It is unclear what the relationship between the state and Native tribes will look like in the future, as Gov. Kevin Stitt, state officials, and tribal leaders are headed in different directions after the Supreme Court's McGirt decision.
After Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter sent a letter this week to Congress recommending legislation to allow the state and tribes to enter into compacts on criminal matters, Stitt presented recommendations from a commission he appointed in July to explore the effects of the high court's ruling. The Oklahoma Commission on Cooperative Sovereignty recommended five principles the state use in handling the case in which the court decided the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's reservation was never disestablished, but at least two of the Five Tribes are not on board with the proposal.
The court's decision shifts jurisdiction over crimes involving tribal citizens in Indian Country from the state's purview to the federal government and tribes. But Stitt and the commission are concerned the decision will have tax implications, and want to make sure all who live in Oklahoma share the cost of state-provided services.
"The questions caused by the McGirt decision have put our state at a crossroads," said Stitt. "But where some see a major challenge for our state, I see an opportunity. We can work together and secure our future as one Oklahoma, maintaining our diversity and sharing the vision of becoming a top ten state."
The first of the commission's principles is that "All Oklahomans should be treated equally under the law, and fairly represented by their commonly elected State officials." Second, the commission recommended that all Oklahomans share, without regard to race, gender or affiliation, in the funding of common services provided by the state to its residents. Among the services listed were: transportation and infrastructure, public safety and corrections, criminal and civil courts, environmental protection, economic development, and more.
The third principle is to have laws, regulations and government services applied consistently to all residents of Oklahoma, as the commission does not want to see segregated schools, courts or jails.
With regard to business, the commission's fourth principle is that zoning, land use regulations, construction codes and permits be consistent throughout the state, and that mineral rights regulations and environmental regulations remain the responsibility of the state, except for on Trust-owned lands.
Finally, the fifth principle recommended by the commission - made up of business leaders, lawmakers, and legal experts, but not any Native members - be that the state support "the sovereignty of these tribes in a way that is consistent with these principles."
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., who has been in favor of federal legislation to curtail criminal jurisdictional issues, was quick to rebuke the governor's announcement.
"Gov. Stitt cannot say he respects tribal sovereignty while also advocating that no role be left for tribal governments," said Hoskin. "Oklahoma is one state, but the Cherokee Nation had a government-to-government relationship with the United States both before and after Oklahoma statehood. Gov. Stitt claims to appreciate the role of tribes in Oklahoma's history, so it is difficult to understand why he cannot find any rooms for tribes in Oklahoma's future. Let tribes decide the best path forward by choosing whether or not to opt into agreements and negotiations through federal legislation that work best on filling gaps in criminal jurisdiction."
Earlier this month, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, described as a "free-market think tank that works to advance principles and policies that support free enterprise, limited government, individual initiative and personal responsibility," sent a letter to Oklahoma's Congressional delegation calling for all of Oklahoma's reservations to be formally disestablished.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill said the governor's recommendations promote the "radical arguments" of the OCPA. However, he doesn't think the state or tribes should resort to federal legislation to address intergovernmental matters.
"Even for a commission that lacked any tribal voices and representatives, the anti-Indian bias that flows through the governor's recommendation is shocking," said Hill. "It is clear that current law allows us to work as partners with the state to address any and all changes prompted by the Supreme Court decision. Demands for Congress to enact a one-size-fits-all federal mandate won't solve anything but will undermine tribal sovereignty throughout the Nation."