Oklahoma governor and Legislature prioritize tribal sovereignty (Part-1)

 Oklahoma City — Lawmakers and Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma reassembled Monday to start the 2024 legislative session, and the topic of tribal autonomy is likely to occupy much of their time.

Republican and Cherokee Nation citizen Stitt has had a tense relationship with tribal elders since an argument over casino profits in his first year in office escalated into disagreements over cigarette sales, car registration, taxes, and criminal jurisdiction.

Stitt resumed his criticism of greater tribal autonomy and the historic 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on criminal jurisdiction, known as McGirt after the plaintiff in the case, in his State of the State speech to lawmakers. The ruling determined that a large portion of eastern Oklahoma remained a tribal reservation.

"Our state is still operating under a confusing and conflicting patchwork of jurisdiction," Stitt said, referring to the situation three years after McGirt. According to Stitt, there is still some ambiguity in Oklahoma over whether or not residents of tribal nations residing on reservations are subject to income taxes and whether or not they may be issued traffic citations.

Having "two sets of rules" would be problematic for the state, according to Stitt. "Racial bias is a major factor."

While in the gallery for the governor's speech, several tribe officials, including Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin—a vocal opponent of Stitt—reacted angrily to Stitt's implication that racial factors play a role in tribal relations.

We're not talking about race, so it's either born of pure ignorance or a really cynical, deliberate, planned application of rhetoric, according to Hoskin. "Here we are discussing independent states. Even if he does eventually understand, I have my doubts that he will get it now.

Stitt argued that there is extensive misunderstanding regarding criminal jurisdiction, although Hoskin played down this point.