Five tribes decline to participate in state governor’s task force

Collaborator: Rachael Schuit
Published: 01/11/2024, 6:45 PM
Edited: 05/18/2024, 5:00 PM

Co-written By: Brittany Harlow

(MUSCOGEE NATION) Tensions between Oklahoma’s tribal governments and Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s administration are already ramping up in 2024. 

This week, the Inter-Tribal Council of The Five Civilized Tribes (ITC) leaders (Muscogee Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole) announced they will not take part in Stitt’s newly created “One Oklahoma Task Force.”

Stitt announced the Task Force on December 22 saying, “The primary function of government is to protect public safety and the McGirt decision has created confusion and tension among those that work to serve that function”.

The Executive Order referred to a “lack of jurisdictional clarity, which to date has crippled the state’s ability to resolve issues and continues to negatively impact crime victims, state and tribal law enforcement officials” following the Supreme Court’s ruling that tribal reservations within Oklahoma boundaries had never been disestablished.

Stitt stated a dispute between a county employee and a tribal police officer in Okmulgee highlighted the need for the task force.

The task force sought participation from the state attorney general, law enforcement, lawmakers, representatives from the Five Civilized Tribes, and representatives from Oklahoma’s other 33 tribes.

But, Muscogee Creek Nation Principal Chief David Hill said the task force is just another example of the State wasting “far too much time and energy finding ways to evade, reject, or minimize the positive impact of tribal jurisdiction” instead of focusing on how to incorporate tribal authority to benefit the public.

“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 taskforce on McGirt is based on a false premise and seeks misguided political objectives through a structure to divide rather than unify. This task force cannot adequately serve the public good unless these flaws are corrected.” 

In a joint statement released earlier this week, ICT leaders said, “The five Tribes cannot 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.” 

“At its core, the McGirt decision is a pro-public safety ruling,” Hill said. “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 for victims.” 

The news comes days after the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) suspended the agreement with Muscogee (Nation) Lighthorse officers, a move Hill believes was politically motivated. 

“The suspension of this agreement is not the result of any problem with the cross-deputization agreement,” Hill said. “Instead, this is a dangerous political ploy driven by Governor Stitt’s desire to undermine tribal jurisdiction at the expense of the most vulnerable Oklahomans.” 

ICT leaders said they have a proven track record of enforcing the law at all levels. 

“We call on you and the State of Oklahoma to make a good faith effort at practical 

solutions for working with tribes to improve public safety,” ICT leaders said in their statement. “That means setting aside politicized rhetoric and denials of tribal sovereignty. The structure of any task force must also reflect respectful government-to-government dialogue with each of the 38 unique tribes in Oklahoma. The State has no authority to mandate any Tribe to defer to another Tribe to speak on its behalf.”


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