The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes (ITC) is an organization that unites the tribal governments of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee and Seminole Nations. Together these tribes represent about 815,000 Indian people throughout the United States. It is one of the oldest and largest tribal organizations in America.
For the past two years, I’ve had the privilege to serve as president of the ITC. I have worked in solidarity with the other executive board members: Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton, Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill and former Seminole Nation Principal Chief Greg Chilcoat. We have welcomed newly elected Seminole Chief Lewis Johnson to our ranks, and we are off to a wonderful start working with him.
Our mission as tribal government leaders is always to protect our sovereignty and advance issues critical to our people. While each tribe has a unique culture and history, the Five Tribes of the ITC share many concerns. We are all focused on how to best provide essential services like education, health care and housing for our people.
From its beginning in 1949, the founders of ITC had a clear and honorable mission that they expressed well in the organization’s Constitution: “…to secure to ourselves and our descendants the rights and benefits to which we are entitled under the laws of the United States of America, and the State of Oklahoma; to enlighten the public toward a better understanding of the Indian race; to preserve Indian cultural values; to enhance and promote general educational opportunity among members of the Five Civilized Tribes; to seek equitable adjustments of tribal affairs; to secure and to preserve rights under Indian Treaties with the United States; and other-wise to promote the common welfare of the American Indians….”
The ITC meets quarterly. Even though we have moved to mostly virtual meetings in the last year and a half for COVID-19 safety, we always set aside the time to listen and learn from our sister tribes.
At each ITC meeting, we draft joint resolutions that can only pass with unanimous approval from the five tribes. We weigh in on state and federal issues critical to our tribes. Staff from the various tribes participate in multiple committees, including housing, education, health, governance, natural resources and commerce, that allow true sharing of ideas between our issue experts and frontline workers. Cultural presentations give us all the opportunity to enjoy the talents and diversity of our people.
During my two years as president of ITC, the Five Tribes have faced many challenges. This time of dramatic progress and change for Indian Country has tested our strength and even our ability to find common ground. From the state gaming compact to the pandemic response and recovery to the opportunities to seize under the historic McGirt decision reaffirming our reservations, we remain strong and unified.
On McGirt in particular, the enemies of tribal sovereignty, including Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, have been counting on division between the Five Tribes. Certainly, each tribe as an independent sovereign nation has to look after its own interests when it comes to matters as critical as treaty obligations, the integrity of our reservations and sovereignty.
But, what opponents of tribal sovereignty mistook for division between the Five Tribes on McGirt was simply different approaches and strategies to achieve the same goal: protection of 100% of the wins achieved under the McGirt case and finding workable solutions to issues relating to criminal jurisdiction. When it comes to McGirt, ITC is unified on preserving this historic win, much to the disappointment of those who seek our demise. Governor Stitt will find ITC firmly united in defeating his efforts to destroy our reservations. Consequently, Governor Stitt’s effort to overturn McGirt will be a losing one.
Cherokee Nation’s influence on state and federal agendas is much greater when we collaborate with other tribal governments. As united Indian people, we ensure that federal and state policymakers understand the needs of our tribes and all Indian Country. At ITC we are advancing legislation and ideas to make progress for our people today and for generations to come.