Tulsa event brings tribal sovereignty front and center of political arena
(TULSA, Okla.) The first of two United Indian Nations of Oklahoma (UINO) candidate forums kicked off in Tulsa on Tuesday.
“Respecting Tribal Sovereignty” began with an opening prayer from UINO Treasurer Bruce Pratt and a host tribe welcome from Muscogee Creek Nation Chief David Hill.
Co-chairman of the Oklahoma Native Caucus Rep. Ken Luttrell provided some updates from the Capitol and emphasized the need for rural legislators to educate urban legislators on the benefits of partnering with the tribes.
UINO Chairwoman Margo Gray then took the stage to explain the purpose and layout of the forum.
Gray explained they purposely left out political affiliations on the agenda to highlight the need for bipartisan support of tribal sovereignty.
She said out of 119 invitations sent to political leaders to take part in Tuesday’s event, just 24 responded.
According to the 2020 Census, 16 percent of Oklahoma citizens say they are American Indian or Alaskan Native alone or in combination.
The Oklahoma Election Board does not track race and ethnicity demographics, but with 76 percent of Oklahoma’s population 18 years or older (3,010,698), the state’s Indigenous voting power could be estimated at upwards of 480,000.
Here are the names, districts, and comments of candidates in order of appearance at Tuesday’s forum:
Crystal LaGrone, OK House District 12 Candidate
Crystal LaGrone said she is supportive of tribal sovereignty and partnership, citing a $5 million economic impact to Wagoner County.
“We couldn’t make it in Wagoner without them,” LaGrone said.
Melissa Provenzano, OK House District 79 Candidate
Melissa Provenzano said the state shouldn’t be spending so much money to fight tribal sovereignty in court.
“I think working together would be the smarter option,” Provenzano said.
Provenzano said HB 1775 needs to be overturned and repealed.
Lynda Steele, OK Attorney General Candidate
Lynda Steele said she is for Indigenous justice.
“It’s not my job to pass legislation, it is my job to make sure legislation is constitutional,” Steele said. “I respect tribal sovereignty and tribal jurisdiction. It’s on the first page of Oklahoma’s state constitution.”
Steele said currently there is not one division for sovereign nations at the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office and, if elected, she will create one.
Jimmy Haley, OK House District 13 Candidate
Jimmy Haley said he is in support of tribal sovereignty, and he is appalled at the treatment Native Americans have received and still receive in Oklahoma.
He called the great things the tribe has done for the state are “obvious”.
“The monies you are investing are pivotal,” Haley said.
Haley said it will take bipartisan support to move Oklahoma forward, and Native Americans are “taking us to tomorrow”.
“There are efforts trying to pit us apart,” Haley said. “But we’re better when we’re together.”
Steve Jarman, OK House District 42 Candidate
Steve Jarman said he is running because their community needs more representation at the state level.
He said he respects the sovereignty of tribal nations, even though he recently experienced crime committed against him by a Native American that was difficult to navigate following the McGirt Supreme Court ruling.
Joshua Harris-Till, OK House District 5 Candidate
Joshua Harris-Till said sovereignty is under attack.
“We have to be intentional moving forward,” Harris-Till said.
He said too many politicians have claimed Native American heritage during election cycles, only to have the focus on Native American issues disappear after the election.
Harris-Till said he will implement quarterly round table discussions with Native American communities as well as create a liaison position for the tribes to make sure those issues remain part of the conversation.
Amanda Swope, OK House District 71 Candidate
Amanda Swope said tribal sovereignty is paramount to her decision to run for office.
“I strongly oppose any federal legislation that would overturn the McGirt ruling,” Swope said.
She said Oklahoma’s tribes do not exist in a vacuum outside of the State of Oklahoma but instead co-exist, and that she is available to fill in any knowledge gaps relating to tribal impacts on the state’s health, education and infrastructure systems.
“I don’t think it has to be a conversation about conflict,” Swope said. “I think it is about respecting both parties' status’ as self-governing.”
