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Tribes say ‘no’ to governor’s plan for tribal task force in Oklahoma

By Jason Burger

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    OKLAHOMA CITY (KOCO) — Five tribes are saying “no” to the governor’s plan for a tribal task force after Gov. Kevin Stitt ordered the task force to study police powers on tribal reservations.

It would have been 13 members from the governor’s office, county jails, highway patrol, and two representatives from Oklahoma’s 38 tribal nations. Leaders from Oklahoma’s largest tribes refused to join Stitt’s new public safety task force.

“Even from a business perspective, to only see two stakeholders out of the thirteen, it was very disheartening,” said Chief Gary Batton with Choctaw Nation.

Batton said two representatives for Oklahoma’s 30-plus tribes just isn’t enough.

“If I said, ok, I’m going to start a task force, and we’re only going to have two stakeholders from the state, and the rest are going to be from the 39 tribes, I bet he’d say, that’s not fair,” Batton said.

He claimed the task force was just another way to divide rather than unify tribes with state officials. He argued tribes can handle themselves when it comes to law enforcement.

That’s part of the issue to me, minimizing the effect of sovereignty by regulating it down to a task force,” Batton said.

The governor’s idea came after an incident in December when Muscogee-Creek Lighthrose police tried to take a non-Native man to the Okmulgee Jail. The jail said the Lighthorse deputy chief went to a restricted booking area and was told to leave.

Officials said a jailer tried to get the deputy chief out, but things got physical. Cherokee Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said his tribe has already been proactive in meeting the needs of law enforcement, and the tribe is capable of managing itself.

“We already had cross-deputization agreements with every agency within the Cherokee Nation reservation. We just last year, made grants available to all those agencies, to the turn of $13 million,” Hoskin said.

He looked at the task force idea as a direct result of the governor’s thoughts on the McGirt ruling.

“In his order, the governor says McGirt is broke, so right out of the gate, he’s attacking tribal sovereignty. Something that seems to be geared toward reaching a conclusion that the governor already has, which is that the system is broken,” Hoskin said.

In a statement, the governor’s office said Stitt is trying to make an effort to include the tribes in the talks. It’s not clear when the task force will meet for the first time.

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