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Indigenous News

Oklahoma Gov. Stitt won't renew hunting, fishing compacts between Cherokee, Choctaw Nations

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Oklahoma Watch
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Leaders of the Five Tribes say they’re disappointed Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is canceling hunting and fishing license compacts that were up for renewal on Dec. 31.

The agreements between former Gov. Mary Fallin, former Cherokee Nation Principal Nation Chief Bill John Baker and Choctaw Nation chief Gary Batton were signed in 2015 and renewed last year with praise from Stitt.

The compact allows both tribal nations to buy the licenses in bulk at $2 a piece and includes a deer tag and turkey tag. The agreement also allowed tribal citizens to hunt and fish outside of their reservation boundaries.

The Cherokee compact generated more than $32 million over the lifetime of the agreement, and the Choctaw compact generated $6 million in funds. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation dedicates that money to wildlife management and conservation efforts that benefit Natives and non-natives alike.

Cherokee Nation purchases 150,000 licenses, while Choctaw Nation purchases 50,000. Those licenses are given to tribal citizens who want them and may not buy them otherwise.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. says the decision is not surprising.

"The reason the governor is doing this is the same reason he waged a war on us on the gaming compact — he does not believe in tribal sovereignty," Hoskin said.

A statement from the governor’s office says he believes all Oklahomans should receive equal treatment under the law, and offered both the Cherokee Nation and the Choctaw Nation the opportunity to enter into a compact to purchase licenses for their citizens by paying the same price as Oklahomans who are not tribal citizens.

In a letter dated Nov. 30, Lieutenant Gov. Matt Pinnell wrote to Hoskin and Batton that Cherokee and Choctaw Nations are granted hunting and fishing licenses at, "steeply discounted rates as compared to Oklahoma citizens who are not members of either tribe."

Batton said he was disappointed by the decision, which is the latest in the ongoing feud between tribal nations and the state.

"Under previous administrations, compacts regarding hunting and fishing licenses were a routine matter," wrote Batton. "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."

In 2020, Stitt celebrated the renewal, saying that, "I appreciate the Cherokee Nation working with my office and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation on a one-year hunting and fishing compact extension. This compact continues a partnership between the State of Oklahoma and the Cherokee Nation to capture federal funds for conservation efforts across our state while promoting hunting and fishing opportunities for citizens of the Cherokee Nation.”

Both the Cherokee and the Choctaw sent letters to Stitt about the decision. You can read them here and here.

In 2015, then Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker told the Cherokee Phoenix he was proud to sign what he considered a "first of its kind" compact with the state.

"Today, I am proud the Cherokee Nation is the first tribe to compact with the state in proper recognition of our long-held treaty rights to hunt and fish the lands within not only our jurisdictional boundaries but all 77 counties in Oklahoma," Baker said.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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