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Commentary: Tom Cole Cancels Oklahoma: Bad for Small Tribes, Bad for our state’s Diverse Citizenry, and Bad for America

Patrick B. McGuigan 

Oklahoma City – There are many ideas floating around these days that could be designated “the worst of the worst.” 

However, one particular formula for dysfunctional government, irrational economic policy, abuse of Small Tribes, and damage to small business and mid-size states deserves mention.

This legislative atrocity comes from the mind of no less a Republican than U.S. Representative Tom Cole.

A draft version of the legislation informs my belief that Cole’s effort at a “land fix” for the two most powerful Oklahoma tribes (the Chickasaw and the Cherokee) is bad for small tribes, bad for Oklahoma’s diverse citizenry, and bad for America. 

The proposed legislation would worsen the effects of ‘McGirt v. Oklahoma,’ the most important legal decision in state history.

According to an analysis from online news service NonDoc.com (a sketch with which I agree), the practical effect of Cole’s measure would be to:

* Keep all property matters like environmental taxation and oil and gas in the hands of the two Big Tribes.

* Crush the opportunity of smaller tribes like the UKB (United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians) and Comanche – who were granted rights to acquisitions within Cherokee territory (in the case of the UKB) and Casino-development rights in Love County in separate compact with the state. Cole’s proposed law would give veto power to the big tribes over all land-into-trust acquisitions.

* Allow Big Tribes to buy the entirety of their reservations back and claim they are restricted under 25 U.S.C. 177 which previously did not convert them to “Indian Country” but which now would via the “Indian” Lands definition in the Cole bill.

* Allow dozens of dubious casino acquisitions for the big tribes to be further legitimized by ratifying them as Indian Lands.

More might be said in the weeks and months to come.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ‘forgot’ Oklahoma is a state, and Trump’s Treasury Department ‘forgot’ that the Shawnee Tribe had 3,100 citizens (not zero), and the Biden Administration forgot that surface mining and reclamation was a state function, perhaps the final chapters were inevitable. But Cole as Cancel-Crafter? 

In past years, I never thought I’d come to believe that Tom Cole would be a central creator, director, or author of something that, if it all comes to pass, could be entitled (as a book or motion picture), “The End of Oklahoma.”

And yet, here we are. 

Note: This is revised from an online commentary posted in May, updated June 1 for The City Sentinel newspaper print edition June 1, and here on both CapitolBeatOK.com and The City Sentinel.  

Tom Cole, filing for one of his many reelections. Photograph, in happier times, taken by Patrick B. McGuigan