How this year's election could affect tribal sovereignty in Oklahoma
(MUSCOGEE NATION) Community members voiced their opinions about news coverage relating to elections and politics during VNN outreach efforts this past summer.
People we talked with said there is a lack of Indigenous-focused politician and election news coverage, which they believe prevents Tribal citizens from voting.
In an attempt to inform voters who are concerned about the Indigenous perspective, VNN has gathered information regarding three key races in the general election this November, the issues involved, and how the outcomes of those races could impact tribal sovereignty.
(The following positions and candidates are listed in order of appearance on sample ballots for the upcoming election. Sample ballots are available now through the OK Voter Portal.)
NATALIE BRUNO (Libertarian)
“Tribes” are listed as the second top issue on Bruno’s campaign site, which states that both the state and federal government need to cease undermining tribal sovereignty.
Other comments on this page include:
· The Supreme Court’s McGirt decision reaffirms the United States’ treaties.
· The State of Oklahoma has been acting outside of its jurisdiction for over 100 years now.
· Working with the tribes rather than against them will create a better Oklahoma for all of its citizens.
Bruno describes herself as a businesswoman on her campaign page as well as a former CASA volunteer, board member of Oklahoma Lawyers for Children, and youth sports coach.
KEVIN STITT (Republican)
Stitt was elected governor in 2018 and assumed office in 2019.
Despite being a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Stitt has been at odds with many of the state’s tribes since taking office, including the Five Treaty Tribes. From the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Nations suing Stitt over gaming compacts to the Stitt administration’s repeated attempts to reverse the Supreme Court’s McGirt decision, the current governor has received quite a bit of pushback for his refusal to work with tribal nations.
“Tribal Relations” are not listed under the top issues of his campaign site, though Stitt references the ongoing McGirt battle under Public Safety, saying he has “Stood with District Attorneys, Sheriffs, and public safety professionals across the state in calling for the courts and the U.S. Supreme Court to deliver much-needed clarity on the Oklahoma v. McGirt ruling that is wreaking havoc in Eastern Oklahoma.”
JOY HOFMEISTER (Democrat)
Hofmeister is the current Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Oklahoma, a position she assumed in 2015.
She lists “Tribal Nations” as the 8th issue on her campaign site, which states that “Joy recognizes and supports the sovereignty of tribal nations in Oklahoma, and respects the significant contributions tribal members make to our communities through education, healthcare, law enforcement, charitable donations and economic impact.”
Other comments on this page include:
· Oklahoma’s tribal nations represent a $15 billion impact on our state’s economy.
· Joy knows that a prosperous future for all Oklahomans depends on a shared understanding of sovereignty and a deeper partnership with tribal citizens.”
Hofmeister calls out Stitt on the homepage of her campaign site, saying in part that he wastes time “fighting with tribal governments and the Supreme Court”.
Hofmeister attended the United Indian Nations of Oklahoma (UINO) candidate forum in August, where she said she will work to advance partnerships that support Indigenous people.
DR. ERVIN STONE YEN (Independent)
Yen lists “Tribal Relations” as the 4th issue on his campaign site, which includes “An Apology To Our Nations First People”.
Other comments on this page include:
· My administration will be wholly committed to working with tribal leaders to resolve outstanding issues and mend relationships between the state and our tribes.
· Once elected, I would immediately propose creating a specific position for a tribal-governmental relation liaison, to ensure that their voice is always present (and heard) as we are all working towards moving Oklahoma in a positive, forward direction.
Yen practiced medicine in Oklahoma City for 38 years.
LYNDA STEELE (Libertarian)
Steele attended the United Indian Nations of Oklahoma (UINO) candidate forum in August, where she said she respects both tribal sovereignty and tribal jurisdiction.
She also said currently there is no division for sovereign nations at the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office and, if elected, she will create one.
Steele served over 12 years in the Oklahoma National Guard and became the first female artilleryman in the state.
GENTNER F. DRUMMOND (Republican)
In June, Drummond beat out current Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor (appointed by Stitt following the resignation of former AG Mike Hunter last year) for the Republican nomination.
Neither “Tribal Relations” nor “McGirt” is mentioned on Drummond’s campaign site, though a spokesperson for his campaign did tell The Frontier that “Mr. Drummond will collaborate with all parties to restore the partnership that has benefitted both the State and the tribes for decades.”
According to his campaign site, Drummond led the first U.S. combat mission of the Gulf War and is one of Oklahoma’s most highly decorated veterans. He is also a rancher, lawyer, banker, and business owner.
SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION
RYAN WALTERS (Republican)
Stitt named Walters Secretary of Public Education in 2020.
“Tribal Relations” are not listed under the top issues of his campaign site.
Walters has been an outspoken supporter of House Bill 1775, a so-called critical race theory ban.
He lists “Critical Race Theory” as the top issue on his campaign site, saying “CRT is a dangerous and racist philosophy, and all it does is divide and characterize entire groups of people solely based on the color of their skin”.
Last month, KOSU reported that despite CRT being linked with HB 1775, the letter of the law does not in fact ban CRT.
It does, however, ban concepts teaching that “Any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of their race or sex”, which has prompted some educators to stop teaching Indigenous history for fear of retribution.
The Osage Nation Congress recently adopted a resolution calling for a repeal of the law due to its chilling effect.
Walters taught eight years as a high school history teacher at McAlester High School.
JENA NELSON (Democrat)
“Tribal Relations” are not listed under the top priorities of her campaign site.
Nelson’s top listed priority is “Keeping Public Dollars in our Public Schools”, condemning a proposed voucher plan to use public funds for private schools.
Regarding HB 1775, Nelson said its structure is “full of ambiguity and this situation is just one example of how vague this education legislation is in practice. With teachers — myself included — back in the classroom, it is urgent that we address these ambiguities and implement due process and clear protocols for our school districts and educators.”
After attending the Choctaw Nation’s Partnership of Summer School Education learning program earlier this year, Nelson said the tribe’s partnership with local communities and schools brings an enhanced learning experience to children, and serves as a shining example of what public education could be across Oklahoma.
Nelson is a 6th and 7th grade English teacher at Classen SAS Middle School.
The deadline to register to vote in the Oklahoma General Election is October 14.
Election Day is November 8.
All candidates will have a chance to share their views about protecting tribal sovereignty at the next UINO candidate forum happening October 27 at the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City.