Stitt: … that’s what the safety is, something that Inhofe got across the finish line for us.
Moesel: And it had a provision, I think, that gave the state — if there was a change in the sovereignty rulings — to request the ability for the state to administer environmental rules within the Indian Territory…And that‘s essentially the request I think you just made to Mr. Wheeler who heads the EPA and to give the state that regulatory authority, if I understand correctly.
Stitt: Yes. That’s correct.
Shortly after the ruling, Stitt had said publicly and repeatedly that he intended to work with his state’s Native Americans on the jurisdictional issues. “I respect and recognize the sovereignty of every Tribe in Oklahoma and look forward to working with every Tribe to ensure that we meet our shared economic, security and social goals,” he said in a press release two weeks prior to the webinar.
And during the webinar, Stitt pointed to his own Cherokee roots. “I’m so appreciative of our heritage, our Native American heritage in Oklahoma. I’m a member of Cherokee Nation, and my grandparents grew up in Skiatook, Oklahoma. So eastern Oklahoma is where I’m from and, and so, so appreciative…”
But moments later he said what may have begun as a Freudian slip, “… I don’t want. I want tribes to be very successful, but not at the expense of non-tribal businesses.”
Later Stitt said about the Supreme Court ruling, “The problem is a couple of the chiefs I’ve talked to think it’s fantastic, it’s a great, it was a great day for their people. It validated what they’ve always believed: That they’re sovereign over this jurisdiction, so they don’t see any need for, for a congressional fix or federal legislation to fix anything. They’re happy to have us [conduct] government-to-government negotiations.”
So Stitt has asked the EPA to turn over regulation of environmental issues on Reservation land to the state agency, which must be done because of the federal rider Inhofe maneuvered in 2005.
Will the EPA agree? Consider this: Andrew Wheeler, the present EPA administrator worked 14 years as an aide to Inhofe, who maneuvered that federal rider stealing tribal rights to environmental regulations on reservations.
And denying tribes environmental jurisdiction could be a major boon to the fossil fuel industry, hurting now because of the pandemic slowdown. Although some tribal leaders may be inclined to pursue much-needed revenue from pipelines and drilling, others favor stricter measures, such as a ban on fracking.
Stitt’s remarks came just two weeks after Inhofe, like Stitt, pledged to work with the tribes. Inhofe said that, “working together as neighbors” with tribal leaders, he would help craft legislation to clarify the Supreme Court’s landmark July 9 ruling. After tribal leaders, who bitterly recall his 2005 midnight rider, reportedly warned Inhofe against pushing through “destructive legislation,” Inhofe suggested no new laws were imminent.
Inhofe, who did not respond to a request for comment, is a long-time oil champion and climate change denier. He said in his July 20 press release, “We look forward to working with the Tribal Nations, the state, and all stakeholders, to develop a legislative framework that honors tribal sovereignty…”
Neither Stitt nor the EPA responded when asked whether Stitt contacted Wheeler.
In the eastern half of Oklahoma, there’s a common expression: “This is Indian Country.” Native Americans, an estimated 9.3 percent of the state’s population, live primarily in the rural areas here and, in a few suburbs of Tulsa, intermingled with white Oklahomans. There are few border markers declaring a reservation. The most obvious indication of tribal land might be a gasoline station with signs in English and perhaps Cherokee along with a slot machine in the back. Even in this pandemic, Oklahoma’s 71,000 slot machines and 102 casinos provide the bulk of the income needed to fund tribal services like police and fire departments.
In July, the Supreme Court legally affirmed that most of eastern Oklahoma is still various Native American reservations. McGirt v. Oklahoma gave Jimcy McGirt, a state-convicted pedophile, the right to a federal trial. As a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Tribe, whose crime occurred on tribal land, his lawyers argued he was not under Oklahoma’s jurisdiction.
HISTORY: THE TRAIL OF TEARS
The high court cited 1833 treaties between the United States and five tribes as sovereign nations. These treaties guaranteed the land to the tribes. The tribes were forced to march thousands of miles to Oklahoma from their ancestral lands in southern states including Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi. Many died in this…