TAHLEQUAH — Concerned about a recently announced agreement-in-principle among five tribes and the state of Oklahoma, about 50 tribal citizens protested outside a Cherokee Nation Tribal Council committee hearing Monday afternoon.
Released by the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office on Thursday afternoon, the agreement in principle is not legally binding but would lay the foundation for proposed federal legislation to address the jurisdictional questions involving the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations raised by the U.S. Supreme Court in McGirt v. Oklahoma.
At least for criminal prosecution purposes, the 5-4 opinion reinstated the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation across 11 eastern Oklahoma counties. Although the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole nations were not explicitly mentioned in the decision, they signed similar treaties in the 1800s and were subject to similar congressional actions before Oklahoma became a state.
Among the specific objections raised Monday afternoon was that the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council, and by extension, tribal citizens, were not consulted prior to Thursday’s announcement.
“We need to talk about it and see this before we even go into an agreement in principle,” Cherokee Nation citizen Charli Barnoskie said. “Our voices need to be heard. There are so many things that we can do with the state without a binding agreement or legislation.”
When asked during Monday afternoon’s Rules Committee hearing about the lack of prior notification to the council, Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill said the people involved in drafting the framework were bound by a nondisclosure agreement while both McGirt v. Oklahoma and a related case, Sharp v. Murphy, were pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The only way these conversations could have happened was under a strict nondisclosure agreement,” she said. “There was no way to have these conversations before the McGirt ruling. They (the other parties) would not have engaged in those discussions if I was regularly reporting out to a public body.”
Leaders with the Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations announced Friday that their respective tribes were not on board with the proposed agreement due to their concern that it had ceded tribal sovereignty to the state, a concern also shared by some of the protesters Monday.
“If you ask Cherokees at large and across the counties, we wouldn’t have agreed with it (the agreement),” Cherokee Nation citizen Ashley Dawn Anderson said. “It’s like you’re giving away your political bargaining chip to work with the state when they never work with us.”
During Monday’s Rules Committee meeting, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. pushed back on claims that he gave away the tribe’s sovereignty with the agreement and said the tribe would continue to work with the other four tribes, as well as state and federal officials, on how to address jurisdictional questions raised by the McGirt ruling.
“We know from our history that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” Hoskin said. “The Cherokee Nation is not going to be on the menu as long as I am chief.”
Due to COVID-19, seating inside the council chambers was limited to tribal officials and a handful of staff members. Tents, a large fan, folding chairs and coolers of water were set up outside the building for the largely masked protesters, along with a large flat-screen television and sound system to carry the meeting’s live webcast.
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