Oklahoma governor seeks negotiations with tribal leaders

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Friday invited leaders of the Five Tribes of Oklahoma to begin formal negotiations related to last year’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on tribal sovereignty.

Stitt said in a statement that he will welcome the leaders of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations to begin discussions “to address and resolve the potential issues that have arisen" as a result of the ruling. Stitt didn't say when those discussions might begin.

Known as the McGirt decision, the high court's ruling determined that a wide swathe of eastern Oklahoma remains a Muscogee (Creek) reservation. As a result, the tribes and federal government, not the state, have criminal jurisdiction in cases involving tribal citizens on reservation lands.

“As things stand today, crimes are going unpunished, and convicted criminals are seeking to be set free," Stitt said. “We can't allow this to happen."

Although the ruling applied specifically to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the other four tribes have existing treaties with the United States with similar language.

Stitt says Ryan Leonard, the governor’s special counsel for Native American affairs, will be his lead negotiator on the issue.

Leaders of the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations have recently said they are open to negotiating a compact with the state to clarify matters of criminal jurisdiction, but that they oppose any effort by Congress to disestablish their reservations.

“We have long been engaged on issues relating to this case and look forward to deepening our government-to-government partnerships as more opportunities arise," Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a statement on Friday. “We believe there is a clear path forward on criminal jurisdiction respecting tribal, state and federal sovereignty."

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation also released a statement indicating the tribe is open to discussions, but stressed the importance of Stitt respecting them as a sovereign nation.

Stitt, himself a Cherokee Nation citizen, has had strained relations with some of the Oklahoma-based tribes after a lengthy dispute over the state compact that allows gambling at tribal casinos.