Congressman Tom Cole: 'Native Issues Aren't Democrat Or Republican'

Nov 2, 2020

Chickasaw Citizen and Republican Tom Cole is seeking re-election in Oklahoma's 4th Congressional District. Cole was first elected in 2002 and if he wins, this will be his 10th term in office. The co-chair of the Native American caucus touts his willingness to work across the aisle on issues affecting Indian Country. KOSU's Allison Herrera talked with the congressman on some of the issues his constituents are facing.


Allison Herrera: You submitted an amicus brief in support of the Muscogee Creek Nation in the McGirt case. Why did you do that and what was your reaction to the ruling when it came out?

Tom Cole: I think people in Oklahoma look on McGirt as primarily an Oklahoma issue, and certainly the case itself is. But, the ruling has profound implications for all of Indian Country and every treaty out there. So, again, we're going to have to work together to find a way to work through the challenges of McGirt. I knew it would create some problems. But again, I knew which way the Supreme Court would likely to rule. I was persuaded by Neal Gorsuch, who was Donald Trump's first Supreme Court appointment's ruling. And I thought it best to actually, you know, position yourself to try and do some federal legislation.

Currently, the state of Oklahoma has one of the highest per day count of coronavirus cases. What do you think needs to be done to get those numbers to go down? Do you support a mask mandate in the state?

There's really not much authority for us to do that. We can do a lot of things in terms of persuading states with federal dollars to go along with federal recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control. At the end of the day, the ultimate answer is a vaccine and approved therapeutics. We're on the road to both in record time.

Larger tribes in Oklahoma like the five tribes and some others can weather the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. But, there are a lot of other Tribes throughout the state whose citizens are hurting. Do you think more legislation is needed to help those tribes that have less reserves and rely heavily on gaming revenue to support their governments and their programs?

If we have another coronavirus supplemental, and I hope we do. I am disappointed we don't have one by now, then that I would certainly hope the tribes are at the table. And, that's a big advantage for Oklahoma, because it not only helps tribal citizens, it helps non-tribal citizens as well.

You're running for a 10th term in Congress and you've been quoted as saying that Native issues aren't Democrat or Republican. What do you mean by that?

Most Native legislation, if you look at it actually passes on a coalition basis. Remember, a lot of America doesn't know a lot about tribal governments and tribal sovereignty because there aren't tribes located there. That's second nature to us in Oklahoma because of the presence of so many tribes that have such substantial size in many cases. But the two key issues for tribal issues are always number one, do respect tribal sovereignty or not? And we have Republicans that do and Republicans that don't. We have Democrats do and Democrats don't. You know, it's interesting, if you look at the Native Americans in Congress, there's four of us. We're the perfectly balanced caucus. Two of us are men, two of us are women. Two of us are Republican, two of us are Democrat. The reality is, we work together.


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