News Updates concerning some of Oklahoma’s Tribal Nations – Independence, an Inaugural and the COVID fight
Published: December 28th, 2020
In the Labyrinthine world of the law, a recently quiet struggle pits four of the state’s smaller tribal nations against four of the powerhouses.
The Comanche, Otoe-Missouria, Kialegee Tribal Town, and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB) apparently want to stay on the independent course they crafted in 2020, in forging compacts with Governor Kevin Stitt, a Cherokee Indian elected statewide in 2020.
The Department of Interior gave silent assent to the compacts, but the accords are under challenge in litigation that originated when the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Citizen Potawatomi Nations opposed the accords.
The governor has been silent of late, while restating that he thought his original accords with the four nations were proper and saying he would not appeal recent legal edicts.
As for the feds, they seem to think Oklahomans should settle this among themselves.
While the legal odds might seem stacked against smaller tribal nations, leaders have pledged in public comments to continue expanding their economic and cultural ‘footprints’ here in the heartland.
Speaking of the UKB, Kicking off the New Year, plans are to hold the 2021 inauguration ceremony at the Jim Proctor Elder Community Center in Tahlequah.
The January 2 event will be closed with only members of the council, attendants, presenter and judge present. “COVID-19 safety precautions will be put into action.”
The UKB won an historic legal case, in the direct face of opposition from at least one tribe, in September 2019. The Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the UKB on a land trust case (which raised other issues, to be sure) and, six months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court let the outcome stand.
UKB Chief Joe Bunch said at the time, “This will be the economic catalyst for our tribe moving forward in all facets of government and justice prevailed in this long overdue fight.”
At the core of the UKB victory the High Court ratified was a Department of the Interior decision that had allowed a UKB casino to open in Tahlequah. That business was shuttered after just a few years of operations because a larger tribe challenged the finding.
In other news, Keetoowah Construction Incorporated (KCI), a business arm of the UKB, announced in a press release this fall the development of four community/health center facilities for the UKB districts.
The release was part of the tribe’s response to the COVID pandemic. The facilities will be built with CARES Act funds allocated by the tribal council resolution 20-UKB-63.
Many of Oklahoma’s tribal nations have operations under way to combat the deadly coronavirus. One of those, the Choctaw Nation, began a massive vaccine drive in December (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/covid-19-vaccine-given-to-choctaw-nation-health-care-workers).
The Oklahoman reported this week that nearly 30,000 vaccines had been given across the state of Oklahoma – a figure certain to rise significantly before year’s end.
NOTE: Publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper and founder of CapitolBeatOK.com, an independent news organization, Pat McGuigan has reported or commented on Oklahoma tribal issues since 1990. In 2012, one of his stories Indian Country received first place in the Diversity News category, from the Oklahoma Pro Chapter, Society of Professional Journalists. This news update is adapted from features printed in The City Sentinel print editions for December 2020 and January 2021 (forthcoming).