By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – During the first meeting of the Oklahoma House of Representatives’ Native American Caucus for this legislative session, it was announced that State Rep. Ken Luttrell (R-Ponca City) and Rep. Collin Walke (D-Oklahoma City). will serve as co-chairs of the caucus.
The purpose of the caucus is to identify and address state policy that affects Oklahoma’s 39 federally-recognized tribes, and to facilitate state-tribal communications and policy processes pertaining to sovereignty.
“I thank the members and our tribal friends for the trust they have placed in me to serve in this capacity,” Luttrell said. “I look forward to working with Rep. Walke and the caucus as we develop and promote policy that is beneficial to the tribal nations, Oklahoma and all citizens.”
Luttrell previously served on the executive board of the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators. He represents numerous tribes in his district and is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation.
“I’m honored to serve with Rep. Luttrell for the Native American Caucus,” Walke stated. “There are many issues affecting tribal members in our state, and I look forward to working collaboratively with them as we move this state forward.”
Walke is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation.
Former State Rep. Lisa Billy, a Chickasaw Tribal councilwoman, was a founding member of the House Native American Caucus, which was formed during her first term in office in 2006.
Rep. Billy recalled that she and former Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, a representative of the Citizen Pottawatomie Nation, started the caucus after brainstorming ways to bring a voice for tribal people together with state lawmakers.
“There was really no voice at the time and no model for us to rely on,” Billy said. “The national Native American Caucus was not even in existence at the time.”
Billy and Wesselhoft began having conversations with other Native American legislators at national gatherings and partnered with the goal of bringing tribal leaders together with elected leaders at the state Capitol.
Billy said their first big idea was to host a large reception, inviting every tribal leader to attend. The event turned out to be a “wonderful success and gained lots of support from the tribes and lawmakers,” Billy remembers.
Former Rep. Shane Jett soon reached out to help. Newspaper coverage of the caucus also helped to gain attention.
The caucus soon realized that many members of the Legislature at the time did not know which tribal nations their legislative districts fell within.
Rep. Billy and other caucus members worked with House staff to create GIS maps that showed tribal nation boundaries intersecting with House and Senate district boundaries.
They also worked to connect each legislator with the tribal leaders in their districts.
Billy said an early goal of the House Native American Caucus was to make sure it was bipartisan.
“Tribal issues are not going to be partisan necessarily,” Billy said. “We felt we needed to have a voice from both sides.”
Billy says she is excited this year to see a return to a bipartisan leadership for the caucus and also that Rep. Luttrell was chosen to serve as a co-chair, as the two have worked together in the legislature in the past.
“Ken has the drive and always has had a very passionate voice,” Billy said. “I’m thrilled he’s willing to share his passion and his experience. He wants what is best for people, and that’s what you want in a leader.”
While she has not yet had the opportunity to work with Rep. Walke, Billy says she appreciates his determination and his willingness to represent tribal members in their legislative concerns.
“When we communicate and work together, we can do better,” Billy said. “It’s about bringing unity.”
Luttrell and Walke say they share that goal.