Oklahoma Gov. Stitt pledges ‘new day’ in working with 39 tribes

Oklahoma Gov. Stitt pledges 'new day' in working with 39 tribes

Osage Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear was planning to spend Jan. 9 at a particular session of his nation’s Congress till he acquired an surprising cellphone name days earlier than. 

It was Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt. He was inviting Standing Bear to his second inauguration, additionally on Jan. 9.

Tribal leaders had attended Stitt’s first inauguration in 2019. However quickly after, the governor’s relations with many tribal nations dissolved over disputes about gaming, taxing and prosecutorial energy. For tribal leaders and residents, one of many largest factors of battle was the shortage of communication from the governor and his workplace. The Osage Nation in northern Oklahoma, together with many different tribes, backed Stitt’s opponent final fall.

So till Stitt referred to as, Standing Bear wasn’t positive whether or not he would drive to Oklahoma Metropolis to see the governor sworn in for 4 extra years. The non-public request helped Standing Bear make up his thoughts.

“I assumed, I’m simply going to need to do each — put together for our session, which is precedence right here, after which give him the respect I imagine he has proven me and the Osage Nation by not solely sending us an invite, however calling to ask if I might attend,” Standing Bear mentioned.

Stitt greeted Standing Bear and different tribal leaders earlier than the occasion and thanked them firstly of his inauguration speech. 

“It’s a brand new day within the Stitt administration,” mentioned Carly Atchison, a spokesperson for the governor. “All of us need Oklahoma to be a prime 10 state, and the governor is dedicated to reaching that purpose and can work with anybody who additionally desires to make Oklahoma a prime 10 state.”

The recent begin for state-tribal relations will face a fast check. Oklahoma lawmakers will contemplate whether or not to legalize sports activities betting in casinos and on telephones. Gaming drove a wedge between Stitt and plenty of tribal leaders throughout his first time period, and either side are nonetheless tied up in courtroom over the sooner dispute.

However Rep. Ken Luttrell, R-Ponca Metropolis, is optimistic his sports activities betting proposal could be a catalyst for significant talks between the governor’s workplace and tribal leaders, which was uncommon throughout Stitt’s first time period. 

“This can be a start line for restoring these relations, partnering collectively and transferring the state and tribes ahead,” mentioned Luttrell, a Cherokee Nation citizen who co-leads the Legislature’s Native American caucus.

Neither the governor, who can also be a Cherokee Nation citizen, nor tribal leaders have disclosed their stances on Luttrell’s proposal forward of the legislative session, which begins subsequent month. Stitt has expressed basic assist for sports activities betting, and tribal leaders are exploring the economics of rolling it out.

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Whether or not either side are in a position to negotiate an settlement and keep away from pricey litigation may sign whether or not Stitt’s method to working with tribal nations has modified. 

“Once we sit in a room, or when we have now discussions on any kind of points, it’d be good for everyone to maintain an open thoughts and never have their very own plan to say, ‘That is the way it’s going to be applied,’ or ‘That is what we’re going to do for you,’” mentioned Cheyenne and Arapaho Gov. Reggie Wassana. “I believe there’s at all times give and take.”

A ‘new day’ for state-tribal relations in Oklahoma

Wassana, like Standing Bear, traveled to the Capitol for the inauguration after receiving a cellphone name from Stitt.

Stitt reached out to leaders of all 39 tribes primarily based in Oklahoma to ask them to his second inauguration, Atchison mentioned.  

About one-third attended, together with the highest elected officers of the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Muscogee nations, three of the state’s largest tribes. 

“We’re hopeful that this inauguration does sign a brand new day, as a result of the outdated days aren’t working for our individuals or the residents of Oklahoma,” Muscogee Chief David Hill mentioned in a press release. “We favor to have a relationship of mutual respect, with actions and precise communication, somewhat than fights within the press. We each have a shared responsibility, and that’s what ought to inspire us to realize extra collectively.”

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To Wassana, the private invitation and heat reception of tribal leaders have been each optimistic indicators that Oklahoma’s governor is attempting to construct higher relations along with his tribal authorities and others, which are sometimes the most important employers in rural areas. 

“That’s all a part of higher communications, us understanding what his place is and him understanding what our place is,” Wassana mentioned. “You may’t perceive one another’s place in the event you don’t sit in the identical room otherwise you don’t have discussions.”

These kinds of talks have been uncommon throughout Stitt’s first time period. Months after he took workplace, he launched a bid to renegotiate the central state-tribal gaming compact, which spells out how a lot cash tribal gaming operations pay the state in change for unique gaming rights. Stitt criticized the state’s share, which amounted to $152.6 million in 2019, as too low. 

Tribal leaders and the Legislature countered that the compact phrases had robotically renewed and finally quashed Stitt’s makes an attempt to vary the compact. However Stitt additionally negotiated standalone gaming agreements with some tribes, and people offers stay the topic of a federal lawsuit to find out whether or not or not they’re authorized. 

The governor and tribal leaders additionally sparred over the pivotal U.S. Supreme Court docket resolution in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which has to this point led to the popularity of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, Quapaw and Seminole reservations in jap and central components of the state.

By the point Stitt launched his marketing campaign for a second time period, many tribal leaders vocally opposed him. A number of tribal nations donated to his opponent, then-state colleges Superintendent Pleasure Hofmeister. Stitt accused “on line casino bosses” of paying for dark-money assault adverts in opposition to him. 

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Stitt simply gained reelection regardless of the contentious lead-up to the election. 

“The individuals of Oklahoma voted in November, and Gov. Stitt gained reelection by over 14 factors,” Atchison mentioned in a written assertion, responding to a query about how the governor would work with tribal nations who backed his opponent.

“We’re transferring ahead,” she mentioned. “It’s a brand new day.”

Stitt has not had any in-depth conferences with tribal leaders because the election, however will work with tribal leaders on problems with frequent curiosity, corresponding to increasing broadband entry, Atchison mentioned.

Cherokee Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., some of the vocal critics of Stitt’s run for a second time period, mentioned he’ll look to search out frequent floor with the governor transferring ahead. “I respect the method, I respect the result, I respect the workplace of governor,” Hoskin mentioned in a press release. “I believe on that foundation, we are able to discover methods to maneuver ahead these subsequent 4 years.” 

Luttrell mentioned he hoped the inauguration marked a brand new chapter the place the governor, lawmakers and tribal leaders may all work collectively to realize shared targets. 

“It’s sort of like working with a sibling, I believe, the place you fuss and also you feud,” he mentioned, “and then you definately come collectively for the great of the household.”

Molly Younger covers Indigenous affairs for the USA Immediately Community’s Sunbelt Area. Attain her at mollyyoung@gannett.com or 405-347-3534.