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One Oklahoma Task Force offers public safety recommendations post-McGirt

As Long as the Waters Flow statue by Allan Houser resides outside the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Sarah Liese
As Long as the Waters Flow statue by Allan Houser resides outside the Oklahoma State Capitol.

The task force recommends representatives of states, tribes, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs amend the existing deputation agreements.

The One Oklahoma Task Force, established by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2023, released its report Wednesday to provide clarity and solutions for the questions prompted by the McGirt v. Oklahoma U.S. Supreme Court decision, which ruled the Muscogee Nation was never disestablished and the eastern half of the state is largely still an Indian reservation.

The questions that followed the ruling and an incident involving an Okmulgee jailer and Muscogee Lighthorse police were discussed in meetings held by the task force, addressing concerns about cross-deputation and uniform jail agreements.

Though the task force primarily addressed issues involving tribes in the state, no tribal representatives agreed to join the group. Two seats out of 13 were reserved for tribal members; those two seats remained empty.

An intertribal council of Oklahoma’s five largest tribes stood together in a resisted effort to reject the task force until “flaws are corrected,” alluding to the divisive rhetoric in the executive order.

Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill told Mvskoke Mediathe task force could create further division and cited problems with the lack of Indigenous leadership.

“There are 39 unique tribes in Oklahoma, not just two,” Hill said. “Eleven state agencies will be represented to speak for themselves. Tribes should be afforded the same opportunity.”

The report said, “Several members of the Task Force solicited and received input from tribal representatives.” However, there were few details regarding the input, and no specific tribes were named.

Tricia Everest, chairperson of the One Oklahoma Task Force, said her next steps are to meet with the tribes that work closest to the state to develop a good model and possibly extend it to others.

“Representatives of each of the federally recognized tribes have received a copy of the report,” Everest said in a phone interview. “So, one of my follow-ups is to reach out with those tribes.”

Everest said it is imperative that all parties cooperate to develop a plan to keep all citizens and law enforcement members safe.

“This report is an acknowledgment that, one, we need to work together,” she said. “Two, that we need to have a uniform way of recognizing how we handle public safety.”

Some of the report's recommendations involved a collective gathering and agreement of representatives of the state, tribes, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to build addenda on top of the current deputation agreement, which went into effect in April 2005.

The suggestions for the addenda include topics related to jail, revenue sharing and criminal justice information access.

Everest noted the “north star” of the report was to ensure police officers standing on the side of the road giving tickets do not have to be there more than necessary, worrying about jurisdiction.

“Trying to figure out jurisdictional issues at that time is a danger to all involved,” she said.

Thus, one of the task force’s recommendations was that the Council of Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) create a curriculum to prepare law enforcement officers on how to handle jurisdictional questions and tribal relations.

They also recommended data-sharing agreements to streamline financial transparency. Everest gave the example of someone receiving a ticket and having all necessary parties access to see it. She also described the person ticketed being able to pay the ticket on a shared platform, so the ticket payment process would be uniform across jurisdictions.

The task force also made other recommendations, including conducting a legislative interim study to update laws as needed. Interim studies tend to occur at the state capitol in the late summer and early fall, with invited experts offering their findings for consideration.

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Sarah Liese reports on Indigenous Affairs for KOSU.
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