Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin sign a hunting and fishing compact that expands the hunting and fishing rights of all Cherokees living in the state of Oklahoma.
For millennia, we Cherokees have provided for our families by hunting and fishing the lands. Even before European encroachment, it’s how we fed our communities, clothed our children and crafted tools. Hunting and fishing are not simply honored traditions in our Cherokee culture, it’s what kept us alive and sustained us. It is and was our basic way of life. We had full reign of the land when our ancestors lived in the southeast United States, and we retained those rights by an 1828 treaty with the United States that carried over to our removal to present-day Oklahoma.
In the modern Cherokee Nation, those traditions continue. Hunting and fishing are skills that are passed from one generation to the next. I remember learning from my father and granddad how to cast a line on the lake or bring down a buck in the woods. These are skills I’ve shared with my own children and now delight in sharing with my grandchildren.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker
That’s why I am so proud to announce an historic agreement between the state of Oklahoma and the Cherokee Nation. On last Friday I signed a hunting and fishing compact with Governor Mary Fallin that both upholds our inherent treaty rights to freely hunt and fish our own lands, and extends those rights across all 77 counties in Oklahoma. Now Cherokees can go fishing at Beaver’s Bend, or pheasant hunting in western Oklahoma. This right to hunt across the state will be at no charge to Cherokee Nation citizens.
Our treaty rights say Cherokees can freely hunt on tribal land. But as state and tribal jurisdictions have overlapped or connected, there has been confusion on exactly where Cherokees can exercise their inherent right to hunt and fish the land. The Cherokee Nation and state of Oklahoma had separate laws which required different documents to be carried, depending on who was hunting and fishing, and where they were engaged in the sport. State law required people to purchase a license to hunt or fish within the state, while Cherokee Nation required only that our citizens carry a copy of his or her blue card.
Unfortunately, with these different laws in place, Cherokees have been wrongly ticketed or fined by the state of Oklahoma, or made to answer unnecessary questions about their fundamental rights as Cherokee hunters or fishermen.
Under this compact the the Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma will unify regulation. Cherokees need to carry only one hunting and fishing license issued by our tribe that will be honored by state game wardens.
When I assumed the office of Principal Chief, I took stock of the lingering issues that could be resolved for the good of our people. Hunting and fishing rights was one of them, and it became a major priority for my office. We spent more than two years negotiating with the state on how to protect the inherent rights of our citizens, and most importantly, our tribal sovereignty. I’m proud to say this compact accomplishes that.
There are no more “gray areas” in Oklahoma when our tribal citizens hunt or fish. They can now hunt and fish on tribal and state land or, with landowner permission, on private property without fear they may accidentally step into an area where they may be ticketed.
Beginning January 1, every Cherokee over the age of 16 residing in Oklahoma will be allowed to hunt with a Cherokee Nation issued license, and receive one deer tag and one turkey tag. About half of our Oklahoma Cherokees live outside our 14-county jurisdiction, so this is also a way to help Cherokees living in central, southern and western Oklahoma. Too often these Cherokees feel disconnected from our tribe and our services. Now they can show their Cherokee Nation hunting and fishing license with pride and know their tribe is reinforcing their inherent, sovereign rights as Cherokees.
Not only is this a great example of the Cherokee Nation reinforcing our sovereign rights, we are once again leaders in all of Indian Country. The Cherokee Nation is the first tribe to enter into a compact with the state to properly recognize our long-held treaty rights to hunt and fish the lands within our jurisdictional boundaries and now beyond.
Under our new agreement, the Cherokee Nation will pay two dollars for every license issued to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for environmental conservation. The state of Oklahoma can match these funds with federal dollars, and reinvest it into conservation and wildlife management. By law, the money from Cherokee Nation to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation can never be diverted to any other purpose. As good stewards of the land ourselves, it’s very important to protect our natural resources and wild game and fish.
More details will be forthcoming in the following weeks, but we encourage tribal citizens to make sure their registration and contact information has been updated and is current by contacting the Cherokee Nation Tribal Registration Department at (918) 453-5000 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am honored to deliver this agreement to the Cherokee people and deeply appreciate the outstanding work of Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree, Senior Assistant Attorney General Sara Hill and other members of the Attorney General’s office and executive branch for their work in negotiating this compact.
Through this compact, hunting and fishing will remain a vital part of our survival. As our ancestors lived, and their ancestors before them lived, hunting and fishing will continue to be a way of life for Cherokees for generations to come.
Bill John Baker is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.