Swope said she will also focus on women issues in Oklahoma if elected, especially those relating to Native American women.
Kim David, OK Corporation Commissioner Candidate
Kim David said she’s traveled the world but loves the State of Oklahoma and always comes home.
“I’m looking forward to the future,” David said. “When we’re all working together hand in hand for Oklahoma.”
David said solutions need to be found for the tribes and the state to be the best together.
She said she worked closely with the Cherokee Nation during her time in the Oklahoma State Senate and believes constant dialogue with Native American communities is key moving forward.
Adam Martin, US Congressional District 1 Candidate
Adam Martin spoke of the parallels between the hardships and injustices committed against Black Americans and Native Americans.
He said the time is ripe for change for Oklahoma and called Tuesday’s event democracy in action.
“I know we can do it together because we’re here, we’re working and we’re listening,” Martin said. “We’re in a moment in Oklahoma where change can happen.”
Martin said we need people at the table representing communities, but also making sure everyone at the table is listening.
Dr. Warigia Bowman, OK Corporation Commissioner Candidate
Dr. Warigia Bowman said her experience working in the legal field and teaching college law in a variety of industries puts her in a position to serve both Oklahomans and Native Americans well if elected.
“Let the tribes control their own resources,” Bowman said.
Bowman called the Oklahoma Corporate Commissioner the most powerful Oklahoma commission you have never heard of.
She said industry rates are too high and access to telecommunication is too low.
“It’s not supposed to look like this,” Bowman said.
Bowman said Oklahoma has many different tribes with different needs, the state needs to respect that, and the Corporation Commissioner needs to inquire as to what the needs of each specific tribe are.
Chaunte Gilmore, OK House District 100 Candidate
Chaunte Gilmore said she is running to be a vehicle for positive change.
She said Native American voices need to be at the table when any policy or curriculum is created in Oklahoma and, as a minority, she relates to and understands many Native American issues.
“Trust has been broken through the policies that have been created,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore said positive legislation needs to be created to counteract that.
She said she would also develop a Native American counsel if elected.
Naomi Andrews, US Congressional District 2 Candidate
Naomi Andrews said her experience as director of Center for Plain Language, working to push government to make information easy to find and understand, demonstrates her commitment to help all citizens.
She said specific focus needs to be put on listening to tribal voices.
“We haven’t listened to the tribes enough in regard to protecting our land and water.”
Andrews said our lives and likelihoods depend on clean water.
She said she is also focused on education and health.
“History is uncomfortable, violent, and shameful,” Andrews said. “It’s also beautiful. All times must be taught.”
Andrews recognized Muscogee contributions to local healthcare and other areas despite hostility from the state.
“We see the state continue to deny governing authority to the tribes,” Andrews said.
Andrews said respect and conversation with tribes need to be commonplace with tribes throughout the nation and she will be proactive in that effort.
Madison Horn, US Senate Candidate
Madison Horn said she is from Stilwell, Oklahoma, home of the lowest life expectancy in the country.
“That’s a lot of what Oklahoma looks like,” Horn said.
Horn said she had a difficult childhood and depended a lot on her community growing up.
She said she later went on to become a global executive in cyber security, only 1 percent of women to do so.
“We have a lack of understanding of trauma that our state has gone through,” Horn said.
Horn said understand and respecting that trauma is the first step to being a true advocate in serving Indigenous communities.
“Showing up is the bare minimum,” Horn said.
Horn said sovereignty needs to be insured and trust needs to be re-established across the United States.
She also said it also is important to lead from a place of advocacy and not ego.
Leslie Osborn, OK Labor Commissioner Candidate
Leslie Osborn said Oklahoma is not a top ten state like some claim, but a bottom five state and that needs to change.
“The only way we’re going to get better is by investing in ourselves,” Osborn said.
Osborn said teacher pay needs to be raised and there needs to be more focus on mental health, and on roads and bridges.
