Patrick B. McGuigan
The U.S. Department of the Interior today (Monday, June 8) approved gaming compacts – between the Comanche Nation and Oklahoma, and the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the state – starting a new era in state/trial relations. Despite direct opposition from many other tribes – including the Chickasaw Nation, Oklahoma’s most economically powerful tribal entity, the pair of smaller tribes have secured a significant victory.
For decades, the federal government had made it a habit to grant every possible backdoor and monopoly advantage to the dominant nations, leaving little market share for smaller players. In state government, as the Chickasaw and other Big Tribes gained unfair advantages, much of the ruling class in Indian Country and at the seat of government in Oklahoma City got a bigger and bigger share of the economic clout that comes from tribal rights short of reservation status.
Yes, the ruling class gave lip service, mouthing sympathetic rhetoric toward smaller tribes for years, instead of supporting the hard work needed (with feet on the ground) to build small tribe economies. It has been comfortable, familiar and easy for federal bureaucrats to decide one close call after another in favor of the most powerful Indian Nations, i.e. those with economic clout and power. And it was easy and convenient for state officials to go along, to get along.
Tribal rights are important, but tribalism for the sake of the few is not, in the broader context, an answer.
What is needed in Oklahoma’s Indian Country is what is needed elsewhere in the American economy: An ability for small-scale enterprises to make and retain profits for uses they deem best, better schools (including experiments in school choice for tribal members and their neighbors) for new generations, and affordable means to invest and grow new enterprises for the benefit of tribal members, not a few lawyers and long-serving Big Tribe executives.
Once approval of the new compacts is published in the Federal Register, the Comanche and the Otoe-Missouria can advance their new options.
“Today’s approval of our compact with the state of Oklahoma will allow us to welcome in a new, modern era of tribal gaming to the benefit of both our people and the state of Oklahoma,” said Otoe-Missouria Tribe Chairman John R. Shotton. “This compact will help us further diversify our economy, bring in new revenue for services for our people and will allow us to double down on our community engagement in both our existing rural communities and future expansion opportunities. This compact is what is best for our tribal members and we appreciate the Department of the Interior for approving the compact today.”
The new accords have many highlights, as summarized in a press release form tribal leaders and their legal counsel. These “include a renegotiated revenue-sharing structure for existing and future casinos, updated gaming technologies and provisions for event wagering.”
Comanche Nation Chairman William Nelson in his statement sent to The City Sentinel newspaper, declared: “This compact represents the best of the Comanche people — being a good neighbor, reciprocating back to our people and the communities in which we live; honoring the past while looking ahead to a brighter future for all.
“We have known since we reached this agreement with the governor of Oklahoma that our compact is legal and are pleased that the U.S. Department of the Interior has agreed.
“This compact will have a positive generational impact on our Nation and Oklahoma. It will modernize gaming in Oklahoma and makes clear that tribal sovereignty is paramount in Oklahoma and nationally. This is what the Oklahoma citizens envisioned back in 2004 when they voted unanimously that the gaming industry would be beneficial for the state, tribes, nations and townships.”
The two tribes involved will reap economic benefits, while Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s assertion, throughout recent months, that his ability to negotiate new compacts is based in clear language and a rational exercise of executive power.
According to today’s press release, “The compact also gives both tribes the opportunity to build new, state-of-the art casinos and expand their geographic footprints into historically-significant land for both tribes. Through a concurrence from the governor, lands in six counties (three for each tribe) can be taken into trust, following approval through a two-part determination at the federal level. Counties include Grady, Cleveland and Love for the Comanche Nation and Logan, Payne and Noble for the Otoe-Missouria Tribe.”
Rob Rossete, an attorney for the two tribes, said in the release: “The legality of the compacts was never in question, as they were negotiated in good faith between sovereign governments and grounded in prior compact precedent,” said
Rosette, LLP partner and attorney, continued, “This decision will have national ramifications as it reinforces tribal sovereignty and moves Oklahoma away from a one-size-fits-all gaming compact. The Department of the Interior rightly chose to uphold and respect the sovereignty of these two tribes, and we are confident the department will do the same for others going forward.”
With some contentious litigation or power clashes possible, observers will watch closely to assure that government officials in all branches of government with direct personal or familial financial interests in these matters recuse themselves to avoid even an appearance of impropriety.
For his part, the governor should offer the same sort of deal to other tribes who have been out as he did to the first two.
Information from the Comanche Nation provided: The Comanche Nation is located in Southwest Oklahoma, with headquarters located right outside of Lawton. The tribe currently has approximately 17,000 enrolled tribal members with 7,000 residing in the tribal jurisdictional area around the Lawton, Ft. Sill, and surrounding counties. In the late 1600’s and early 1700’s the tribe migrated from their Shoshone kinsmen onto the northern Plains, ultimately relocating in Oklahoma. For more information about The Comanche Nation, visit comanchenation.com
Information About The Otoe-Missouria Tribe provided: The Otoe-Missouria Tribe is located in North Central Oklahoma in Red Rock. There are currently 3,288 members enrolled in the tribe with 2,242 living in Oklahoma. The tribe was relocated to Oklahoma in 1881 from its first reservation on the border of Nebraska and Kansas. For more information about the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, visit omtribe.org.
Information About Rosette, LLP provided: Rosette, LLP, specializes in federal Indian law, complex litigation, government negotiations, financial transactions and representation of internal tribal government matters. For more information about Rosette, LLP, visit rosettelaw.com.