WASHINGTON — American Indian tribes face “a direct threat to their sovereignty” if they don’t stand up to the power of the Oklahoma state government, which is trying to manipulate its gaming compacts with the tribes, an official of the nation’s largest Native American group said Monday.
Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, warned of an “annihilation” of tribal sovereignty as she spoke following the 18th annual State of Indian Nations address hosted by George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
“The National Congress of American Indians, our delegates and members, we stand with those tribes that are facing a direct threat and annihilation to their sovereignty through this compact dispute,” Sharp said.
The debate boils down to whether the gaming compacts agreed to by gaming tribes and the state of Oklahoma expired on Jan. 1 or they automatically renewed for an additional 15-year term.
The Choctaw, Cherokee and Chickasaw nations, later joined by the Muscogee (Creek) and Citizen Potawatomi tribes, filed a lawsuit in federal district court on Dec. 31 against Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to resolve the issue and keep gaming at status quo in the meantime.
In response, Stitt denied the allegations and insisted that the compacts expired in the new year. Both sides have said they were willing to negotiate before the deadline, but now the issue has turned from the state’s trying to negotiate for higher exclusivity fees paid annually by the tribes to an issue of tribal sovereignty.
A federal judge ordered the sides into mediation Monday.
“When the tribal nations succeed in putting the state of Oklahoma in its place, we will be standing right there with them,” Sharp said on the NCAI’s position on the compact dispute.
“This is nothing new to Indian County, right? When the other side wants to breach their duty and responsibility in a contractual agreement? This is nothing new to the tribes in Oklahoma, and they’re handling this just right,” said NCAI Chief Executive Officer Kevin Allis.