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Oklahoma's five largest tribes endorse Joy Hofmeister for Governor

Joy Hofmeister
Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate Joy Hofmeister appears at a campaign event in northeastern Oklahoma on Oct. 1.

Leaders of Oklahoma's five largest tribal nations in Oklahoma endorsed Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister in her bid for Governor at a press event in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. Hofmeister, who was previously a Republican, switched parties last year to run against incumbent Kevin Stitt.

This is the first time tribal leaders in the state have gone on record to endorse a candidate running for public office. Seminole Nation Chief Lewis Johnson says Hofmeister has shown respect for tribal sovereignty, a willingness to come to the table to work with tribes on public safety and a commitment to education.

"We have nieces and nephews and cousins that attend the public school system and the charter school systems," said Johnson

"We want to continue to see improvements in those particular areas because the education of children is really, truly the foundation for the future of the state of Oklahoma."

The leaders from the Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Chickasaw and Muscogee nations cite Hofmeister's respect for tribal sovereignty and commitment to work with the 39 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma as reasons for the endorsement.

In a press release on Monday, the leaders issued this statement:

"As a gubernatorial candidate, Joy Hofmeister recognizes that we all want the same things: safe communities, a strong economy, a stable workforce, well-funded education, investments in our infrastructure, and a continued focus on health and wellness, family, and community. When it comes to working with the tribal nations in Oklahoma, she understands our sovereignty is not a partisan issue or a threat, but instead is a chance to forge new partnerships while strengthening those that already exist because Oklahomans thrive together when we all work together. This year’s Oklahoma gubernatorial election is the most important in generations for all Oklahomans, and that’s why leaders of the Five Tribes are endorsing Joy Hofmeister to be Oklahoma’s 29th Governor."

Hofmeister — Oklahoma's current Superintendent for Public Education —flipped her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat last fall, claiming Stitt had hijacked her former party. She has criticized Stitt's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and referred to his leadership as divisive and ineffective.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. has signaled his support for Hofmeister in recent weeks, appearing at campaign events and posting messages on Twitter like'#JoyToTheRez We’ve got your back, @joy4ok'.

Hofmeister has been courting the Indigenous vote too, appearing at events likethe Tulsa Powwow in August, where she said she wants to have a better relationship with tribes in the state than Stitt.

"It is time for a governor for the state of Oklahoma that respects again the tribal sovereignty of our tribal nations, and I will do that, and we will lead together in partnership," Hofmeister said at the time.

Cherokee Nation
Leaders of the Five Tribes (left to right): Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill, Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, Seminole Nation Chief Lewis Johnson, Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton and Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.

Stitt's fraught relationship with Oklahoma's tribes

Still, many pollsters heavily favor Stitt to win reelection. According to a political forecast by fivethirtyeight, Stitt wins in the vast majority of scenarios.

Stitt is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation, but his administration has been in a tense standoff with Oklahoma tribes over tribal sovereignty following the 2020 Supreme Court ruling McGirt v. Oklahoma.

Stitt has also fought tribes over gaming compacts and canceled hunting and fishing license compacts with the tribes.

"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 Jr. said when the hunting and fishing compacts were canceled in December 2021.

Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton claimed that Stitt was letting his personal concerns outweigh what is best for citizens, and was putting conflict above cooperation.

Stitt's constant battles with tribes has drawn the ire of many, including some inside his own party. During a legislative fight with the governor in May, one Republican lawmaker classified Stitt's behavior toward tribes as "racist and hateful."

Oklahoma is a deeply red state that hasn't elected a Democrat for Governor since Brad Henry won reelection in 2006. But, nonpartisan polls have shown the race is tightening, with some showing Hofmeister with a small lead.

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.

Ryan LaCroix joined KOSU’s staff in 2013. He hosts All Things Considered, Oklahoma Rock Show, Oklahoma Rock Show: Rewind, and Oklahoma Music Minute.
Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs desk.
Oklahoma Public Media Exchange
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