Gov. Kevin Stitt on Friday urged the state’s tribal governments to enter into negotiations with the state over issues arising from last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma.
“It is critically important that the State of Oklahoma and the leaders of Oklahoma’s tribes impacted by the McGirt decision begin negotiations, in earnest, to resolve the potential ramifications of this ruling,” Stitt said in a written statement.
The tribes contacted by the Tulsa World on Friday responded cautiously to Stitt’s overtures.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation said in a written statement that it has had “preliminary discussions” with the Governor’s Office but that “talks of negotiation would be premature without the in-depth conversations that are necessary to move forward.”
The tribe said it believes that “the most beneficial path for both non-native and native Oklahomans is through strengthening sovereignty and tribal capacities.”
A week ago, some tribal leaders indicated that they want Congress to grant them and the state authority to negotiate compacts on the issues involved before proceeding.
“We believe the path is clear on criminal jurisdiction issues,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said Friday. “Federal legislation should authorize compacting between the Cherokee Nation and the state.”
“We believe there is a clear path forward on criminal jurisdiction respecting tribal, state and federal sovereignty,” said Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby, regarded as a senior statesman among the tribal leaders. “We will continue to work toward durable frameworks that respect the law and bring us together to meet our shared goal to protect and serve all Oklahomans.”
In McGirt, a divided court ruled that the prestatehood boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation were never dissolved and remained in effect for purposes of major crimes committed by tribal members within that territory, which includes most of Tulsa.
Many believe the decision could have much more far-ranging repercussions, extending to the rest of the Five Tribes, whose governments controlled most of what is now eastern Oklahoma prior to statehood in 1907.
Those implications could also apply to civil matters and tax jurisdictions.
Earlier this month the Seminole Nation notified some oil and gas companies that it intends to collect severances in its east-central Oklahoma territory, then said it meant only on land held in trust.
Already, federal criminal filings in the northern and eastern districts of Oklahoma have skyrocketed as charges in cases involving tribal members have shifted from state court.
In his statement, Stitt acknowledged concerns about public safety and McGirt’s possible affect on the state’s ability to collect taxes and control the regulatory structure in much of Oklahoma.
“My response to those suggestions is that Oklahoma’s future success is dependent upon our common values of certainty, fairness and unity being embraced by all,” he said.
The tribes tend to be more circumspect as they attempt to balance their reaffirmed sovereignty with state and tribal political realities. They also seem determined to impress upon Stitt their standing as tribal governments.
“We have also clearly stated that we are open to discussions, but first and foremost the governor must respect our authority as a sovereign nation,” reads the Muscogee (Creek) Nation statement. “We hope to build this relationship to better explore what options will be available moving forward.”
Hoskin and Anoatubby adopted similar tones.
“On civil and taxation issues, as always we are ready to work with the state,” Hoskin said. “The Cherokee Nation will continue to be a good partner in this state as it has proven for more than a century. Our objective remains to reach tribal and state agreements that are not based on fear or bias, but facts, and demonstrate a respect for tribal sovereignty.”
“Moving forward,” said Anoatubby, “we believe what is good for one of us is good for all of us. Recognizing the common interests of everyone involved is a great place to start.”
The tribes were miffed last year when the state invoked a 15-year-old federal law that allowed the Stitt administration to preempt them on some environmental affairs.
Most have fought with Stitt, to varying degrees, over gaming throughout his administration. Recently Stitt appointed Ryan Leonard, an Oklahoma City attorney with strong family ties to Republican politics in the state, to act as his lead negotiator with the tribes.
Stitt has also, at times, been at odds over Indian affairs with the legislative leadership.
Asked whether Stitt sees any role for lawmakers in the prospective negotiations, spokeswoman Carly Atchison said, “We are in very close communication with legislative leadership and will continue to be throughout the negotiations.”
Video: Gov. Kevin Stitt talks about the impact of the McGirt decision