The first publication of this story was on the web October 26, 2020. It also appeared in the November 2020 print edition of The City Sentinel.
Give leaders in three of Oklahoma’s Indian tribal nations – the Creek, the Choctaw and the Seminole – some credit. They want to keep the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of ‘McGirt v. Oklahoma’ in place and unencumbered by hidden agendas.
Even those who disagree with the result in that decision can recognize a principled stance based on law and (recent) precedent.
But do not doubt for a minute what’s going on with the Chickasaw and Cherokee leaders.
And, to be crystal clear: This is not a surrogate for partisan political issues. People in both parties have come to covet the largesse of the Big Two.
The Chickasaw and the Cherokee want an outcome that affords ‘cover’ for a slow-motion dubious (many say illegal) land-grab engineered over the last few decades. That particular taking of precious real estate was ostensibly for agricultural purposes, but promptly as possible it was converted into casino lands – approved under-the-table or after-the-fact at the U.S. Department of Interior/Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Now, the agenda here seems apparent: They want to slow-roll re-establishment of their reservation holdings by buying back large swaths of their territories and carving in stone their dubious reservation boundaries while squashing economic competition from neighboring and less powerful tribes.
Without getting too bogged down, here it is important to realize that the Cherokee and Chickasaw boundaries were never formally adopted for those two tribes. The Cherokee were not the original Tribe recognized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act (OIWA) – the United band of Keetoowah Cherokee (UKB) were. The Chickasaw were actually placed on the Choctaw reservation and given 25 percent rights therein rather than formal boundaries established by Congress.
Over time, dozens of casinos were created at those locales, becoming the steady, methodical basis for dominance of the Oklahoma gaming industry by a handful of players, empowering operators with close ties to the Chickasaw.
In a few days, Oklahoma’s executive weakened a stance on tribal-related issues, including acquiescence in a legal power grab pre-McGirt to declare compact agreements renewed, although the state wanted and needed to renegotiate terms.
Hopefully, the weakening will not be prelude to abandonment of smaller tribes who have begun to assert themselves through their own compact negotiations. Had the Choctaw, Creek and Seminole cut a deal with Governor Kevin Stitt they could have vastly improved their positions by grabbing Chickasaw and Cherokee market share. At the same time, they could have reduced vendor fees driven by Chickasaw monopoly power. They might, thereby, have offset any increase in fees the state may have while keeping the increase in market share and diffusing the monopoly power of the Cherokee and Chickasaw. That did not happen, but in the recent volatile atmosphere, who knows what comes next?
In perhaps-foolish hearts, hope springs eternal, like a glimmer of light in the dark night and a swirling mist.
As Halloween neared, came news that a non-spooky fellow named James Lankford, Oklahoma’s junior senator and a statesman-in-the-making, wants hearings on the impact of McGirt – which should include a fresh look at casino deeds.
A mission that might seem impossible: Watch that space, along with everything else.