Published Nov. 16, 2020
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This past week the Tribal Council and I had a great brainstorming session about how the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma should approach tribal sovereignty on our reservation. The committee leads on our Sovereignty for Strong Communities Commission continue to research, collect data, and develop recommendations for exercising sovereignty in key areas of governance like Public Safety, Judicial, Indian Child Welfare, Regulation, and Taxation.
When considering these significant decisions, it is important to take a step back and reflect upon who we are and will always try to be at the Choctaw Nation. What has the McGirt decision not changed? Our vision of "living out the Chahta spirit of faith, family and culture" hasn't changed. Our mission, "to the Choctaw proud, ours is the sovereign nation offering opportunities for growth and prosperity" hasn't changed. Our core values of servant leadership, honor, teamwork, integrity, accountability, and responsibility haven't changed.
At the Choctaw Nation, "the Choctaw proud" reaches beyond tribal members. The Choctaw proud are tribal members, associates, and any person who, regardless of their Native status, respect the tribe and appreciate our presence in our communities.
Our vision, mission, and core values will guide my decision making in regard to how the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma will maximize its sovereignty on our reservation. I strongly feel that the Choctaw people have always been a generous people and care about the greater good for all. I recently implored all Oklahomans to look to a bright and prosperous future in Oklahoma since tribal reservations have been affirmed in this Tulsa World editorial.
What is sovereignty?
Since the McGirt decision, I have personally reflected on this question and heard many tribal members asking, "What does sovereignty really mean?" I had the honor to participate with Chief Ben Barnes from the Shawnee Nation in an OETA interview on exactly that topic.
I think the greatest challenge before all tribal and state leaders in Oklahoma is finding respect for each other as sovereign governments. Sovereignty as a concept is challenging enough. The rubber truly meets the road when determining how to exercise sovereignty.
This is one of the primary reasons I am strongly against rushing to legislation. This is a time for tribes and Oklahoma to engage in dialogue, sovereign-to-sovereign. Oklahoma has rarely taken that approach with tribes, and with the highest court in the land affirming tribal jurisdiction, it is long past time to do so.