She also emphasized the need for people to get out and vote.
Melinda Alizafeh-Fard, OK Lieutenant Governor Candidate
Melinda Alizafeh-Fard said she is a servant, not a politician.
She said integrity needs to be restored to the governor’s office and if elected she will be a watchdog for the people and a champion of commission oversight.
“One of the first things that happened over the last four years was the stripping of that oversight,” Alizafeh-Fard said.
Alizafeh-Fard said Oklahoma needs the tribes more than the tribes need Oklahoma.
Susan Carley Young, OK House District 23 Candidate
Susan Carley Young said the public education system is being destroyed by the current administration and that will impact safety in the future.
“What I’m in favor of is children being taught the truth, and it needs to be provided by people who have been trained objectively,” Young said. “Most people don’t know a lot about history.”
Young said respect for people who teach our children needs to be reestablished.
She said if elected she will also begin dialogues with tribal leaders that she is not already in contact with.
“Make sure they know there is an open door for them at all times,” Young said.
Suzanne Schreiber, OK House District 70 Candidate
Suzanne Schreiber said Oklahoma lawmakers need to be looking at real things they can do in the state legislature to improve Oklahoma lives.
She said bipartisan action and relationship building are two important parts of that equation, including in regard to working with Oklahoma tribes.
“We need to capitalize on our rich culture and diversity,” Schreiber said.
Schreiber acknowledged tribes in Oklahoma have had an economic impact in the billions of dollars.
RJ Harris, OK House District 44 Candidate
RJ Harris said he plans to lead with humility and respect for nations that predate the United States by thousands of years, in all aspects including jurisdictional boundaries and industry.
He said he does not support any efforts to disestablish the tribes.
“The native nations should be able to determine whatever level gaming that they want without the state being involved,” Harris said.
Harris said he does not believe tribal citizens should be double taxed on tribal lands.
Kendra Horn, US Senate Candidate
Kendra Horn said there are a lot of misperceptions and misconceptions regarding the relationship between the federal government and the tribes.
"In Oklahoma, the 39 tribes are integrated within our state," Horn said.
Horn said it is important to have strong candidates in Congress to educate other people.
"I would not support any federal legislation to do establish our tribal reservations," Horn said.
Horn said the US government has not upheld their end of the bargain and they need more advocates for Native American people.
She said she is not here to tell the tribes what they need, rather to listen and serve the needs that are communicated to her.
"I think this is an important conversation we need to have," Horn said.
Joy Hofmeister, Oklahoma Governor Candidate
Joy Hofmeister said she has been striving for better government to government relations with tribal nations for the last 7 1/2 years during her time as State Superintendent of Schools.
“I will not betray the trust that has been established,” Hofmeister said.
Hofmeister said she will work to advance partnerships that support Indigenous people.
She said if elected her top priority is to restore the broken trust with the governor’s office and recognized that will require strong communication and mutual respect.
Hofmeister acknowledged the tribes are collectively the largest employer in the state.
“As governor, I want to expand on that,” Hofmeister said.
She said she will start with the Attorney General’s Office to work through cross deputization compacts to meet the tribes’ and state’s criminal justice needs.
Hofmeister said she is waiting to see how the courts will rule on the double taxation issue, but an early compact following the Supreme Court’s ruling would have been a good solution. She said that is the route she plans to explore moving forward.
“Governor Kevin Stitt has seen chaos and confusion by refusing to come to the table,” Hofmeister said.
Hofmeister said House Bill 1775 has caused a lot of problems and what she believes are unintended consequences.
She called the recent decision in Mustang as “politically motivated”.
“People did the bidding of a governor to earn political points,” Hofmeister said.
Hofmeister said she plans to focus on quality education, healthcare, and career infrastructure.
“I say meet me in the middle and let’s get something done,” Hofmeister said.
The next UINO candidate forum will be held on October 27 at the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City.
This article has been updated throughout the day.
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