OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – In a rare interim study request by the Speaker of the House, lawmakers met with a handful of tribal leaders on Tuesday to discuss compacts moving forward.
The interim study is set to continue on through Wednesday.
During the first day of the study, four tribal leaders acted as panelists and discussed the importance and history behind tribal compacts.
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said the compacts date back to the 1990s and have secured millions of dollars for the state.
“We don’t always have the same positions, but typically we can meet in the middle somewhere and that is, to me, the most fruitful way for us to deal with our disputes,” said Gov. Anoatubby.
Tribal leaders from Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Muscogee Creek Nations said the last few years of compacts and negotiations haven’t been so harmonious though.
“There have been far too many times when the tribe has been the subject of a conversation, but the tribe is not part of that conversation,” said Muscogee Creek Nation Second Chief, Del Beaver. “That’s where we get sideways, is whenever there [are] conversations about what’s best for us, but we’re not part of that conversation.”
Two tribal compact negotiations are making their way through the Capitol right now. One is on tobacco sales while the other is centered around motor vehicle licensing.
Through a special session this past summer, the legislature extended the negotiation period between the tribes and Governor Stitt until December 2024.
“The legislature ultimately has the the authority over the compacts,” stated Speaker of the House, Charles McCall, R-Atoka. “But the legislature has also given the governor the authority to negotiate compacts.”
News 4 has previously asked Governor Stitt if he is truly using this period to negotiate with the tribes or simply using it to persuade the tribes to accept his version of the compacts.
“I will not change the language on my compact and that’s why they obviously went to the legislature. They thought they could get their compact approved,” Gov. Stitt previously stated. “I have been negotiating and put this in front of them for the last two months at the same financial terms as they had last year. They’ve refused to sign it. So they have gone around the Governor. This all showed up, unbeknownst to me in the last week of session as we were talking with them and so they have the compact that they wanted. Do you really think that now that they have the legislature to do what they wanted and get the compact they wanted, they’re going to come around and come to the Governor’s compact or they’re going to go back to the legislature? What do you think is going to happen in a year?”
The bigger talker with some of the proposed tribal compacts is which definition of ‘Indian Country’ the state will go with.
The Governor says the new language presented in the tribes’ version of compacts would classify 42% of Oklahoma as reservation land.
“I will not give an inch,” he said.
It all starts with leaders in government who can imagine a world in which tribes exist, in which they ought to be able to exercise sovereignty.Cherokee Nation Principal Chief, Chuck Hoskin Jr.
The four tribal leaders present at Tuesday’s meeting told lawmakers the Governor emailed an offer letter pertaining to tobacco sales, but nothing on car tags so far.
“I saw it as a demand as opposed to a negotiation,” said Choctaw Nation Chief, Gary Batton.
Governor Stitt’s Communications Director, Abegail Cave told KFOR Chief Batton received a compact with the same material terms as the expired compact as well as the compacts the legislature pushed through.
“The only difference was the Governor’s assurance that the land on which tobacco may be sold at a special rate remains the same as it has always been. The Governor has not heard anything from Chief Batton or anyone in the Choctaw government,” said Cave.
Choctaw, Cherokee, and Muscogee Creek Nation leaders say they haven’t responded to the Governor’s latest offer because they’d prefer an in-person negotiation.
“The Governor’s door is always open to anyone interested in discussing compacts,” added Cave.
Tribal leaders did mention the Governor has sent several compact offers, and although the latest offer is said to have improved, leaders said it still needs work.
“That goes directly to how you do things,” said Speaker McCall. “These [tribal] leaders want to talk directly to other leaders. That was made very clear. I think, for the Governor, he could pivot and move that way.”
In addition to the current compacts being negotiated, the Governor rolled out a plan to legalize sports betting last week.
Speaker McCall told KFOR he was not looped into that conversation prior to the Governor’s press release.
“Sports betting falls within the compact of gaming. We have not had a direct conversation with the tribes about sports betting. I don’t believe the Governor has and typically, the Governor of the state kind of takes the lead on it,” explained Speaker McCall.
Speaker McCall said his office has not reached out to the Governor’s office yet to discuss the future of sports betting.
“We will have to have the conversations with the tribal nations in this state under the current compact for sports betting. We will have to talk and find a path for that. I think as the relationship improves – what improves the relationship is communication. There’s a path to do these things, and there’s a path to do them fairly quickly, at least with the existing compacts that have been in place,” he added.
He said approving sports betting would not require the creation of a new compact.
Speaker McCall did say the legislature could consider stripping the Governor of his authority to negotiate compacts.
A positive from Tuesday’s meeting: “I think just having the meeting and having communication between the leaders of the state of Oklahoma and those elected by citizens of the state, as well as the tribal leaders here in Oklahoma was a great conversation to have,” said Speaker McCall.