Frosty relations between tribes and the state of Oklahoma got even chillier recently as the result of an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling and three vetoes by Gov. Kevin Stitt on legislation affecting tribes.
The governor veto of SB 429, which would have required school districts to allow Native American students to wear eagle feathers and other forms of tribal regalia at graduation ceremonies, has received the most attention. The bill had been supported by tribes and organizations across the country, with the ACLU releasing a message on Facebook urging Oklahomans to contact lawmakers to support the measure, which they overwhelmingly did. A similar bill had failed to pass during last year’s legislative session.
Stitt also vetoed HB 2608, which would have required sex offenders to register with tribal authorities if they live within a tribe’s jurisdiction. Lastly, Stitt vetoed HB 2819 and SB 299, which both would have recreated the Oklahoma Advisory Council on Indian Education for three more years.
The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, representing the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee and Seminole nations, issued a statement Friday calling on legislators to override the vetoes. The bills, the council said, protect religious freedom, education and public safety in Oklahoma.
“These bills show what production (sic) partnership between tribal nations and the state of Oklahoma can and should look like: collaborating to protect religious and cultural freedom, respect families, improve education, and keep communities safe from sex offenders,” the statement reads. “The Oklahoma Legislature should swiftly overturn the governor’s vetoes.”
Earlier in the week, one legislative leader said the governor might not resist veto overrides on the dozens of bills he has vetoed if key issues of his agenda, such as private school tuition tax credits and income tax cuts, can get legislative approval.
House Speaker Charles McCall said May 3 that relations between the tribes and Stitt seem to be less hostile than in previous sessions.
“There’s less fighting. Hopefully that will continue to get better,” said McCall (R-Atoka). “There are definitely some things that are coming up that are very important. There are fuel compacts and tobacco compacts that are coming up for renewal, so keeping those relations positive to be able to talk about those and the extension of those is important.
“I’m aware of one of the bills in particular that was a priority for some of the tribal nations that was vetoed. So, once we can get this education plan finalized, [and] the tax cut and the economic development fall into place, that accomplishes the agendas for the House priorities (…) and at that point in time, the governor has made it very clear that if his agenda is accomplished, he doesn’t have a problem with the Senate bills that he has vetoed being restored.”
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement that his tribe is “always ready” to work with state lawmakers on issues that mutually benefit his citizens all Oklahomans.
“Unfortunately, Gov. Stitt has chosen to continue his political attacks on tribes, even when it harms the health, safety and education of Oklahomans,” Hoskin said.
Stitt, meanwhile, said Friday that he has “very good” relationships with tribes.
“I think my relationships with groups all around the state are very good,” he said. “What Oklahomans need to understand is it’s problematic when you can reach into this building and get a bill passed that may not be the best for all 4 million Oklahomans.”
But Hoskin pushed back on that depiction in his statement.
“Preserving religious freedom, collaborating for better health and education, and protecting public safety are not ‘special favors’ to tribes. They are core responsibilities of good governments everywhere,” Hoskin said. “Instead of coming to the table to work together, Gov. Stitt is taking it out on the people of Oklahoma. I am thankful to have many reasonable friends in the Legislature who do not buy into the governor’s counter-productive hostility to the tribal nations that share this land.”
The following roundup details these issues and other recent tribalrelated developments.