- By Darren Thompson
On November 30, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt rejected a request by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma to extend a hunting and fishing compact between the state and the Cherokee and Choctaw Nations that went into effect on January 1, 2017. The Governor’s rejection comes with disapproval from five tribes in Oklahoma, citing that Governor Stitt previously supported the compact. The Governor’s rejection of the compact means tribal members will need to pay the state rates for hunting and fishing licenses and tags.
“This decision is tremendously disappointing, not just for Cherokee citizens who are losing a program that Governor Stitt himself knew was a win-win, but for every Oklahoman who has benefited from these agreements and the future generations that would have benefited from federal funding to support wildlife management and conservation,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. in a press release on December 13. “Unfortunately, this is consistent with what we’ve seen from the governor since the Supreme Court’s McGirt decision.”
The McGirt v. Oklahoma decision considered the case of convicted child rapist Jimcy McGirt. In an effort to overturn his conviction, McGirt claimed he was wrongly prosecuted by the state of Oklahoma because he is American Indian and his crimes occurred on the Muscogee (Creek) reservation. The court agreed in a 5-4 decision that the reservation had never been disestablished and that in McGirt’s case fell under the federal Major Crimes Act and required prosecution by the federal government. McGirt was then prosecuted by the federal government and, in August 2021, given three life sentences by U.S. District Judge John F. Heil III.
Governor Stitt’s decision comes as the U.S. Supreme Court reconsiders the McGirt decision, considering questions about the 2020 ruling that the Muskogee (Creek) reservation was never formally disestablished. Other considerations include whether to overturn the decision that determined that the state doesn’t have jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against American Indians on Indian reservations.
On August 31, 2016, former Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed the Hunting and Fishing Compact with the Choctaw Nation, and it was originally scheduled to expire on December 31, 2019. It was extended through December 31, 2021. The tribes issued hunting licenses to citizens and reimbursed the state $2 for every license and paid state administrative fees. Under the agreements, the Cherokee Nation agreed to buy at least 150,000 licenses a year, while the Choctaw Nation agreed to 50,000. The state-tribal agreements were considered landmark agreements.
Since the compacts have been established, the Cherokee compact generated more than $32 million and the Choctaw compact generated $6 million, according to the Cherokee Nation. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) uses the funding for wildlife management planning and operations, law enforcement and conservation efforts, benefiting Natives and non-natives alike.
“Under previous administrations, compacts regarding hunting and fishing licenses were a routine matter. They clearly provided great financial and cultural benefit to both the state and tribal members. Unfortunately, Gov. Stitt has once again decided to let his personal concerns outweigh what is best for the people he was elected to represent, putting conflict above cooperation,” said Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton in a statement on December 13.
On November 30, Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell wrote to the tribes stating that the state would be willing to discuss new hunting and fishing agreements, but the tribes must agree to pay full price for hunting and fishing licenses. “We firmly believe all Oklahomans should receive equal treatment under the law and otherwise,” said Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Matt. Pinnell in a letter to the tribes.
“Under the current compacts, members of the Cherokee Nation and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma are granted hunting and fishing licenses at steeply discounted rates as compared to Oklahoma citizens who are not members of either tribe,” he said. Pinnell is also the state’s Secretary of Tourism, Wildlife & Heritage. A standard combination hunting and fishing license for state residents costs $42. Deer and turkey tags, which must also be purchased by state residents, cost $20 and $10, respectively. Under the compact, Cherokee Nation citizens received one universal deer tag (antlered or antlerless) and one turkey tag per calendar year.
“Because of your failure to work together for all Oklahomans I must move forward in a way that exercises and strengthens the Choctaw Nation’s sovereignty and our federally protected rights,” said Chief of Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Gary Patton in a letter to the Governor on December 13. “I will begin exercising our jurisdiction to regulate hunting and fishing within our reservation boundaries and beyond.”
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