Tempers flared during a May 25 Cherokee Nation Rules Committee over a discussion about law enforcement jurisdiction, election law, and transparency.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill detailed recent developments on compact extension legislation.

“The Cherokee Nation has been working along with some other tribes, including the Chickasaw Nation and the Choctaw Nation, to get through the Oklahoma Legislature legislation that would extend dates of the motor vehicle compacts and the tobacco compacts in Oklahoma,” said Hill.

Hill said the Cherokee Nation’s motor vehicle compacts, as well as the Chickasaw Nation’s and Choctaw Nation’s tobacco compacts, are set to expire in the next few months. Hill said the goal is the tribes will be able to extend the terms of their existing compacts exactly as they are into the future.

“That’s legislation that’s currently being worked on in the statehouse. The tobacco extension passed the Senate yesterday, the car tag extension passed through the House yesterday in a special session. Today is the mandatory dead day, so it has to sit and wait one whole day. On Friday, the two chambers will switch. The Senate will take up car tags and the House will take up tobacco,” she said.

If it passes both houses, Hill said it will go to the governor for signature or veto.

“It will create a statutory option and there are other examples of statutory compacts: The gaming compact is a statutory compact, motor fuels is a statutory compact,” she said.

Hill said a couple of different law enforcement agencies reached out to her with concerns about law enforcement actions taking place in their counties by the United Keetoowah Band.

“The UKB does not have jurisdiction in the Cherokee reservation. The Cherokee reservation is under the exclusive tribal jurisdiction of the Cherokee Nation, and so I reached out to local law enforcement and assured them that was the case,” she said.

Hill thinks this issue has been the most problematic in Adair and Sequoyah counties, but went ahead and sent letters to all sheriffs in the tribe’s 14 counties.

“A lot [what] they were seeing where things like traffic stops were being conducted in all these different counties and the UKB simply lacks jurisdiction to do that,” she said. “I ... will continue to push back on that anytime I see incursions into Cherokee Nation’s sovereignty.”

Hill said the UKB’s strongest argument for jurisdiction is the 76 acres of land the tribe has in trust in Tahlequah.

“Outside of that location, there simply isn’t a reasoned legal argument that they have jurisdiction in the Cherokee Nation reservation,” she said.

District 3 Councilor Wes Nofire said he appreciates Hill’s sending the letter but that he also appreciates that the UKB was offering assistance to other law enforcement agencies.

“I know their practices may be rubbing this administration the wrong way. I just, in all sincerity, like when people try to work together on making sure safety and protection [is] above all of every citizen, of all Cherokee people,” said Nofire, who is running against Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.

Hill again clarified that the government of the Cherokee Nation is responsible for law enforcement on the its reservation.

“People may have different feelings or emotions about that, but that’s a matter of law and how people feel about it at any given time is irrelevant when it’s a matter of law,” said Hill.

Nofire asked Hill if her office had received a letter of approval from Bureau of Indian Affair’s regarding CN election law.

“As I said before, the BIA did approve our election and we do have that letter,” said Hill.

Nofire asked if the BIA gave its entire approval or a partial approval. Hill said the BIA gave its complete approval. Nofire said he requested the letter himself and that the BIA has issues with parts of the law. Nofire cited the letter and said, “in the event that LA-1422 is challenged in tribal, state, or federal court, the nation may not rely on [the BIA] approval as a defense.”

Nofire asked a question about a nondisclosure agreement the Cherokee Nation signed in 2020 with an LLC coordinated by “the president’s son.” Nofire, who presented no evidence to back his implication that Hunter Biden was involved with tribal business, asked why this NDA wasn’t distributed to the council and said, “What are we hiding?”

Hill said she had “literally no idea” what Nofire was talking about.

“My point exactly. That’s the concern when there is no transparency from your office down to this council,” said Nofire.

Voices were raised in the meeting room, and Committee Chair Mike Shambaugh intervened.

“There will be order in this meeting,” said Shambaugh. “What we’re not going to have grandstanding, we’re not going to have things put in front of this council without any evidence. We’re not going make things up. If you have some documentation to share, bring it. Otherwise, what you’re saying has no teeth, has no meaning, [it] means nothing.”

Nofire denied grandstanding and said he simply has concerns with transparency.

“There were a lot of things brought up that none of us have any idea what he’s talking about. There has been nothing presented to us with these complaints,” Shambaugh said of Nofire’s claims. “It’s brought up one time ... We know nothing about what he’s talking about because he’s brought nothing forward.”

Shambaugh said anyone who has a problem with any Cherokee Nation entity should go to the head of that entity and ask them.

“We can sit here and do ‘what-ifs’ with zero evidence of anything, and that is not right,” he said.

Nofire said he has the authority to speak on behalf of his constituents. Voices again were raised as Nofire spoke and Shambaugh repeatedly called a point of order, but Nofire continued.

“I’m not going to sit here and be belittled in my council seat that I’m elected to represent my constituents and you’ve done that time and time again,” said Nofire.

The council voted to take a five-minute recess.

After the recess, Hill said she had two responses. One, that she could not respond to the NDA issue because she doesn’t know “any of the things” Nofire was talking about.

“On the issue of the election code, I think that was read very selectively. Everything in the election code has been approved. What I told you was true. What they were careful to say was, you cannot rely on this letter from us if you get called into court on some of these issues,” she said. “You’re going to have to defend your own legal positions, which is fine. We’re our own government and we defend our own legal positions.”

Hill also addressed the conflicts with the UKB.

“I think its important to understand there are real-world consequences for having a law enforcement agency out in the universe acting as if it’s a law enforcement agency when they lack jurisdiction. The UKB lacks any cross-deputization agreements with any state agencies, so if they collect evidence at a scene and that case goes to the state, it’s a good chance [all of that evidence] is not going to be able to be used in that case,” she said.

What’s next

The rest of the May 25 Rules Committee meeting will be covered in the Tuesday, May 30 edition of the Daily Press.

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