Muscogee (Creek) Nation Public Relations: Principal Chief David Hill provides latest developments on McGirt news

Oklahoma governor stumbles into treaty rights debate

After being cut out of the loop by tribes and a rival Republican, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt is stumbling into growing controversy over a historic U.S. Supreme Court decision that affirmed the treaty rights of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Stitt, who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, announced the formation of The Oklahoma Commission on Cooperative Sovereignty on Monday, stacking it with a slew of non-Indian political, energy and economic figures. Not one tribal leader was immediately named to a panel designed to address the landmark July 9 ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma.

“We absolutely need the partnership of the tribes for this process to be successful,” Stitt said as he left open the possibility that he might name an Indian leader to the commission, whose chair Larry Nichols is the wealthy co-founder of an energy company that extracts oil and gas from lands originally reserved for several Indian nations.

“I respect and recognize the sovereignty of every tribe in Oklahoma and look forward to working with every tribe to ensure that we meet our shared economic, security and social goals," said Stitt, who recently contracted the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Indianz.Com Video: Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) on McGirt v. Oklahoma - July 9, 2020

The announcement came after the collapse of a controversial agreement-in-principle that was negotiated by a fellow Republican state official. But Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, who had tried to convince the Supreme Court that the Creek Reservation no longer existed, did not include Stitt in talks for the deal, which was disavowed not only by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation but by the Seminole Nation, barely a day after it was made public.

Stitt was kept out of the loop for some significant reasons, Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. of the Cherokee Nation told Indianz.Com. Hunter, as the state's highest ranking legal official and the one who lost McGirt and the related Murphy case, enjoys a strong relationship with tribes, he said.

"I can tell you, of the statewide elected leaders that tribes went to for friendship, for a working relationship, is the Attorney General," Hoskin said in an interview.

Hoskin could not say the same for Stitt, who is only the second governor in Oklahoma's history to claim Native American ancestry. An ongoing legal and policy fight over gaming compacts has turned most tribes -- and even many key Republicans -- against the state's chief executive.

"The damage that Governor Stitt caused, because of his stubbornness," Hoskin told Indianz.Com, "has made a relationship with him difficult but not impossible."

Stitt's ineptitude on Indian issues was reinforced on Tuesday. The Oklahoma Supreme Court, ruling in a lawsuit filed by Republican lawmakers, struck down two gaming compacts that the governor negotiated during the COVID-19 pandemic as illegal.

"Today’s decision confirms what the tribes have been saying since Governor Stitt first launched his go-it-alone drive to rewrite our compacts," said Matthew Morgan, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation who serves as chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, most of whose members have refused to engage in talks about their agreements.

"We believe firmly that the state-tribal relationship works best when we each act within the roles we have under the law," said Morgan.

Hunter was just as happy with the ruling as Indian Country. In May, he disavowed Stitt's approach to gaming compact negotiations, a position affirmed by the state's highest court in Treat v. Stitt.

“The Supreme Court affirmed what my office has opined, and the pro tem of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives have argued all along, the governor lacks the authority to enter into and bind the state to compacts with Indian tribes that authorize gaming activity prohibited by state law," Hunter said in a news release, referring to the Republican state lawmakers who also objected to Stitt's dealings.

Stitt's Commission on Cooperative Sovereignty, which was created by executive order, similarly landed with a thud among the state's political leadership. A joint statement issued by the Oklahoma Congressional delegation later on Monday instead cited how "Tribal Nations and the Oklahoma Attorney General" have been attempting to address issues arising from the historic McGirt treaty rights case. The governor was not mentioned at all.

"We look forward to working with the Tribal Nations, the state, and all stakeholders, to develop a legislative framework that honors tribal sovereignty and gives consistency and predictability to all those living and working in Oklahoma," the two Republicans in U.S. Senate, along with the four Republicans and the one Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, wrote in the statement.

The statement, however, failed to acknowledge the huge developments that occurred after the agreement-in-principle was announced last Thursday. Not only did the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Seminole Nation walk away from a framework that was supposed to lead to legislation in the U.S. Congress, the Cherokee Nation, the Chickasaw Nation and the Choctaw Nation are recalibrating, following outcry among their citizens, which included a march on the Cherokee capital in the sweltering heat on Monday,

"Upon further reflection, and after obtaining feedback from the people we represent, leaders of the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations agree that more discussion is warranted with stakeholders and the general public," Chief Hoskin, Governor Bill Anoatubby and Chief Gary Batton, leaders of the three respective tribes, said in a joint statement on Monday. "We remain committed to communicating with and responding to the stakeholders and tribal citizens about the statement of principles, and we are committed to take the time to do that."

