Doing some good: Slowly, Archie Hoffman’s dreams for Oklahoma’s Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes coming true
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Published: 22-Apr-2013

Archie Hoffman’s dreams for Oklahoma’s Cheyenne & Arapaho (C&A) Tribes are slowly coming true. As the late activist’s hopes are shaping public policy both in “Indian Country” and the rest of America, his patience might serve as a model for relations between sovereign tribes and state/federal governments. 

This month, C&A Gov. Janice Prairie-Chief Boswell inked agreements with Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, historic accords in which each side gave something up. Hoffman, who died last year, would have approved. A dreamer and a doer, Archie understood,  "You don't get something for nothing. Not in this world." 

As the narrator for an NBC News Report put it in the 1990s, the C&As have fought for more than a century to get back portions of tribal lands: “They tried lobbying, they tried the courts, and then, in 1996, after a meeting with some local Democratic officials, they tried something as old as American politics itself -- they wrote a check.”

The story detailed behind-the-scenes efforts by Hoffman and others to regain land around historic Fort Reno, an area in western Oklahoma the U.S. government had long promised would – if the facility ever stopped being a military installation – be returned.

Hoffman had noticed the increasing clout of larger tribes – influence garnered in part from significant campaign contributions to both major political parties. He and other leaders of smaller Indian Nations were frustrated by the ability of the larger tribes to leverage sovereign rights, leavened with those significant political gifts, to gain local and national market advantages. 

Hoffman was told political money -- a tribal contribution of $100,000 to the national Democrats' drive for President Bill Clinton's 1996 reelection -- would grease the skids for a look at the merits.

In a meeting with the president, one of Hoffman's close allies later said, Clinton affirmed “something to the effect” of “I'll see what can be done about it." Hoffman's friend, Charles Surveyor, later recalled that Clinton fundraiser Terry McAuliffe promised “the president says he['s] gonna do something, he's gonna do it.”

After getting dunned by national Democrats, the Tribes sent $87,671.74 – all they had in their bank account. Later, the contribution reached $107,671.74, but McAuliffe denied to reporters he had ever made the promise on Clinton's behalf.

Senator Fred Thompson, who later led a lengthy investigation of campaign finance, sympathetically concluded, “We know what was in the minds of the men from the tribe. And that is they thought that they had done themselves some good." 

Rebuffed in the Clinton deal, the Tribes returned to the courts. A few years ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. ruled the tribal land claim was time-barred, although lawyers entered evidence that status of the property had been deemed classified for fifty years after going on standby military status in the 1950s.

Which brings us to the new Oklahoma-C&A agreements. The accords, signed April 5, ban in-state Internet gaming while establishing a new state revenue stream, establish a tobacco compact, and an agreement on outdoor burn bans as part of joint efforts to battle drought.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Gov. Janice Prairie-Chief Boswell of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes negotiated the deals. While banning on-line gaming for in-state residents, among other provisions, the gaming settlement could send the state 20 percent of revenues generated from international gaming. A complex deal, it is a true compromise.

Archie Doyle Hoffman, Sr. deserves credit for keeping his eyes on the prize, even as many others in the Two Tribes obsessed over power games. The most effective C&A leader of the modern era, Archie was never chief (governor) of the Tribes, but was an elected officer for a time. 

A military veteran, Archie served an overseas tour before his honorable discharge. With practical skills learned as an Air Force mechanic, he made his way in the broader Oklahoma culture while retaining love for the old ways, including service as a representative for the Native American Church.

Weeks before his death a year ago, he appeared before a federal commission, confident that one day the Cheyenne & Arapaho peoples would gain justice from America. 

Archie was a legend for many deeds, but his people (and non-tribal admirers) remember him for the pressure on Clinton. It must be noted that the courts have never ruled directly on the merits of that Cheyenne & Arapaho land claim, yet Gov. Boswell and her allies believe Archie’s patience and methodical pressure are a model that will endure.

Gov. Fallin deserves applause for working cooperatively with these and other tribes, without surrendering the state government’s legitimate claims. I am confident Hoffman would have approved of the recent work of both of these ladies.

Note: This is adapted from a story first posted on CapitolBeatOK in 2012. McGuigan’s coverage of Archie Hoffman and the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes won first place in Diversity News Reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, Oklahoma Professional Chapter, at last weekend’s awards banquet. 

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.

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