Earlier this month, I attended the first day of the Oklahoma Legislature’s 2024 regular session. Along with several other tribal leaders, I met with legislators and observed the Oklahoma governor’s State of the State address.
We showed up because we understand that the success of our tribal nations and the state of Oklahoma are closely tied. When it comes to creating jobs and growing the economy, attracting tourism, protecting public safety, providing world-class health care, and much more, thriving tribal nations are Oklahoma’s most unique competitive advantage.
Unfortunately, in his speech on that day, the Oklahoma governor went out of his way to be divisive and paint a distorted picture of tribal sovereignty as chaos. Yet while the governor attempts to create confusion for political purposes, at Cherokee Nation we see cooperation every day. Those of us living in northeastern Oklahoma, including our many friends in the Oklahoma Legislature, know that Cherokee Nation is a great partner.
We have already begun work on policies for this legislative session that will advance Cherokee Nation and all of Oklahoma. One bill we are engaged on is HB 3863 by Rep. Ross Ford, which would make it easier for victims of domestic violence to escape dangerous situations. Last year, Oklahoma required utility companies to waive mandatory credit checks and deposits when a person escaping domestic violence sets up a new account, but the state left out tribally operated domestic violence shelters from the list of who can certify eligibility for the waiver. HB 3863 corrects that oversight.
Cherokee Nation is deeply committed to protecting our citizens who have been victims of domestic violence. We provide resources, including law enforcement response, emergency shelters, counseling and programs for rebuilding lives. Our award-winning ONE FIRE Victim Services program is a gold standard among tribes and the whole country, and HB 3863 gives us another tool to help victims become financially stable.
Another issue we’re supporting is expansion of the Wellness Advisory Council to the State Department of Health, with HB 3333 by Rep. Cindy Roe and SB 1708 by Sen. Ally Seifried. These would add representatives of tribal health systems, urban Indian health care, and experts in cardiovascular problems like heart disease and diabetes to a group that advises the State Health Department. A similar bill passed with large bipartisan support last session, but it was unfortunately vetoed by the governor.
The governor may continue to resist working with tribal nations, but we won’t let that stop us from moving forward with our many friends at the state. Along those lines, an important issue this year will be extending Cherokee Nation’s compacts with Oklahoma on car tags and tobacco sales.
These compacts are proven successful at increasing state revenue, preventing costly litigation, and establishing fair and predictable rules for businesses. For more than two decades, Cherokee Nation car tags have supported millions of dollars annually going to schools across northeast Oklahoma. Last year, Cherokee Nation gave a record $7.8 million to 109 public school districts, including nearly $1.8 million for Tulsa County schools. At Cherokee Nation, we don’t want those funds to be disrupted, and we are prepared to work in good faith with the Oklahoma Legislature and governor to make sure that doesn’t happen.
For the good of all Oklahoma, it’s time to leave behind a 19th century mindset and recognize that Cherokee Nation and other tribes bring huge benefits for the state. I am grateful to the legislative leadership and the large majority of legislators from both parties who understand that. I am hopeful that this session the good sense of working together will prevail over attempts to divide us.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.