Fallin says Caddo “will play an important role” in water discussions — she is “committed to working with them”

Governor Mary Fallin says the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma “will play an important role” in deliberationss over water rights. Her spokesman on Friday (September 9) told CapitolBeatOK the chief executive “is committed to working with them and other parties to pursue solutions that benefit all Oklahomans.”

Alex Weintz, communications director for Gov. Fallin, made the comments after CapitolBeatOK asked for a response to recent reflections of Caddo Tribal Chairman Brenda Shemayme Edwards on water policy and aboriginal rights. 

Edwards had reflected on the filing last month — by the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes — of a federal lawsuit aiming to stop future sales or exports of southeast Oklahoma water without consent of the two tribes. The Caddo, based in Binger, assert aboriginal (first inhabitant) water rights in the area of Sardis Lake, a focal point of recent contention over state water policies. 

The full text of Weintz’s comments on Fallin’s behalf follow: 

“The governor has said that, moving forward, it is important for the state of Oklahoma and the tribes to have a productive conversation about water rights outside of the courtroom. Certainly the Caddo Nation will play an important role in that conversation. The governor is committed to working with them and other parties to pursue solutions that benefit all Oklahomans. She will continue to work in good faith to find common ground and resolution.”

Edwards told CapitolBeat last Friday (September 2): “When you talk about southeast Oklahoma and aboriginal rights, the Caddo Nation predates any tribe, including the Choctaw and Chickasaw. So when these tribes filed a lawsuit over water rights to Southeastern Oklahoma, the Caddo Nation is concerned to say the least.

“While the Choctaw and Chickasaw are exerting their treaty rights, we will exert our aboriginal rights. The Caddo Nation has for decades consistently asserted our aboriginal rights to water over that area. Our aboriginal rights to that water predate any ‘fee simple’ rights that the Choctaw and Chickasaw claim because it is a substantiated fact that we were there first, and are an ‘indispensable party’ to any lawsuit they bring.

“The very word ‘Kiamichi’ is a Caddo word named for a place that has continued to have sacred relevance and interest to the Caddo Nation. Our place in this landscape is undeniable. We have repatriated ancestral human remains and funerary objects from the very lakes and river areas from which many in our state want to sell water.

“Water is a sacred source of life for the Caddo people and has always been important to Caddo traditions. Any prior litigation we’ve had with the United States or anyone regarding our claims to rights in those areas simply does not include our aboriginal rights to that water.

“It is time for lopsided negotiations to end within the state of Oklahoma. We believe that the only fair way to settle the water issues is for the federal trustee, the United States, to sit down at the table on behalf of all the tribal parties so that all tribes’ interests can be considered and determined fairly. This is a proven approach that has occurred in Arizona, Montana, and many other states and should be employed here in Oklahoma to expedite a resolution to the water issues for the benefit of all Oklahomans.”

Last month, Gov. Fallin said the Choctaw-Chickasaw lawsuit was “not helpful” to the state’s economic development efforts. The Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes warned in February that Oklahoma City’s development of water plans could lead to “complex federal law litigation.”

This week, state officials praised the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for ruling in favor of the Sooner State in a pair of cases in which Texas had challenged Oklahoma’s limitations on water sales.