Tulsa Mayoral Candidates Share Plans for Indian Country

OklahomaPoliticsCommunity Indigenous
Collaborator: Rachael Schuit
Published: 05/30/2024, 3:02 PM
Edited: 06/21/2024, 3:26 AM

(TULSA, Okla.) Tulsans will head to the polls this year not just to elect a President–but also to elect a new mayor. There are currently three candidates in the race: Oklahoma State Representative Monroe Nichols, County Commissioner Karen Keith, and Tulsa business owner Casey Bradford. 

VNN Oklahoma has committed to covering the Tulsa Mayoral Election for our Indigenous community members, asking questions based on their unique challenges in Tulsa. 

Recently, we interviewed Nichols and Bradford about their positions on the legal issues between the city and local tribes, how they plan to address those, and what their plans are when it comes to working with local tribes if elected. 

Keith was unavailable during our two-week interview window.

Nichols emphasized that he is committed to governing alongside Muscogee Nation, Cherokee Nation, and Osage Nation, which all share reservation land with Tulsa.

“We don't have to solve these issues in a courtroom,” said Nichols. “We can very easily solve these issues in partnership, and so challenging [the McGirt Ruling] will be something that you'll never find me doing as a mayor because I think it's a waste of time and money.” 

In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in McGirt v. Oklahoma that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation had never been dis-established and was thus still reservation land. 

“The question is how somebody is prosecuted, that's a backend issue,” Nichols continued. “I think we can do it with every little trouble. I think it's all about respecting our tribal nations, the leaders, and citizens, and then making sure that we're respecting tribal sovereignty and the administration of justice on the prosecution side–which is a very easy thing for us to do."

Other legal issues have included the Muscogee (Creek) Nation suing the city of Tulsa in November of 2023, claiming the city has unlawfully prosecuted tribal citizens for traffic violations within reservation boundaries. 

Bradford said the current system needs some new logistics.

“There need to be some things put in place, specifically [in] a way for officers that have been cross-deputized to be able to show up to those court systems via a digital platform…so that they're not having to leave Tulsa County to drive to a different county to actually go to that court system to defend that citation,” Bradford said. “Then, they need to make sure that they're supporting our officers in any way, shape, or form–which they already do, and we have a great working relationship with all of the tribes across this area."

Bradford also noted that the utilization of funds from those citations must also be addressed. 

"There's a lot of coworking that exists there,” Bradford said. “It's just [discussing] what's going to happen to the money and how [we are] going to split it up, and that needs to be a conversation between the police chief, the court systems, the mayor, and all the tribal chiefs.” 

The candidates also discussed their plans for making Tulsa an inclusive community for Native Americans. Nichols says he plans to employ a Director of Tribal Policy and Partnerships if elected Mayor. 

“What we know about these tribal enterprises that we have in Oklahoma, they're not just gaming enterprises,” Nichols explained. “They have very diverse businesses…they're making really significant investments in the life of this community, specifically [in regards to] everything from education to healthcare, to mental health services, to business in general.”

Additionally, Nichols added that one of his goals is to establish a Native American Center. 

“That really is about empowering Native Youth, elders, families, and community by promoting those things that we've been talking about…economic, physical, mental health, cultural enrichment, and education are all a part of it,” he said.

Bradford told VNN that he has worked with Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. in the past and that he has reached out to Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill and Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear for meetings. 

“I think we need to have a representative of each tribe that is there for advice, not necessarily making laws or decisions but [getting] the input of the tribal nations when we do make decisions,” said Bradford. “To be an elected representative of the people is to represent the people, and the only way to do that is by including representatives of those organizations of those tribes [and] of those communities into our politics. In my opinion, we're not doing a good enough job. I think that the chiefs and the mayor should have open lines of communication at all times.”

The Tulsa Mayoral Election will be held on August 27, 2024. 

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