Executive Order Eases Access to Federal Funding for Tribes In Oklahoma And Across The Nation

Strengthening tribal-federal partnerships: key highlights from the tribal nations summit

Thursday, December 7th 2023, 5:31 pm

By: News 9, Alex Cameron


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Tribes in Oklahoma and across the nation could benefit from an executive order making it easier for them to access federal funding. The action was announced by President Biden at this week’s Tribal Nations Summit in Washington.

This annual meeting of tribal leaders with their federal counterparts was a staple of the Obama administration but ceased under President Trump. President Biden brought it back, which, to the nation’s 574 federally recognized tribes, means something. "It certainly sends the message that Indian tribes are important to this President," said Kim Teehee, Director of Government Relations for the Cherokee Nation, in an interview Thursday.

 President Biden tried to underscore that message by signing an executive order Wednesday reforming the federal funding system for tribes-- "--Cutting that red tape so you can deliver for your community faster and better," Biden said to cheers from the largely Native crowd.

 Among those in attendance was Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., who says one of the most important things for tribes is the speed with which they can get federal dollars into their programs. "It’s the speed that sometimes is elusive in Washington, D.C., as people know," Hoskin said in an interview Thursday morning, "and so the idea behind the executive order was to streamline that process."

 Teehee, who worked in the Obama administration and helped organize the first Tribal Nations Summit in 2009, noted the federal government doesn't provide funding to tribes out of charity, but under legal obligation. "It’s called our federal trust responsibilities," Teehee explained, "and we have to remember the reason those federal dollars flow to tribes in the first place is a part of that legal relationship, that responsibility that the U.S. owes to tribes."

In another positive development for tribes, and specifically for the Cherokee Nation, the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday advanced the nominations of two nominees to fill federal judicial vacancies in the Northern District of Oklahoma. The nomination of GableGotwals stakeholder John Russell will now go to the full Senate, as will the nomination of the Cherokee Nation's former Attorney General, Sara Hill.

 If confirmed, Hill would become the first Native American woman to be a federal judge in Oklahoma.

 Chief Hoskin says there's a reason both Senators Lankford and Mullin have given their full support to Hill -- she's highly qualified. "I mean, I think of how we navigated the really challenging landscape of McGirt and Covid," Hoskin said, "that took a sharp legal mind and I had one in Sara Hill, thank goodness--the Cherokee people had one. But her allegiance is to the United States, she wants to be a federal judge, and she’ll be a great federal judge."

 One development in Washington that the Cherokee Nation is not particularly thrilled about -- but also not surprised at -- is the fact that the momentum that had been building toward the end of 2022 to formally recognize and seat their delegate to Congress, Kim Teehee, is gone, at least for now.

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