INDIAN COUNTRY – In a letter to Governor Stitt issued Tuesday, Jan 9, the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes (ITC) voiced their opposition to the Governor’s Executive Order 2023-32 that establishes the One Oklahoma Task Force. The taskforce is a 13-member panel that is responsible for submitting a report addressing “the McGirt decision’s negative effects.”
The letter states, “When we have a willing partner at the State of Oklahoma, we are fully prepared to move forward. We are eager to work with our friends and neighbors to improve coordination in public safety efforts. What we cannot do is participate in an effort that spreads falsehoods about the law, attempts to minimize tribal voices, and engages in political attacks instead of constructive government-to-government dialogue.”
The ITC’s letter specifically detailed that the taskforce will not adequately serve the public good as written. Per previous reporting, Stitt’s EO claims the McGirt decision, which established tribal jurisdiction for most of eastern Oklahoma, has caused confusion and tension among and between tribal and non-tribal law enforcement. The ITC letter rebuffs this claim, stating, “… the McGirt decision has finally restored legitimate, legal jurisdiction that was restored under clear federal laws and the U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately, rather than focusing on how to incorporate tribal authority to benefit the public, the State has wasted time and energy trying to evade, reject, or delay compliance with the law.”
The letter further clarifies that the disproportionate representation on the taskforce will not reflect respectful government-to-government dialog between tribes and the State. Of the 13-person panel, only two members will specifically represent Oklahoma’s 38 tribal governments. One representing the Five Civilized Tribes and another representing the other 33 federally-recognized tribes in Oklahoma.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation issued an official rejection to participate in the task force on Monday, Jan 8 through the office of Principal Chief David Hill. The statement reads, “As a matter of principle, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation welcomes any opportunity for collaboration to improve the public safety for all Oklahomans. Unfortunately, the Governor’s task force on McGirt is based on a false premise and seeks misguided political objectives through a structure intended to divide rather than unify. This taskforce cannot adequately serve the public good unless these flaws are corrected. We cannot participate in any endeavor aimed at weakening tribal nations and, by extension, harming public safety. At its core, the McGirt decision is a pro-public safety ruling. By restoring tribal jurisdiction that the State had illegally usurped for decades, the decision has meant more police, prosecutors, and courts to enforce the law and deliver justice to victims. Adding more public safety resources through tribal jurisdiction did not create “uncertainty” or a patchwork solution. The laws on how tribal jurisdiction can work collaboratively with Oklahoma’s other agencies are crystal clear. Unfortunately, rather than focus on how to incorporate tribal authority to benefit the public, the State has wasted far too much time and energy finding ways to evade, reject, or minimize the positive impact of tribal jurisdiction. This taskforce is just the latest example of that.”
The letter comes on the heels of the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) suspending commission agreements between the GRDA and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Cherokee Nation on Friday, Jan 5. The GRDA stated in a letter to the Cherokee Nation that while it is not taking action to terminate the cross-deputization agreements, it will be suspending the Commisions until after the One Oklahoma Task Force recommendations.
The cross-deputization agreement between the MCN Lighthorse PD and the GRDA was the basis of an arrest made on Dec 18 of a non-tribal citizen. Conflict between a MCN Lighthorse deputy and Matthew Douglas, an Okmulgee County Jail employee during the booking procedure has led to a felony assault charge for Douglas. The conflict and resulting charge were mentioned specifically by Stitt in his EO and during statements afterwards.
The ITC is composed of the chiefs and other leaders of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole Nations. The organization lobbies, campaigns, and supports issues affecting tribal citizens’ social and economic lives. It represents more than 815,000 tribal citizens throughout the country.
The full letter from the ITC can be read here.