Of Muscogee Chief David Hill from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Seminole Chief Greg Chilcoat, the three leaders added: "We remain deeply respectful of Chief Hill’s and Chief Chilcoat’s views on this matter on behalf of their respective nations, and we will continue to work with them on this issue."

In comments to Indianz.Com on Sunday, Hill explained why the Muscogee (Creek) Nation does not support legislation on the federal stage. The tribe will continue to address criminal, civil and other issues that might arise in the manner it has always done -- through intergovernmental agreements at the state and local levels.

"Too many people worked too hard to see this day come to pass," Hill said of the historic victory in McGirt, which reaffirmed the existence of the reservation that was guaranteed by a treaty signed in 1866. "Now is the time to exercise our sovereignty, not voluntarily surrender it."

In a video update on Monday, Hill stood firm on that position. He also said he had a "brief call" with Stitt, telling the governor that any issues affecting his tribe's sovereignty and rights will be guided by a commission of Creek citizens.

"I will look for his commission and our Creek Nation commission to coordinate and to come up with recommendations to address issues of mutual concern," Hill said in the video.

Good morning! Just took a call with Governor Stitt and informed him that Muscogee (Creek) Nation is in the process of...

Posted by Principal Chief David Hill on Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Referring to the Oklahoma delegation statement, he said: "I don't agree that federal legislation is needed because any jurisdictional issues can be resolved on a government-to-government basis through intergovernmental agreements or compacts."

"I made it clear to Governor Stitt that I will continue to prioritize the needs and interest of Muscogee (Creek) Nation during this process," the chief concluded.

As determined by Stitt, The Oklahoma Commission on Cooperative Sovereignty will be led by Larry Nichols, the chairman emeritus of Devon Energy. The firm's portfolio of oil and gas pipelines runs through Apache, Cheyenne-Arapaho, Caddo, Comanche Delaware and Wichita and Affiliated Tribes lands in the area west of Oklahoma City, the state capital.

Other members of the panel include former U.S. Senator Don Nickles, former U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts, State Sen. Julie Daniels and State Rep. Mark Lepak. All are Republicans with little ties to Indian Country, with the exception of Watts, who now works as a lobbyist with some tribal clients. One of them happens to a tribe that has signed a gaming compact with Stitt but whose agreement was not at issue in the lawsuit.

Also named to the commission are Alan Armstrong, another pipeline executive; Brent Bolen, a lobbyist for the agriculture industry, which opposed tribal interests in McGirt; Suzie Brewster, who is described in numerous biographies as "lifetime" member of the National Rifle Association; Harold Hamm, a wealthy energy figure who supports President Donald Trump; and Joe Robson, a home building executive.

Chief Hoskin of the Cherokee Nation immediately pointed out the odd nature of the governor's initiative.

“It’s disappointing but not surprising that Governor Stitt has not named any of the Five Tribes leaders to his commission," Hoskin said on Monday. "This example however is the very reason the Cherokee Nation has worked with other tribal leaders, the state Attorney General and federal partners on a framework on the prosecution of suspects who commit violent crimes dealing with Natives on reservations, so that we can have a seat at the table on what that framework looks like and what it means for our citizens, while maintaining sovereign rights for our people."

Chief Hoskin addresses discussion on McGirt impact

VIDEO: Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. recaps a day of listening and engaging with citizens and leaders on the McGirt case. Chief Hoskin expressed appreciation to the Council for their confidence in him and continues to work with Oklahoma’s Attorney General, members of Congress, tribal leaders and other stakeholders.

Posted by Cherokee Nation on Monday, July 20, 2020
Cherokee Nation: Chief Hoskin addresses discussion on McGirt impact

Jim Gray, a former chief of the Osage Nation, whose reservation borders are not accepted by the state of Oklahoma, saw the disparity too. He said the governor's commission amounted to a declaration of war.

"The entire Republican political and economic class in Oklahoma are coming together to fight the tribes," Gray said on social media. "This must have been what the Five Tribes were worried about. Better have your people with you."

McGirt v. Oklahoma

Sharp v. Murphy

Indianz.Com Audio: U.S. Supreme Court - McGirt v. Oklahoma - May 11, 2020

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