TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has said he will not renew standing hunting and fishing compacts with tribal governments after they expire this year. The agreements with the Cherokee and Choctaw Nations, which the governor has previously praised for generating funding for state conservation efforts, have been in place since 2016, but have now been terminated effective December 31, 2021. The governor previously approved the compacts in 2019 and 2020.
The landmark compacts were the first state-tribal agreements of their kind in the country and captured millions of federal dollars for wildlife management. Over their lifetime, the Cherokee compact generated more than $32 million and the Choctaw compact accounted for $6 million. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation dedicates that funding for wildlife management planning and operations, law enforcement and conservation efforts, benefiting Natives and non-natives alike.
Although tribes have guaranteed hunting and fishing rights on their reservations under their treaties with the United States, the compacts allowed for a coordinated, intergovernmental system that provides hunting and fishing opportunities for tribal citizens while generating revenue and federal funding for wildlife management programs across the state.
“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. “Unfortunately, this is consistent with what we’ve seen from the governor since the Supreme Court’s McGirt decision. Whenever there is an opportunity to cooperate with tribes – whether on keeping criminals off the streets or on hunting and fishing rights – the governor has instead sought to undermine collaboration and claim McGirt created chaos. I promise the citizens of the Cherokee Nation that I will continue to aggressively defend our treaty rights and sovereignty against these attacks.”
“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. “We hope he will change his stance and respect tribal sovereignty while protecting wildlife, generating revenue and improving the quality of life for Oklahomans.”
“We believe in the treaty rights of tribal nations,” said Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill. “The state’s decision to end the hunting and fishing Compacts with the Cherokee and Choctaw Nations is disappointing especially in that it only hurts the state of Oklahoma, but the true intent is to demean tribal sovereignty.”
"Chickasaws have long had a close relationship with the land and a strong commitment to responsible stewardship of our natural resources,” said Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby. “Wildlife conservation is an important aspect of our duty to protect and preserve our environment for future generations. Therefore, the Chickasaw Nation is joining the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Nations in a collaborative effort to protect the hunting and fishing rights of our citizens while also preserving Oklahoma's abundant wildlife for the benefit of our children and grandchildren."
“The Treaty of 1866 between the United States and Seminole Nation guaranteed the Seminole possession of their land and protection against enemies in exchange for peace,” said Seminole Nation of Oklahoma Chief Lewis Johnson.
"The Seminole Nation since time immemorial has supported tribal sovereignty and remains at peace with other Indian tribes and supports our fellow tribes in calling for the methods and tactics of the Governor of the State of Oklahoma to cease the acts of hostility on tribal sovereignty,” said Chief Johnson. “It’s time for the governor to change his approach to tribal rights, and instead focus on doing what’s best for the people of Oklahoma and recognize the value of tribal partnerships. Seminoles will always stand up for tribal rights and sovereignty."
Cherokee Nation and Choctaw Nation leaders also sent letters to the governor’s office, linked here and here, on the decision.