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KOSU is committed to being more reflective of the audiences we serve. In Oklahoma, having stories reported by Indigenous reporters for Native communities is imperative. KOSU's Indigenous Affairs reporting is led by Allison Herrera.

It's election season for some of Oklahoma's 39 tribal nations. Here's what you need to know

Element 5 Digital

KOSU is always keeping an eye on tribal nation elections across Oklahoma. Keep up with this post to get the latest.

Tribal elections in Oklahoma are a big deal.

Even if you're not a citizen of one of these tribal nations, these elections still affect you. Last year, a report detailed tribes have an economic impact worth billions in the state. Tribal nations employ citizens and non-citizens, provide a bundle of human services and employ people in the healthcare field.

These factors and the landmark McGirt v. Oklahoma decision, which said that much of eastern Oklahoma remained a reservation for the purposes of criminal justice, intertwines people's lives on the reservation. The people who lead the tribes make big decisions that affect all of these factors.

This year several tribal nations in Oklahoma, including some of the larger tribes in the state, will hold elections for key positions including tribal leaders and district council seats. This includes the Chickasaw, Choctaw and the Muscogee Nations among others.

Tribes will be debating how to allocate their funds, how to preserve their cultures and even the citizenship of the descendants of their Freedmen.

Tribal nations all over the United States have had a long and fraught history of creating their own governments, writing their own constitutions after enduring policies meant to terminate or reduce their sovereignty over the years.

KOSU spoke with citizens involved in tribal government and organizations that study tribal self-governance to find out more.

A flyer created by Center for Native Youth was distributed at events leading up to the midterm elections in 2022. Around Oklahoma, tribal nations partnered with different organizations to encourage young people to get to the polls.
Allison Herrera
A flyer created by Center for Native Youth was distributed at events leading up to the midterm elections in 2022. Around Oklahoma, tribal nations partnered with different organizations to encourage young people to get to the polls.

From self-determination to termination

Oklahoma statehood had a disastrous impact on tribal nations.

Many lost their tribal governments through allotment, assimilation and federal Indian boarding schools. Those policies resulted in loss of life, loss of land, loss of money, loss of culture and languageMuch of this was documented in the late 1920s in the Meriam Report, which scrutinized in detail how the federal government's policies were affecting tribal nations.

During the 1930s and 40s, the federal government leaned into some of the findings of that report and wanted to establish self-determination for tribal nations. That's how something called the Indian New Deal came about, or theIndian Reorganization Act.

"What the Indian Reorganization Act did was strip away the last vestiges of traditional tribal governance in order to trade for federal recognition," Wayne Ducheneaux of the Native Governance Center explained. Ducheneaux is an enrolled citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation in South Dakota and works with tribal nations in the midwest region to strengthen their governments and assert sovereignty.

Duchneaux said that prior to Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) constitutions, all tribal nations had their separate ways to be dealing with the federal government, interacting with the federal government, whether it was entire general councils that met and made decisions by consensus, whether it was one principal chief who made decisions or some type of mixture between those two.

Wayne Ducheneaux, the Native Governance Center
The Native Governance Center
Wayne Ducheneaux, the Native Governance Center

Felix Cohen was the architect of these constitutions. The Department of the Interior called him, "the father of Indian Law." He was a PhD graduate from Harvard University whose experiences growing up Jewish-American shaped his political views. He was tasked under Roosevelt's administration to carve out a place for tribes in the larger American political system. The centerpiece legislation in 1934 was the Indian Reorganization Act while he worked within the solicitors' office at the Department of the Interior.

The IRA was extended in Oklahoma under what was known as the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act, which was adopted to help tribes rebuild after their governments were dissolved to make way for statehood in 1907.

Cohen wanted to help tribes establish new constitutions. Warren Queton, a Kiowa at-large legislator and OU Native American Studies scholar, said these constitutions were structured like a business committee, there is a board of directors or business committee that oversees the day-to-day operations and with an addition of an Indian Council.

Tribes needed to establish their own governments, Queton said, and using the Cohen model of a so-called "cookie cutter" constitution was a way to do that. They were called cookie-cutter because they were a form used by many tribal nations.

It wasn't something tribal nations created for themselves, and there was no autonomy for tribes to truly take care of their own business. This model made it easier for the federal government to deal with the tribes, but didn’t really benefit tribal nations.

