MVSKOKE RESERVATION- On Tuesday, Sept. 5 Governor Kevin Stitt announced the appointment of former Cherokee Council member John “Wes” Nofire as the new Oklahoma Native American Liason. In the announcement Governor Stitt said,
“Wes brings a deep familiarity with tribal governments and people across Oklahoma. His work for the Cherokee government makes him an ideal choice as we build bridges between my office and tribal governments,” said Governor Stitt. “Throughout his career, Wes has advocated for fairness for all Oklahomans and has fought against systems that seek to treat people differently based on race or heritage. I am thrilled to have him as a member of my team as we continue to work to make Oklahoma a top ten state.”
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill issued the following statement in response,
“We have always welcomed a constructive dialogue with the Governor, but I don’t think his staff has been the issue. The Governor sets the direction for his administration, and he has made it clear that his policy is hostility towards tribes and their authority. It’s hard to see one staff appointment changing that. Others have tried and ended up walking away when they found themselves as pawns in the Governor’s deceptive campaign.”
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. also issued the following statement regarding Nofire’s appointment,
“Governor Stitt’s selection of Wes Nofire as the state’s Native American liaison is disappointing, which is to say it comes as no surprise,” Hoskin said. “We continue to hope for a day in which the depths of knowledge of Indian Country issues on Governor Stitt’s team deepens. It’s now shallower. Wes Nofire’s brief time in elected office was marked by a hostility toward Cherokee tribal sovereignty, a lack of understanding broadly of the issues facing Indian Country, and his peddling of conspiracy theories about Cherokee Nation, which can only be described as unhinged. Governor Stitt’s stances toward tribes, the most hostile in state history, will now be informed by someone who aligns closely with the Governor’s own views, sadly. Fortunately, there are a broad array of state leaders with whom we can and will continue to work.”
Nofire, a Tahlequah based real estate agent, was a professional heavyweight boxer with a record of 20-2 before being elected to the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council in 2019. As recently as this year, Nofire ran for Cherokee Nation Principal Chief against incumbent Chief Hoskin, Jr, losing with 10% of the vote. His campaign ads and social media posts often featured a campaign “Big Foot”. The sasquatch made parade and other campaign appearances.
In 2022, Nofire unsuccessfully ran for a seat in Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District, receiving less than 6.3% of the GOP primary vote. During a July, 2022 GOP primary debate Nofire erroneously claimed, “They (tribal leaders) are trying to put illegal abortion clinics right here on the reservation. We don’t want to see that.”
In a Ballotpedia Candidate Connection Survey for his house run he called himself the “foremost authority” on McGirt saying, “Oklahoma is faced with one of the most critical issues of safety due to the handling of the McGirt decision. Both state and tribes have faced severe difficulties in protecting all Oklahomans. Having first-hand experience in dealing with these struggles, I am the foremost authority on this issue, and I will lead Oklahoma on getting a swift solution to protect the safety of all Oklahomans.” At the time of the statement, Nofire had been in year three of his only term on the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council.
Coverage from the Cherokee Phoenix of Nofire’s tenure shows his critique of the 2020 McGirt decision and unsubstantiated accusations against Cherokee Federal and Chief Hoskins, Jr. of child trafficking.
The Oklahoma Native American Liaison is a secretary position under the governor that was passed into law in 2012. The liaison has jurisdictional areas of responsibility related to Native American issues and state and tribal relations. Additionally they are responsible for monitoring compacts between the state and tribes.
The position has been filled in the past by former state representative and current Chickasaw tribal legislator Lisa Johnson Billy and the current secretary of state Brian Bingam. Billy resigned in 2019, stating in an open letter to Stitt that while she was proud of her work while in the office, “… it has become increasingly clear you [Stitt] are committed to an unnecessary conflict that poses a real risk of lasting damage to the state-tribal relationship and to our economy.”