Oklahoma Sec. of Native American Affairs Resigns, Citing 'Unnecessary Conflict' Over Compacts

Dec 23, 2019

Chickasaw Nation legislator and former state Rep. Lisa Billy resigned Monday as Oklahoma Secretary of Native American Affairs.
Credit Chickasaw Nation

Oklahoma Secretary of Native American Affairs Lisa J. Billy resigned Monday, sending Gov. Kevin Stitt a scathing letter that cited the governor's ongoing pursuit of gaming compact negotiations as the reason for her decision.

Billy, a former state representative and current Chickasaw Nation lawmaker, was the first Native American named to a governor's cabinet in state history and the state's first secretary of Native American affairs.

In her letter, Billy told Stitt she had focused on improving the relationship between tribes and the state and was proud of her work.

"However, it has become increasingly clear you are committed to an unnecessary conflict that poses a real risk of lasting damage to the State-Tribal relationship and to our economy," Billy went on to write. "You have dismissed advice and facts that show the peril of your chosen approach and have remained intent on breaking faith with the Tribes, both by refusing to engage with the compact's language and, more recently, by suggesting you would displace our Tribal partners with private, out-of-state commercial gaming operators.

"Your actions have shown that my continuing in service on your cabinet is unnecessary to you and impossible for me. I must accordingly resign, effective immediately."

Stitt's office responded to Billy's resignation in a statement.

"“The state has been and remains committed to working collaboratively with the tribes,” Stitt said. “We regret that we won’t have the wisdom of Lisa Billy’s counsel in that endeavor. Lisa was the first person to serve on an Oklahoma governor’s cabinet in the position of secretary of Native American affairs. I am immensely grateful for her service to our great state and her collaboration with our team.”

Last week, Stitt urged tribal leaders to sign an extension to current gaming compacts through August 2020, citing his belief the compacts expire Jan. 1 and gaming would be illegal after that date.

Tribal leaders roundly rejected Stitt's extension. They are adamant the compacts automatically renew for a 15-year term because the state recently relicensed gaming operations at horse tracks, the provision that triggers automatic renewal.