TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Leaders of the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Tribes met for their quarterly meeting Jan. 14 via videoconference.
Tribal leaders discussed their response and recovery efforts amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and provided updates on other tribal activities. Leaders also passed a series of resolutions, including support for a cooperative management of wildlife resources throughout the reservations of the Five Tribes.
The resolution will provide opportunities for citizens of the Five Tribes with expanded access to hunting and fishing privileges within their respective reservations, consistent with each tribe’s treaty rights, laws and conservation standards.
In 2016, Cherokee Nation and the Choctaw Nation entered into historic compacts on hunting and fishing licenses with the state of Oklahoma. The state of Oklahoma received more than $38 million in new federal funds for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to support the responsible management of fish and wildlife for all Oklahomans. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt did not renew the compacts for 2022.
“The fact of the matter is the tribes are ready, willing, and able to assert their treaty rights. We have been for some time. We’re doing it now in the Cherokee Nation. I know the other tribes are doing the same,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., outgoing Inter-Tribal Council President. “I’m very confident the Cherokee Nation can responsibly manage fish and wildlife. I'm confident that every tribe in this state that has the authority to regulate hunting and fishing within their tribal lands -- certainly every tribe involved in the Inter-Tribal Council. I don't just believe we can do it, I think we can do it better than anyone. I think we still have to work with the state of Oklahoma. There are still opportunities for us to partner, because we all have an interest in preserving the environment to ensure that fish and wildlife habitat are there for generations to come. If we had a willing partner in the governor's office, I think we could do a great deal more.”
Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said the previous compacts between the Cherokee and Choctaw Nations for hunting and fishing were a “win-win” for the state, tribes and tribal citizens.
“This governor is just choosing not to do what is best for all Oklahomans, all 4 million, that he will claim that he does,” Chief Batton said. “I don't want to belabor that, but it's just kind of sad. I think the Five Tribes need to be prepared for future compacting issues that will come up. We’re going to do everything that we can in the Choctaw Nation to exercise our sovereignty and to make sure that we maximize the benefit to our people and to the people that reside within our communities.”
Tribal leaders met virtually due to the surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the country.
“We may not always take the same path, but at the end of day we all do what we feel is best for our nation independently,” said Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill, incoming Inter-Tribal Council President. “I know that our goal will always remain the same to further the cause of Indigenous people and take care of our citizens.”
All proposed resolutions were passed unanimously during Friday’s meeting. Passage included resolution urging Congress to fulfill the U.S. trust responsibility by fully meeting tribal nations’ needs for clinical services, preventative health, and health care infrastructure. Also passed was a resolution supporting the United Nations’ International Decade of Indigenous Languages, which officially launched from the Cherokee Nation Reservation in Tahlequah at the beginning of the year. The resolution supports the United Nations’ efforts in upholding and supporting the promotion of Indigenous languages throughout the next decade.
“The Chickasaw Nation is preparing to launch an adult immersion program that will provide a select group of Chickasaws with the opportunity to learn the Chickasaw language from master-level speakers,” Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said. “They will be in a structured and immersive environment, which is one of the most effective ways for people to learn the Chickasaw language. We are also continuing to find creative, innovative ways to leverage technology to incorporate Chickasaw culture into our daily lives through several different apps that can be used on our own cellphones.”
Seminole Nation Assistant Chief Brian Palmer also expressed support for language efforts.
“The Seminole Nation remains committed to preserving our Mvskoke language and I am proud of our efforts to do this, including plans for future online language classes that will ensure we continue teaching our language, but doing so while we keep one another safe,” Assistant Chief Palmer said. “As all tribal nations understand, our unique languages are what set us apart as distinct peoples.”
The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Tribes also expressed its support of state legislation that would allow tribes to certify their own teachers at tribally-operated schools if they choose to operate a state-chartered school. The state legislation acknowledges that tribes need the flexibility to provide teacher certification for tribally-operated schools as they work to preserve culture and language.
Also passed was a resolution urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to forgive qualifying USDA loans to American Indian producers, and a resolution urging the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to hold formal tribal consultations on proposed closures of VA health centers that are located on tribal reservations.