”

Read More on the Story
Oklahoma’s Tribes Unite Against a Common Foe: Their Cherokee Governor (The New York Times February 20, 2020)
Oklahoma’s Tribes Unite Against a Common Foe: Their Cherokee Governor (High Country News February 20, 2020)

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