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Two nations, one goal: strengthening tribal sovereignty in Oklahoma

Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton (left) and Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.
Choctaw Nation and Cherokee Nation
Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton (left) and Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.

During their annual state of the nation addresses, both Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton and Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. say they're focusing their efforts on strengthening tribal sovereignty.

Amid sweltering temperatures during Labor Day weekend in Oklahoma, two leaders of the state's largest tribal nations talked about their commitment to the communities their tribal nations reside in, while also talking about tribal sovereignty as an increasingly tense relationship with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt solidifies.

“In the coming year, the opponents of tribal sovereignty will continue to press their tired old case to move this country backward, to retreat from justice and to push the United States to escape its obligations to the Cherokee people," Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said during his State of the Nation Address.

"But we will meet their insistence on turning back the clock with a greater commitment to moving this country forward."

Hoskin Jr.'s speech capped the Cherokee National Holiday, which started in 1953 as a way to celebrate the Cherokee Nation's signing of their 1839 constitution.

Hoskin says tribal nations are facing dramatic attacks against their sovereignty. But successes in areas like increasing health care access show Cherokee strength. He used most of his speech to advocate for the seating of their delegate to congress and to lay out the successes of his first term in office.

“Our progress on healthcare can be felt near and far. Our workforce is growing, and we have new staff and services for citizens both here at home and at-large. We broke ground on a new outpatient center in Salina and a new hospital here in our capital city. But we cannot rest when it comes to moving toward our goal of a world-class system of wellness for the Cherokee people,” Chief Hoskin said.

Hoskin was recently re-elected to a second four-year term heading up the nation. He says he will continue advocating for tribal sovereignty and strengthening Northeast Oklahoma in his role.

Choctaw Chief Gary Batton is gearing up for his third term leading his tribal nation. He was first elected to office in 2015. He delivered his State of the Nation virtually, highlighting tribal initiatives, programs and their position in the community.

"We've had our fair share of challenges with the Governor" Batton told audiences via a pre-recorded video. “But, the numbers don't lie-the tribes of Oklahoma are taking care of our neighbors and having a positive impact on the natural resources of our beautiful state."

The Labor Day ceremony also included the swearing-in of six tribal council members starting new terms of office on September 1, including four incumbents and a couple new faces.

During his State of the Nation Address, Batton said the nation continues its strong work in economic development.

"We've had our fair share of challenges with the Governor,” he said. “But, the numbers don't lie. The tribes of Oklahoma are taking care of our neighbors and having a positive impact on the natural resources of our beautiful state."

The three-day-long festival was attended by thousands of tribal members and visitors from Oklahoma and neighboring states to the historic tribal grounds in SE Oklahoma.

Batton will serve in the role for the next four years.

Both tribal nations are involved in an ongoing lawsuit with the state of Oklahoma over gaming compacts. In 2020, amidst an ongoing dispute over the validity of the model gaming compact, Governor Kevin Stitt signed gaming compacts with four other tribal nations. The Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee and Citizen Potawatomi Nation say those compacts are illegal.

They have also hit back at Stitt after comments he made at a recent Tulsa Chamber of Commerce event, where he said that tribal license plates were costing the state millions of dollars. As KOSU has reported, the new plate pay system created by the OTA has been flawed, but the agency does not blame the tribes.

Stitt, who has been at odds with the tribes over the landmark McGirt decision, also called their validity into question.

“We understand we will have honest policy differences with Gov. Stitt. However, we should be able to agree on the facts. That is impossible when he deliberately spreads falsehoods,” Batton said. “The fact is, Oklahoma’s tribes – including the Choctaw Nation – never disbanded. Congress never withdrew its recognition of our status as a sovereign nation with certain rights, no matter what Gov. Stitt says.”

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Allison Herrera covered Indigenous Affairs for KOSU from April 2020 to November 2023.
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