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Stitt Leaves Tribal Sovereignty Forum Early As Crowd Jeers Lack Of Native Representation On Panel

Chris Polansky

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt departed Tulsa's Cox Business Convention Center almost an hour earlier than scheduled last night, as attendees at an event meant to discuss Tribal sovereignty and criminal jurisdiction in the light of last year's McGirt v. Oklahoma Supreme Court decision jeered the panel's lack of Native representation and lack of opportunity for the public to directly ask questions at a forum billed as including a Q-and-A. 

Last July's 5-4 McGirt ruling said the Muscogee Nation's reservation was never disestablished by Congress, and as such Oklahoma broke the law for over a century by prosecuting certain crimes on Tribal lands they lacked jurisdiction over. Stitt's panel included state and local law enforcement officials, but none of their federal or Tribal counterparts.

Roughly 50 demonstrators gathered outside the convention center before the event to protest the lack of Native inclusion in the development of the programming.

"This is a very one-sided forum that did not have Native representation, which is why we're gathered here today," said a woman at the assembly who identified herself only by the first name Amy and as a Muscogee Nation citizen. "We are still here. We are visible. And we are sovereign."

Many or all of those at the demonstration entered the convention center to join the few hundred in attendance for the program, carrying signs with slogans including "STITT doesn't know [expletive] about FEDERAL LAW," "All These Treaty Rights and Still Not Treated Right," and "STITT IS A $5 CHEROKEE." 

Members of the crowd booed at various remarks by the panelists, including Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado saying the upholding of Tribal sovereignty and treaty rights was "thrust upon" the state of Oklahoma by the Supreme Court; Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler saying the Oklahoma state seal was designed by a Native American and "we are all Oklahomans"; and Tulsa Police Deputy Chief Dennis Larsen forgetting the name of the Lighthorse Tribal Police.

The heartiest boos, though, were reserved for Stitt, who insinuated vocal members of the crowd were from "out of state" and left early through a back door with heavy security to chants of "SHAME ON STITT."

Kunzweiler told Public Radio Tulsa after the forum that he had invited representatives from the Five Tribes to sit on the panel and he wished they would have participated.

At least one chief publicly disputed that an invitation had been extended. In a statement, Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill accused Stitt and Kunzweiler of "political grandstanding" and "prey[ing] upon the pain of victims and their families."

"Had an official invitation been extended to Muscogee Nation, we would have welcomed the opportunity to work with local officials to make this an informative and productive session. But that invitation never came," Hill said.

"I hope our citizens respect my decision to not attend. But I believe firmly that government officials who wish to undermine Sovereignty should not expect that we will help them do it by participating in every sensational scheme they can conjure up," Hill said.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. issued a statement reading, in part, "While it is unfortunate that some of our political leaders are focused on flashy headlines -- regardless of what is actually best for victims and regardless of what is actually backed by fact -- we will continue our important work to cooperate with local, federal and state partners on real solutions." 

In a statement, a Stitt spokeswoman said, "Tonight's forum for those impacted by the McGirt ruling was hijacked by fringe activists who decided their protesting and disruptive, disrespectful behavior was more important than victims getting connected to resources they need."

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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