please post this at the top of the page …
categories: Tribal … Government (both, please)
Oklahoma City – The “front-runners” for election to the four-year U.S. Senate term are deemed by opponents as “career politicians.”
One of those careerists is Scott Pruitt was Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from February 17, 2017, to July 9, 2018, during the Trump Administration.
Before that, he was Oklahoma’s elected Attorney General from 2007-2015.
And, before that, Pruitt was a member of the state Senate, representing Wagoner County and parts of Tulsa County, from 1999-2006.
He ran unsuccessfully for the First U.S. Congressional District seat after Steve Largent left.
Along the way, he was part of the ownership group for Oklahoma City’s AAA professional baseball team.
While he was attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt was part of the group of state and local officials who negotiated a sweetheart water deal that granted (or, as some would say “recognized”) a 25 percent share of Kiamichi Basin water in southeast Oklahoma.
When the water deal was announced in 2016, reporters and others were summoned to the Gaylord-Pickens Museum in Oklahoma City for a self-congratulatory event involving tribal leaders and lawyers for the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations, state officials including Pruitt, and the manager of Oklahoma City.
Nary a Drop for the Caddo
One by one, the big name politicians (both tribal and state) spoke and left before reporters could pose questions.
They were busy, you know. When questions came, they were handled by … the lawyers.
When asked by one reporter (your humble servant) why the interests of the Caddo Nation (the indigenous people of the region) were not represented, a lawyer for the Chicksaw helpfully informed the remaining reporters (most people had left after the big-name speakers) that the Caddo were not part of the deal because … they were not parties to the litigation that had triggered the water deal.
Of course they weren’t. Big-time lawyers work in Big Tall Buildings in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Big Tribes have, for many years, had Big Cash.
The Caddo? They didn’t have the cash.
Only trouble is, gee whiz: When the underlying litigation began in 2011, the governor of Oklahoma had (in response to a question) said through a spokesman, “The governor has said that, moving forward, it is important for the state of Oklahoma and the tribes to have a productive conversation about water rights outside of the courtroom. Certainly the Caddo Nation will play an important role in that conversation. The governor is committed to working with them and other parties to pursue solutions that benefit all Oklahomans. She will continue to work in good faith to find common ground and resolution.”
But when the water deal was announced, there was ‘Nary a Drop” for the Caddo. And nary a public word of notable protest from Oklahoma’s elected legal eagle, Scott Pruitt.
That is what passes for “common ground” and “good faith” in certain matters.
That Was Then, This is Now (I)
Ancient history? Perhaps, but here’s even more ancient history:
In 2012, Pruitt and the then-governor of Oklahoma signed an important compact with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation that resolved years of litigation over tobacco sales through tribal smoke shops.
At a Blue Room signing ceremony, officials for all parties avoided any references to past discord, focusing instead on lauding “valuable partners” and a “spirit of cooperation” going forward.
Chief George Tiger was effusive as he embraced the new accord. In response to a question from The Oklahoma City Sentinel, he reflected: “This was far too long in being signed. We look forward to more relationships with communities around the state. After all, we’re all Oklahomans.”
That was then, this is now (II)
The “McGirt v. Oklahoma” decision of 2020 is the most significant federal legal decision in Oklahoma history. (https://www.city-sentinel.com/criminal_justice/analysis-in-brief-the-most-important-decision-in-oklahoma-history-mcgirt-v-oklahoma/article_f58fe003-3a8d-504c-96fc-55010f0ed289.html )
Scott Pruitt, again a candidate for political office, pronounced himself – during a debate avoided by “front-runner” MarkWayne Mullin and from which most candidates were excluded – an advocate for “disestablishment” (through Congressional action) of the restored (or, some would say, “recognized”) reservation status of 45 percent of eastern Oklahoma.
But “disestablishment” (a view Pruitt shares with some who were in the debate, and some who were not) might not be the right way to address the issues McGirt presents.
Dr. Randy Grellner, also a candidate for the U.S. Senate, has from the git-go expressed his rather unique position this way on his campaign website:
“This decision isn’t so much about boundaries, it’s about jurisdiction and the obligation and responsibility of the U.S. government, the State, and tribes, regarding the safety of all Oklahomans, both Native and non-Native.”
His campaign website pointed out some things not often articulated in this discussion:
“Besides the criminal court cases, there are other issues that both tribal leaders, non-Native residents, and state officials are asking. These issues include taxation and regulation of land owned by non-Natives, including homes, farms, ranches, mineral estates, and commercial property.”
Dr. Randy put it this way in an early June press release:
“Several years ago, the tribal nations and the state worked in partnership that benefited all those residing in our state.
“Now, socialist elitists and have joined forces with big casino bosses to break up the state. The Native American people who live here don’t want that, and it was shown in the pushback over the refusal to fly the state flag [by the Cherokee leadership].
“Regardless of whether a person is Native or non-Native, we are all Oklahomans. We all want the best for Oklahoma and our communities collectively. The solution is simple, although the court ruled the boundaries were never erased, we need a jurisdictional fix to clarify jurisdiction over non-Native owned property in eastern Oklahoma. We don’t need the law of protection for the monopolies of big casino bosses or any other changes without them having to go through federal process.”
Grellner’s message in that press release, a little over three weeks ago, was “that it is important to remember the history of the Native people and that those who wish to merely erase the reservation boundaries have no reference to the sensitivities of how the 19th century played out and the parade of horrible events visited upon our Native population.”
Grellner offered a solution: “There are at least eight states where state law applies inside a reservation. The fix to this issue is not a foreign concept.”
He stressed that the Supreme Court said, in 2020, that it’s up to the U.S. Congress to fix the challenge the court created.
He reflects: “With governance comes responsibility. It is important for the law to show consistency and transparency, and that it not happening. …
“The Supreme Court said only Congress can fix this issue, and that is exactly what Congress needs to do for the benefit of all the people who live in Oklahoma. That is the right thing to do. Boundaries are one issue. Natives deserve their common heritage. However, jurisdiction over non-tribally owned property is entirely another matter."
Plain common sense. What a concept.
Of course, these days, common sense is not always common.
A former attorney general of the United States once paid me a high compliment when he said, “Pat McGuigan does not suffer from the burden of a legal education.”
I am a guy whose formal academic training was in history, before I evolved into a lifetime in education, journalism and legal analysis.
I remember Chief Tiger’s words, “we’re all Oklahomans.”
That always seemed right to this citizen of Oklahoma and a lifelong student of history, including Native American history.
We’re all Oklahomans. But post-McGirt, are some of us deemed more less Oklahoman than others?
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