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Intertribal Council stresses unity among Oklahoma’s Native governments

CATOOSA –Though it dealt with many issues, and the attending Nations discussed their recent accomplishments, the Intertribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, held Jan. 9-10, took place in the shadow of a gaming impasse with the state.

The timely topic addressed by the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations’ executives during the closing general session at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino was the intensifying standoff over the gaming compact between the tribes and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt.

“Elected leaders and the people they represent have power, and they can use that power for different things,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “You can use that power to gain leverage over some perceived opponent … to try to gain more. You can use that power in some idea that it is every man for himself.”

Hoskin said the Five Tribes – and all tribes in Oklahoma – use their power to create partnerships, friendships and to tackle problems plaguing communities.

“The Five Tribes are the best friends the state of Oklahoma has ever had,” Hoskin said. “We just need to make sure that friendship is built on respect. We give it; we expect it. And by the time we meet at the next Five Tribes council meeting – I’m an optimist – I hope we have resolved this compact issue. I don’t know if we will, but I do know this:

When that is over, the Five Tribes will continue to be the best friends the state of Oklahoma ever had, and we want to get back to friendship, solving problems and using that power for the good of everyone.”

Hoskin was selected as the ITC’s new president, and newly elected MCN Principal Chief David Hill was named vice president.

The guest speaker for the ITC general session was Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, who voiced her appreciation for tribal contributions to public education.

Hofmeister said the tribes have put more than $575.8 million of gaming funds into Oklahoma’s schools since she took office in 2014, adding that the tribes have supplemented the awards with educational services and programs for teachers and students.

“My heart is filled with gratitude for the service and the prioritization that you have made over the years for the schoolchildren of Oklahoma,” Hofmeister said. “These contributions have steadily risen, despite tribal nations receiving no state subsidies to the gaming industry.”

The ITC also approved a resolution recognizing Lisa J. Billy for her service as Oklahoma’s secretary of Native American affairs. Billy resigned the post on Dec. 23 in protest of the governor’s handling of the gaming compact with Oklahoma tribes.

In her resignation letter to Stitt, Billy wrote, “…it has become increasingly clear you are committed to an unnecessary conflict that poses a real risk of lasting damage to the State-Tribal relationship and to our economy. You have dismissed advice and facts that show the peril of your chosen approach and have remained intent on breaking faith with the Tribes, both by refusing to engage with the compact’s language and, more recently, by suggesting you would displace our Tribal partners with private, out-of-state commercial gaming operators.”

Billy said all Oklahoma tribes would continue to make progress and protect the interests of their communities, and that the tribes “are mighty in our message of unity.”


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