"The problem with that structure is you have this one entity overseeing all the business of the tribe, meaning they are writing policy, enforcing policy, and in some cases interpreting their own policy," Queton said. "There were no checks and balances."

Fast-forward almost 20 years, and the United States government entered into what was known as the disastrous termination era for tribes, where the U.S. government wanted to end the federal trust responsibility between Native nations and the federal government.

A 1961 film called The Exiles portrayed what those policies looked like in real life for Native people who were moved away from their reservation and tribal land into big cities like Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland in order to assimilate under the Urban Indian Relocation Program.

"What they were looking to do was get out of the Indian business," Duchneaux said, ultimately to gain access to natural resources and tribal land.

"Some of the first highly organized, highly structured tribes were the first ones to be eliminated," Duchneaux said referring to tribal nations such as Potawatomi, Flathead, Klamath and Menominee.

Obviously, tribal nations continue to exist, have tribal governments, elected officials and their own court systems. So, how did the country jump from an era of termination to one where more than 500 federally recognized tribes exist?

Part of the answer has to do with the Nixon administration.

In the 1970s, federal legislation like the Indian Self-determination and Education Assistance Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Child Welfare Act.

"The Nixon administration, along with some newly elected folks in Congress, really understood that, you know, the trust responsibility was something that if the United States government was ever going to try to live up to its integrity based from the treaties, there had to come a time, a place where they said, hey, we have to start giving tribes more control over their the funding sources and the resources that come in because they know best how to self-determine their success," Duchneaux said.

This had a big impact on tribal governments. For example, in 1971 Choctaws were given the right to pick their own leaders for the first time in modern history, before that Chiefs were appointed by the President of the United States.

From Cookie-Cutter to Reform

That lack of checks and balances that existed in the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) created constitutions could lead to corruption-according to Queton.

In 2017, the Kiowa tribe began reform by implementing its own judicial branch. That led to more opportunities for accountability.

In 2020, former Kiowa tribal chairman Matthew Komalty faced impeachment on the tribe's seven-member legislative branch over his handling of CARES Act funding, as well as wrongful termination of Kiowa gaming employees, failing to go through the proper process for the annual tribal audit and more.

Komalty maintained that the allegations are a "misrepresentation of accuracy."

And, the Quapaw Nation, which has a Business Committee structure, also faced their own troubles in 2020 after their longtime Business Committee Chairman John Berrey facedcriminal charges over allegations of attempted embezzlement, conspiracy and abuse of office to improper gifts to tribal officials or employees.

“We needed to get away from that and establish a way to hold people accountable for their decisions," Queton said of IRA constitutions.

"My whole thing was we need a court to really look at our Constitution and our law and hold people accountable if they're going to try to steal money from the tribe or do things that are not, you know, legally sound."

Former Principal Chief of the Osage Nation Jim Gray undertook a massive reform when he was in office: reforming their constitution so that every Osage could vote.

Jim Gray, former Principal Chief of Osage Nation
Osage Nation
Jim Gray, former Principal Chief of Osage Nation

The inheritance of Osage Mineral Estates by shareholders was tied to political rights within the tribe. Eventually, people who weren't shareholders outnumbered those who were-that's when, as Jim explains, the tribal nation went to Congress to reform their constitution, which is in place today

"It was a race against time," Gray said. When he took office in 2002, there were nine original allottees. By the time President George W. Bush signed the bill reforming their constitution, there was one.

Kelli Mosteller of Harvard University's Native American Program said people are looking for community when thinking about how they should vote in a tribal election.

"Putting money into services about teaching our children our languages or bringing students back to to experience what it's like to work at and live around the tribal headquarters and the reservation lands to build those connections," Mosteller says those are the things she hears people wanting-especially after some tribal nations have had the chance to build back up and become more established.

Mosteller says if you want people to be part of the election process, voter engagemetn is key.

"That's something that I think every well, every government at every level is dealing with," Mosteller said. "Tribal governments need to be more involved in getting younger people involved and that means expanding to digital platforms and meeting people in person, going to where the community is at.”

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KOSU has a list of some of the upcoming tribal elections. We will be updating it regularly.

