Tulsa Mayoral Candidates Discuss Governing a City Sitting on Reservation Land

OklahomaEventsPoliticsCommunity Indigenous
Collaborator: Rachael Schuit
Published: 04/02/2024, 2:57 AM
Edited: 04/02/2024, 3:21 PM

(TULSA, Okla.) The City of Tulsa shares land with three tribes: Muscogee Creek Nation, Cherokee Nation, and Osage Nation- a reality that puts city, state and Tribal leaders in a unique position.

The prospect of how to govern a large city on Native land was discussed at great length during a March 25 Town Hall for Tulsa’s 2024 Mayoral candidates, organized by Mvskoke Media, the Riverview Neighborhood Association, the Maple Ridge Neighborhood Association, and the downtown venue The Shrine.

Over the last four years, many legal cases have considered which entities have jurisdiction to prosecute Tribal and non-Tribal citizens accused of committing crimes on the shared land. 

In 2020, the Supreme Court affirmed Eastern Oklahoma was reservation land, meaning that the City of Tulsa sits primarily atop Muscogee Creek Nation. The ruling had implications for Tribal citizens who commit crimes in cities like Tulsa, as only the federal government and the applicable tribe would have jurisdiction to prosecute them, rather than the state. In 2023, the Tenth Circuit Court ruled that the city of Tulsa does not have jurisdiction to prosecute Tribal Citizens for municipal crimes either. 

Both the City of Tulsa and Muscogee Creek Nation have filed subsequent lawsuits to pursue further decisions on the matter. 

During the recent town hall meeting, Mvskoke Media Editor and Reporter Braden Harper asked mayoral candidates if they would comply with the court rulings and how they would handle relationships with the Tribes amidst these legal issues. 

Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith said she is committed to following the rule of law and added that the city should be working alongside Native Tribes. 

“I'm confident that both the Nations and the citizens of the City of Tulsa [want] this to be a safe city, and the only way we can do that is by working together,” Keith said.

Former State Representative Monroe Nichols discussed the importance of the City of Tulsa respecting the Tribes. 

“The city filed suit against the tribes, the tribes have followed suit, and that's what happens when you don't have a relationship built on trust–where you don't have a relationship built on understanding, where you don't have a relationship built on respect,” Nichols said.

Nichols said if he is elected Mayor, he will appoint a Senior Director of Tribal Policy and Partnerships to help co-govern the city alongside the Tribes. 

“This is not an easy thing to work through, but it is also not something that has to be this difficult and this adversarial,” Nichols added. “I've watched over the last four years, five years, as the relationship…has completely deteriorated between the Tribes and the Governor. Those are mistakes that I will not make as mayor.”

Tulsa City Councilor Jayme Fowler said that all governing entities must work together when working through these issues. 

“Our only solution is to have Tribal agencies, TPD, and the Mayor's office really streamline the processes, negotiate processes, and really strive to make our community safer and make it work not only for our Tribal Brothers and Sisters but also [for] our citizens,” Fowler said.

Candidates were also asked about current relationships with Tribal leadership and if they had received endorsements or campaign contributions from Tribes. Keith said she has met with several Tribal leaders and stressed the commonalities between the Tribes and the people of Tulsa. 

“All of our area leadership with the Nations, they want a good relationship with the City of Tulsa and with the State of Oklahoma, and they want to work together because they understand as we work together, we're all that much stronger,” Keith said.

Nichols said he has longstanding relationships with Tribal leaders. 

“I have certainly met with all the leaders of the Tribes here on the Reservation, but in addition to that, I'm maybe the only person on the stage who met with the leaders of the Five Civilized Tribes at the InterTribal Council Executive Meeting, and in that [meeting], we deferred that we can move Tulsa forward together,” Nichols said.

Fowler said he looks forward to a relationship with the Tribes, but has not met with Tribal leadership yet. 

“I think you always want to work with people at arm's length with no hidden strings attached, and ethics are extremely important.” Fowler said. “When you do things at arm’s length without any financial remuneration, I think that's very very important.” 

All three candidates said they would support working with entities like the Riverview Neighborhood Association and the Muscogee Creek Nation to restore Creek Nation Council Oak Park. 

The Tulsa Mayoral Election will take place on August 27, 2024.

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