Monday, May 23, 2022

OCPA column: No need for state handout to tribal government

No need for state handout to tribal government
By Jonathan Small

Oklahoma’s tribal governments have their own police forces, their own court systems, and immense wealth from casinos to pay for their public-safety responsibilities. So why did tribal entities recently seek an indirect subsidy from state government?

Lawmakers recently passed House Bill 3501, which would have required the Department of Public Safety to “recognize and act” upon a report of conviction from any tribal court in Oklahoma.  Supporters said the bill would target drunk drivers, but tribal courts can issue orders regarding issues other than DUI violations, and it appears the legislation could have required state police to carry out a wide range of orders on behalf of tribal governments.

Fortunately, Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed the bill, writing that it would have required state law-enforcement officials “to carry out tribal court adjudications, no questions asked.” That’s worth stressing because tribal courts can issue orders that might not pass legal muster in Oklahoma’s state court system.

To cite one prominent example, the Cherokee council approved an “Anti-Harassment Act” that allows tribal officials to obtain tribal-court ordered restraining orders against any individual who “annoys” officials, apparently including through social-media posts made “over time, however short.”

The Cherokee law raises many civil-rights concerns. It allows tribal courts to issue the restraining order without notice and without the presence of the alleged harasser. The accused may have no opportunity to respond to allegations, yet the tribal court can nonetheless order the alleged harasser “to surrender, and prohibit the respondent from possessing, all firearms and any dangerous weapons.”

Thus, the potential exists that HB 3501 could have required Oklahoma state highway patrol officers to conduct weapon seizures on behalf of tribal governments.

That’s not the only instance in which tribal laws may differ significantly from state law. But finding out what rights a tribal citizen has can be challenging for Oklahomans of American Indian heritage, because many tribal governments do not post all tribal laws and court orders online.

A 2014 research paper published by the University of Wisconsin Law School noted, “For a majority of the 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States today, no law has been published. Where it is available, tribal law is scattered across web sites, databases, and print publications.” The research document warned that “laws cannot be understood, followed, and applied unless they are made known.”

An article in the April 2020 edition of the “Oklahoma Bar Journal” carried a similar message, stating that “much tribal law, particularly tribal court opinions, can be very difficult to locate or access.”

Oklahoma’s tribal governments have the resources to fund their own public-safety systems without asking state taxpayers to prop them up. And it is especially insane to force Oklahomans to fund enforcement of tribal laws without thorough understanding of what those laws require.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

1 comment:

  1. I agree we should not give money to the tribes. They have the casinos and in Checotah near Muskogee it is always full. I would imagine the rest of the casinos take in a lot of money. Chuck Hoskins the Chief of the Cherokee doesn't think he should have to pay OK state taxes. They use our roads and eat in regular restaurants. I have Creek relatives and they are employed by the casino in Tulsa. Our Governor is a member of the Cherokee Tribe, but the Cherokees want to kick him out of the tribe. They should pay state tax.


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