Analysis: Otoe-Missouria, Comanche say state court cannot invalidate their compacts with Oklahoma
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Published: 24-Jul-2020

Oklahoma City City – The Otoe-Missouria and Comanche tribes asserted, in statements this week, that sovereignty makes a recent Oklahoma state Supreme Court decision inoperative when it comes to pursuing their respective peoples’ economic advancement. 

Early this week, the Oklahoma state Supreme Court ruled to strike down compacts that Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt had negotiated with the two nations.

From the headquarters of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe in Red Rock, Chairman John R. Shotton sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations a response to the state judicial ruling. 
He said:  “The Oklahoma Supreme Court doesn’t have jurisdiction to invalidate our compact when state and federal law dictates that our compact is legal. We have said all along we do not plan to offer house-banked card and table games and event wagering until they are authorized by state law. Indeed, this condition was part of the compact, and it was unfortunately overlooked by the Court.
“We will continue to operate under the remaining terms of our compact pursuant to the severability clause of the compact, and we will refrain from operating any game that is not authorized under state law.”

Chairman William Nelson, Sr. of the Comanche Nation took a similar position in his statement to news organizations, saying “Our compact is legal under federal law and is a matter of our tribal sovereignty. We intend to continue operating under the terms of the compact outside of offering games not currently authorized by state law. Our compact is legal and we are prepared to legally invoke the compact’s severability clause if necessary.”

The actions of both tribal leaders in forging an accord with state Gov. Stitt were approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. 

In a commentary (http://city-sentinel.com/2020/06/analyzing-the-start-of-a-new-era-federal-government-greenlights-oklahoma-gaming-compacts-for-comanche-otoe-missouria/), this reporter reflected: 


“The U.S. Department of the Interior … approved gaming compacts – between the Comanche Nation and Oklahoma, and the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the state – starting a new era in state/trial relations. Despite direct opposition from many other tribes – including the Chickasaw Nation, Oklahoma’s most economically powerful tribal entity, the pair of smaller tribes have secured a significant victory.

“For decades, the federal government had made it a habit to grant every possible backdoor and monopoly advantage to the dominant nations, leaving little market share for smaller players. In state government, as the Chickasaw and other Big Tribes gained unfair advantages, much of the ruling class in Indian Country and at the seat of government in Oklahoma City got a bigger and bigger share of the economic clout that comes from tribal rights short of reservation status. 

“Yes, the ruling class gave lip service, mouthing sympathetic rhetoric toward smaller tribes for years, instead of supporting the hard work needed (with feet on the ground) to build small tribe economies. It has been comfortable, familiar and easy for federal bureaucrats to decide one close call after another in favor of the most powerful Indian Nations, i.e. those with economic clout and power. And it was easy and convenient for state officials to go along, to get along.

“Tribal rights are important, but tribalism for the sake of the few is not, in the broader context, an answer.

“What is needed in Oklahoma’s Indian Country is what is needed elsewhere in the American economy: An ability for small-scale enterprises to make and retain profits for uses they deem best, better schools (including experiments in school choice for tribal members and their neighbors) for new generations, and affordable means to invest and grow new enterprises for the benefit of tribal members, not a few lawyers and long-serving Big Tribe executives.”

Responding to the state Supreme Court ruling early this week, Attorney General Mike Hunter declared himself the victor, declaring: “[T]he governor lacks the authority to enter into and bind the state to compacts with Indian tribes that authorize gaming activity prohibited by state law. We applaud today’s ruling and appreciate the court for carefully looking at this and coming to an apt conclusion. We hope this settles and advances the resolution of gaming compact negotiations.” 

Despite Hunter’s declaration, there is little evidence leaders of the two tribes aforementioned (and others which have agreed on compact terms after discussions with Gov. Stitt) will relinquish independent interpretations of federal-state-tribal jurisdictional issues. 

Following are succinct descriptions, provided by the respective nations, of their history: 

About The Otoe-Missouria Tribe: The Otoe-Missouria Tribe is located in North Central Oklahoma in Red Rock. There are currently 3,288 members enrolled in the tribe with 2,242 living in Oklahoma. The tribe was relocated to Oklahoma in 1881 from its first reservation on the border of Nebraska and Kansas. For more information about the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, visit https://www.omtribe.org/. 

About the Comanche Nation: The Comanche Nation is located in Southwest Oklahoma, with headquarters located right outside of Lawton. The tribe currently has approximately 17,000 enrolled tribal members with 7,000 residing in the tribal jurisdictional area around the Lawton, Ft. Sill, and surrounding counties. In the late 1600’s and early 1700’s the tribe migrated from their Shoshone kinsmen onto the northern Plains, ultimately relocating in Oklahoma. For more information about The Comanche Nation, visit https://www.comanchenation.com.

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