Tribal Leaders Say Stitt Needs A Refresher On Tribal Sovereignty

Monday, February 3rd 2020, 7:28 pm

Leaders from six tribal nations were watching and listening from the House of Representatives chamber during the governor’s state of the state address. For months the Governor and tribes have been in a stalemate over the state gaming compact.

Governor Stitt spent about 2 minutes talking about the gaming compact dispute, but there certainly was not resolve in his comments and tribal leaders are frustrated.

While wrapping up the topic of education, Governor Stitt transitioned to the gaming compact, as tribal leaders from across the state listened from the house chamber.

“Let me take a brief moment to address one critical matter,” Stitt said. “In 2019, 1.3% of the common education funding came from the State’s exclusivity fees on Class III games on tribal casinos.”

That comes out to about $130 million from tribal casinos. Stitt wants to increase the exclusivity fees. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. says the tribes are willing to renegotiate but haven’t had any formal meeting with the Governor.

“There’s no opportunity to do that when A) He starts out in an op-ed in the newspaper and B) He holds a phony deadline with a clock ticking over the tribes. It’s wrong, he shouldn’t have done it,” said Hoskin.

Stitt says the gaming compact is expired. The tribes say it’s not and continue to operate as normal and honor the agreement they made with the state 15 years ago.

“That’s what’s important, we continue to send money to the state of Oklahoma, as we’re obliged to do under the compact that’s renewed,” said Hoskin.

Still, Stitt says Class III gaming is illegal. Four tribes have filed a federal lawsuit against the governor and until that’s resolved the money the tribes are sending the state for education is being withheld from the classrooms.

“While we wait for the federal court’s decision, I am calling for the Legislature to join me in protecting public education,” said Stitt. “I am asking for legislation that will allow the remaining cash balance from 2019 and funds from the Revenue Stabilization Fund to be leveraged, if needed, to compensate for any temporary pause in Class III gaming fees.”

“There’s no need to ask the legislature to find more money, take it from somewhere else when it’s right there, he just needs to simply unlock it,” Hoskin said.

Governor Stitt said he remains supportive of the sovereignty of the State of Oklahoma and told the legislature it's their right and duty to oversee all industries operating in the State.

“I think it sends a confusing message when he starts talking about the state’s obligation to manage an industry and finding money to make up for money that’s not there, that’s simply inaccurate,” Hoskin said.

Osage Nation’s Principal Chief Geoffrey Standingbear told News On 6, “The Governor’s statement shows he’s not well-informed on the sovereign state of the tribes and is either insensitive or not knowledgeable of the difficult history of tribal relations with the State of Oklahoma.”

Stitt says he’s confident the state and the tribe can come to an agreement that’s a “win-win” for all Oklahomans.

“And we can accomplish this without putting public education in the crosshairs,” said Stitt.

Hoskin says he wants the same, but at this point, it’s unclear how or when that’s going to happen.

“He needs to understand tribal sovereignty. He needs to understand our role in gaming,” said Hoskin. “He needs to understand that the State of Oklahoma has never had a better friend than the Cherokee Nation or the other tribes, but it’s a friendship that needs to be based on respect and understanding.”

Next up in the process is a scheduling hearing for the federal lawsuit, which is scheduled for Friday, February 7.

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