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State AG John O'Connor speaks on McGirt court decision, contact with some tribal leaders
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State AG John O'Connor speaks on McGirt court decision, contact with some tribal leaders

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Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said Tuesday he’s made preliminary contact with several of eastern Oklahoma’s tribal chief executives, but whether that represents the first sign of a thaw in the icy relations between the administration and the state’s tribal nations remains unclear.

“I’ve called each of the (Five Tribes chief executives) on their personal phones,” O’Connor said following an appearance at the Tulsa Country Club, where he spoke to the Republican Women’s Club of Tulsa County. “I’ve talked with three of them.”

O’Connor did not name the three, but the Cherokee Nation said O’Connor met with Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. in October.

“It was an introduction and preliminary conversation on McGirt, but there was little to no substance in that meeting,” said a tribal spokeswoman.

A spokesman for the Muscogee Nation said Chief David Hill has not met with O’Connor.

O’Connor’s remarks came as the state and eastern Oklahoma’s tribal governments wait for a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, probably on Tuesday, on whether to hear any of Oklahoma’s 43 appeals related to the court’s 2020 decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma.

In that decision, the court ruled that the Muscogee Nation’s reservation was never legally abolished. State courts have ruled that McGirt also applies to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Quapaw and Seminole reservations.

Gov. Kevin Stitt and his administration argue that the decision has thrown eastern Oklahoma into chaos, a claim hotly contested by the tribes and others.

Although Oklahoma elects its attorney general, Stitt appointed O’Connor last summer to fill a vacancy, and O’Connor generally acts in accordance with the governor’s wishes — something his predecessor, Mike Hunter, did not always do.

On Tuesday, O’Connor kept up the administration’s message, suggesting that the Supreme Court had created a “51st state” with McGirt and saying the tribes “are trying to take over the eastern half of our state, in all respects.”

Most of the tribes have indicated a willingness to enter into compacts with the state that would settle most of the issues raised by McGirt while maintaining their sovereignty.

The Stitt administration, even before McGirt, has taken a more adversarial approach to the tribes than his recent predecessors.

O’Connor, who is campaigning for election to a full term in his own right this year, nevertheless said he “respects our Indian friends.

“The Indian Nations didn’t go looking for McGirt,” he said. “The state of Oklahoma didn’t go looking for McGirt. It was just a lucky argument that somebody made in a criminal case.

“I don’t blame (tribal) leadership,” he said. “I think the tribal leadership feels a little differently than the tribal members in a lot of ways.

“I don’t blame them. If you were dealt a royal flush you’d probably sit on it, too,” he said.

O’Connor is expected to meet Tulsa attorney Gentner Drummond in June’s Republican attorney general primary. Drummond narrowly lost to Hunter in the 2018 primary.

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About 100 Oklahomans have been able to change their gender marker on their birth certificate since 2018, but late last year Stitt ordered the State Health Department stop issuing nonbinary birth certificates. As a result of the executive order, the Health Department also is no longer authorized to accept court orders for male and female changes, Oklahoma State Department of Health’s legal team said.

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