Gov. Kevin Stitt scored another victory in his ongoing battle with Oklahoma Native tribes by finding another way, with the prescient help of U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, to keep reservations under his thumb.
The dominoes are still falling after the Supreme Court of the United States ruled this summer that land in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's jurisdiction remains part of its reservation. Other tribal leaders - including Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. - rightfully took that decision to cover the territory on which their sovereign tribal nations are situated.
Stitt, who has been trying to skin tribes for more casino dough to keep their "exclusivity" intact, must have felt like he'd been kicked in the teeth. No doubt he and other Republicans of note - including Inhofe - were a little surprised President Trump's first SCOTUS pick, Neil Gorsuch, led the charge against the state's claims on tribal land.
The ruling is upending criminal law and much remains to be sorted out, as tribal citizens convicted by the state seek new trials in the federal realm. But lobbing another wrench into the works is a low blow from Stitt, and telling the tribes they must submit to his will on any level is preposterous. Tribal dignitaries can be forgiven for suspecting this is payback - that the administration pressured its U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to acquiesce to demands of Oklahoma officials.
After the SCOTUS decision giving tribes more authority over what already belongs to them, Stitt quickly demanded a green light to let the state oversee almost all environmental programs in Indian Country. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a Trump lackey and enemy of regulations, wasted little time kowtowing. And it can legally happen, thanks to a federal law that created this loophole - one written in 2005 by Inhofe. The long-time senator, soon to be 86 and challenged this year by a formidable contender, has always been known for his alliance with the oil and gas industry.
The governor expressed pleasure with the EPA decision, and so the did the oil and gas industry - duh! - and Stitt said it ensured "certainty and one consistent set of regulations" for all Oklahomans, including tribal members. There's one problem, though; Native tribes are sovereign, which is supposed to mean any "authority" over them on the part of the state can only be exercised through and with their approval. And the tribes have already bent over backward to give to the state what, by law, they don't have to give it. The tribes are the main reason why some roads in Oklahoma are decent; while public schools can continue serving all students, not just Native ones; and why the state treasury hasn't been depleted entirely by the avarice of certain "mainstream" politicians.
Hoskin responded to this insult as he always does, with dignity, intelligence and prudence, calling the EPA's decision a "knee-jerk reaction." A few other, more descriptive and accurate phrases come to mind, but they aren't fit for a family newspaper.
The Cherokee Nation and all other indigenous peoples in Oklahoma should waste no time dragging this case back to court, and if precedent is any indication, Gorsuch will be rolling his eyes and sharpening his quill. And citizens of tribal nations should waste no time making their opinions known at the polls, as soon as humanly possible.