We hope there is a good feeling of working together this legislative session
Guest opinions. Earlier this month, I attended the first day of the 2024 regular session of the Oklahoma Legislature. I and several other tribal leaders met with legislators and watched the Oklahoma Governor’s State of the State address.
We attend because we recognize that the success of our tribal nations and the state of Oklahoma are inextricably linked. When it comes to creating jobs, growing the economy, attracting tourism, protecting public safety, providing world-class health care, and much more, thriving tribal nations are Oklahoma’s unique competitive advantage.
It is unfortunate that the Governor of Oklahoma, in his speech that day, did his best to incite division and paint a distorted picture of tribal sovereignty as a mess. However, while the Governor is trying to create confusion for political purposes, we in the Cherokee Nation see cooperation every day. Those of us who live in northeastern Oklahoma, including many of our friends in the Oklahoma Legislature, know that the Cherokee Nation is a great partner.
We have already begun working on developing policies for this legislative session that will advance the Cherokee Nation and all of Oklahoma. One of the bills we are working on is HB 3863 introduced by Rep. Ross Ford, which would make it easier for victims of domestic violence to escape dangerous situations. Last year, Oklahoma required utility companies to waive mandatory credit checks and deposits when someone escaping domestic violence creates a new account, but the state excluded tribal-run domestic violence shelters from the list of people who can certify waiver eligibility. HB 3863 corrects this oversight.
The Cherokee Nation is deeply committed to protecting our citizens who are victims of domestic violence. We provide resources, including law enforcement response, emergency shelters, counseling and life rebuilding programs. The award-winning ONE FIRE Victim Services program is the gold standard among tribes and the entire nation, and HB 3863 gives us another tool to help victims become financially stable.
Another issue we support is expanding the Health Advisory Council to include the state Department of Health, with HB 3333 by Representative Cindy Rowe and SB 1708 by Senator Allie Seyfried. That would add representatives from tribal health systems, urban Indian health care, and experts in cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and diabetes to the group advising the state health department. A similar bill passed with significant bipartisan support last session, but was unfortunately vetoed by the governor.
The Governor may continue to resist working with tribal nations, but we will not let that stop us from moving forward with our many friends in the state. Along these lines, an important issue this year will be expanding the Cherokee Nation’s agreements with Oklahoma on vehicle tags and tobacco sales.
These agreements have proven successful in increasing state revenues, preventing costly lawsuits, and establishing fair and predictable rules for businesses. For more than two decades, Cherokee Nation car tags have supported millions of dollars annually to go to schools throughout northeastern Oklahoma. Last year, the Cherokee Nation gave a record $7.8 million to 109 public school districts, including nearly $1.8 million to Tulsa County Schools. At the Cherokee Nation, we do not want to disrupt these funds, and we are prepared to work in good faith with the Oklahoma Legislature and Governor to make sure that does not happen.
For the benefit of all of Oklahoma, it is time to abandon the 19th century mentality and recognize that the Cherokee and other tribes bring tremendous benefits to the state. I am grateful for legislative leadership and the vast majority of legislators from both parties who understand this. I hope that this session will be dominated by the idea of working together to overcome attempts to divide us.
Chuck Hoskin. The son is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.