OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt did not renew its standing hunting and fishing compacts with tribal governments. Agreements between the Cherokee and Choctaw Nation officially expired Dec. 31, 2021.
The compacts between the tribes and state generated a combined nearly $40 million since establishment in 2016.
Tribes are supposed to have guaranteed hunting and fishing rights on their reservations under their treaties, which are deemed by Congress the “law of the land.”
These compacts were set to provide hunting and fishing opportunities for tribal citizens while the state generated revenue and federal funding for wildlife programs.
In these programs, the tribes purchased licenses at subsidized rate for their citizens.
Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell, the Secretary of Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation sent a letter to both tribes on Nov. 30, 2021 explaining the ending of the compacts.
In the letter, Pinnell offers the tribes to enter into new compacts for fishing and hunting that allows the tribes to purchase licenses at the same price that other Oklahomans pay with no option for current compact renewal.
Each of the Five Civilized Tribes released statements expressing disappointment in the Governor’s actions.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. claimed the loss goes beyond the Cherokee citizens and affects the state and its non-Native citizens as well.
“Unfortunately, this is consistent with what we’ve seen from the governor since the Supreme Court’s McGirt decision,” Hoskin said. “Whenever there is an opportunity to cooperate with tribes – whether on keeping criminals off the streets or on hunting and fishing rights – the governor has instead sought to undermine collaboration and claim McGirt created chaos.”
Hoskin made his promise to the Cherokee Nation to “aggressively defend” treaty rights and sovereignty.
Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton claimed that hunting and fishing compacts have been routine matter under previous administrations that provided financial and cultural benefit for all parties involved.
“Unfortunately, Gov. Stitt has once again decided to let his personal concerns outweigh what is best for the people he was elected to represent, putting conflict above cooperation,” Batton said. “We hope he will change his stance and respect tribal sovereignty while protecting wildlife, generating revenue and improving the quality of life for Oklahomans.”
Seminole Nation Chief Lewis Johnson stated that the Seminole Nation has supported tribal sovereignty since time immemorial while remaining at peace with tribes and other supporters of tribes and their sovereignty.
“It’s time for the Governor to change his approach to tribal rights, and instead focus on doing what’s best for the people of Oklahoma and recognize the value of tribal partnerships,” Johnson said. “Seminoles will always stand up for tribal rights and sovereignty.”
According to Muscogee (Creek) Nation Agriculture and Natural Resources, this does not affect any programs within their department but supports the affected tribal nations.
Principal Chief David Hill said that Muscogee Nation believes in treaties and the rights granted to tribal nations.
“The state’s decision to end the hunting and fishing compacts with the Cherokee and Choctaw Nations is disappointing especially in that it not only hurts the state of Oklahoma, but the true intent is to demean tribal sovereignty.”
A statement from the office of Governor Stitt claimed these “personal attacks” will not deter him from protecting the interest of all Oklahomans, including the states wildlife and natural resources.
“Governor Stitt believes that all Oklahomans should receive equal treatment under the law and offered both the Cherokee Nation and the Choctaw Nation the opportunity to enter into a compact to purchase licenses for their members by paying the same price as Oklahomans who are not tribal members.”we
The letter from Pinnell to the tribes can viewed at: https://oklahoma.gov/content/dam/ok/en/governor/documents/20211130%20wildlife%20compact%20letter.pdf.