Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY -The five major Oklahoma tribal nations (Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw and Seminole) are not monolithic. Each has its own important history and “back-story” in terms of the timing and specific reasons for the forced relocation from ancestral lands in what is now the southeastern United States to what is now eastern Oklahoma.
Further, while there is some overlap, each tribal entity has distinct contemporary objectives and interests – including some rooted in issues that reach back to years after the U.S. Civil War.
Case in point:
Weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic (and controversial) decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma , Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation was communicating with Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, concerning issues of Choctaw Nation membership.
The issue surveyed (in a June 25 letter from Batton to Pelosi, first drafted on June 11), referenced a June 9 draft measure by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, which Batton asserted would require “the Choctaw Nation to pay the price of resolving the federal government’s Freedman issue.”
As part of a measure she raised in wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Rep. Waters was seeking (in legislation not enacted, thus far) to compel the Choctaw nation to comply with 1866 treaty language (with Choctaw citizenship for formerly enslaved people and their descendants). Her proposal, Batton argued, was crafted in a manner that would violate the Choctaw Constitution.
Without such compliance as defined in her draft bill, her proposal would “hold back [Choctaw] housing funds until” — in Batton’s narrative — the federal secretary of housing interprets treaty compliance.
In his letter, Chief Battton described Rep. Waters’ draft measure as “a non-starter.”
In Chief Batton’s overview it would be “untenable” for a new law “to reach back into defensible and conflictive periods of history and impose just one portion of a treaty imposed upon the Choctaw Nation in 1866 without regard to the meandering mass of countervailing treaties, law and policy that followed the 1866 treaty.”
Chief Batton thanked Speaker Pelosi for “the leadership you have shown in support of tribal self-determination and self-sufficiency over the years.” However, he asked that Pelosi “not permit the House to adopt any legislative provision that would so fundamentally destroy the self-determination authority of the Choctaw Nation.” He also asserted: “The responsibility to address systematic racism in America should be borne by all Americans, not just the Choctaw Nation.”
A copy of the June 25 Batton letter was provided to this reporter by an informed source.
In addition to Speaker Pelosi, a California Democrat, copies of the letter were sent to U.S. Rep. Ben Lujan, a New Mexico Democrat who is assistant House Speaker, and to U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, a Washington state Democrat who is a member of the House Committee on Financial Services.
NOTE: Pat McGuigan is publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper and founder of CapitolBeatOK, an online news service based in Oklahoma City.