The latest dust-up between northeastern Oklahoma tribes and Gov. Kevin Stitt seems only to worsen relationships that are crucial for the state to thrive.
In July, Stitt asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to grant approval for the state, rather than the tribes, to regulate environmental issues in Indian Country.
It came after the Supreme Court McGirt decision that found the Muscogee (Creek) Nation was never disestablished by Congress. Though the case pertained to the Major Crimes Act and limited to the Creek Nation, by logical extension, it could easily extend to most of northeastern Oklahoma.
The EPA granted Stitt’s request Oct. 1, and it applies to more than a dozen federal programs overseen by state agencies.
Stitt says it will give greater consistency to the state. The state’s oil and gas industry supported the request to avoid a possible patchwork of oversight.
But, tribal leaders were quick with criticism.
Cherokee Nation Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the request ignores existing relationships: “All Oklahomans benefit when the Tribes and state work together in the spirit of mutual respect and this knee-jerk reaction to curtail tribal jurisdiction is not productive.”
Muscogee (Creek) Nation leaders said its concerns raised to the EPA didn’t go anywhere. Both plan to seek other remedies.
The latest rift follows a contentious disagreement over tribal gaming compacts across the state that have landed in court.
The wisdom of the EPA remains to be seen, but we are concerned about the growing strain between tribal and state governments.
Currently, outside groups are now pressuring members of Congress to introduce legislation that would disestablish the reservation boundaries, a move that is certain to cause more friction with the tribes.
For generations, tribes have been welcomed and important partners in Oklahoma communities. They support public projects from roads to schools and provide health care. Their reach extends beyond their tribal citizens.
The history of Oklahoma is intertwined with tribal history. This is particularly notable today — a holiday once widely celebrated as Columbus Day.
By recognizing the atrocities brought upon indigenous people and that America existed well before the arrival of white Europeans, today is now often a celebration of tribal cultures.
Oklahoma ought to be a leader in showing how tribes and state government can get along and benefit from each other.
It’s in Oklahoma’s best interest to continue strengthening these bonds. We encourage Stitt and tribal leaders to forge a new path.
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