Comanche Nation

For more information about who is running, visit Comanche Nation election page here

Candidate bios can be found on the Comanche Nation News

Candidate runoff forum can be watched here

Comanche Nation

Voters may cast their ballots for Early/In-house Voting 8 a.m.-5 p.m. June 9, at the polling sites:

  • Comanche Nation Dorothy Lorentino

    Sunrise Education Center Auditorium,

    located at 1608 SW 9th St., Lawton.

  • Comanche Nation Complex New Con- ference Room, 584 NW Bingo Road,


Voting on Election Day June 10th:
Voters may cast their ballots on Election Day,
8 a.m.-6 p.m., June 10, at the polling sites:

Lawton Polling SiteComanche Nation Complex New Conference Room, 584 NW Bingo Road, Lawton

Oklahoma City Polling Site

Comanche Nation Outreach Office – OKC Office, 8014 N Western Ave. Suite D, OKC

Apache Polling Site Comanche Nation – Apache Community Center, 309 Julia Mahseet Road, Apache

Anadarko Polling Site

Comanche Nation Outreach Office – Anadar- ko Office, 602 W. Virginia, Anadarko

Cache Polling Site Comanche Nation – Cahoma Community Center, 752 NW Quanah Rd., Cache 

Walters Polling Site

Comanche Nation Community Center – Walters, 905 E. Missouri St., Walters

Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma

Election Date: June 10th, 2023

Who is Running:

Vice-Chairman of the Business Committee

Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma

  • Marlon Frye, A Da Me Ska Ka
  • Everett Suke, Mo Ki Ta Noa
  • Richard Ketakeah, Ka Ki Ke Pa Ke Di Ta

Secretary of the Business Committee

  • Patricia Gonzales, Mo Ki Ta No Cua
  • Bianse’ Gonzales, Kikikodecoa

Chairman of the Grievance Committee

  • Jennell Downs, KI SA KO DI CUA
  • Kaylee Stevens, Ah Ko Di Ta Mo Cua

Deadline to register: No deadline. Elections will take place from 9am-1pm. All eligible tribal citizens can vote but must bring their CDIB card. In the event of a runoff, polls will immediately re-open at 3pm on the same day and will conclude at 7pm

Polling Place: Brown Administration building located approximately two (2) miles north of McLoud, OK off state Highway 102.

Delaware Nation

Election Date: June 17, 2023

Delaware Nation

Who is Running:


  • Victoria De La Rosa-Feliciano
  • Trinity Guido


  • Margaret Ann Brower
  • Rita French- Carillo

Committee Member:

  • Michael Mclane (unopposed)

Deadline to register: No deadline

Polling Place: Delaware Nation Tribal Complex in Anadarko, OK. 9-4pm

Citizen Potawatomi Nation

Election Date: June 24, 2023

Citizen Potawatomi Nation

Who is Running:

District 10:

  • David Joe Barrett (incumbent)
  • Charles Dwight Scott

District 11:

  • Andrew Thomas Walters (incumbent)
  • Jay Allen Loughlin

District 13:

  • Bobbie Lynn Bowden (incumbent and unchallenged)

Deadline to register: Citizen Potawatomi Nation does not have an official voting registration process. Voters over age 18 are required to show their Tribal ID when voting, which is cross-referenced with the Tribal Rolls.

Choctaw Nation

Election Date: July 7 (early) & July 8 (general) 2023

Who is Running:


  • Chief Gary Batton (Unopposed)

District 1 Tribal Council Member:

  • Thomas R. Williston (unopposed)

District 2 Tribal Council Member:

  • Tony Ward (incumbent)
  • Brent Mintner

District 3 Tribal Council Member:

  • Eddie Bohanan (Incumbent)
  • Kay Haering

District 5 Tribal Council Member:

  • Ron Perry (unopposed)

District 8 Tribal Council Member:

  • Perry Thompson (incumbent)
  • Larry Wade

District 11 Tribal Council Member

  • Robert Karr (incumbent)
  • Nellie Meashintubby

For more information about voting, the candidates and eligibility requirements, go to Choctaw Nation's Chahta Atokoli Voter Guide here: https://www.choctawnation.com/biskinik/2023-tribal-election-guide/

Deadline to register: No deadline. Early voting is July 7th 8am-4:30pm

General Election polls open from 7am-7pm

Polling Place: Polling places vary according to district. Find your polling place here.

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.
Cheyenne Leach is KOSU's news intern.
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