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WASHINGTON — The Choctaw Nation is bringing complaints about inequitable police and safety funding for Indian territory in Oklahoma to the White House.

The tribe recently raised the concerns at an official consultation with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in response to what the tribe perceives as a low amount of funding for Oklahoma tribes to protect their lands under President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2022 proposal. The small investment could result in costly litigation and encourage political efforts to disestablish Indian lands in Oklahoma, tribes say.

[RELATED: ‘HISTORIC’ INVESTMENTS: Interior officials brief tribal leaders on Biden’s proposed 2022 budget]

During the July 15 consultation, Choctaw Nation Federal Government Relations Coordinator Joshua Riley explained to OMB officials that the Biden budget provides a $10 million increase for programmatic police services for tribes in Oklahoma, while the jurisdiction of the tribes covers almost 50 percent of the eastern part of the state. 

“We are requesting closer to $300 million,” Riley told Tribal Business News in an email after the consultation. “While that may seem like a lot, it’s actually less than 1% of the overall budget for the (Department of the Interior), and we believe that it’s a no brainer for members of Congress to allocate.”

“The issue is, somewhere between our requests for increase to the BIA, and the budget being presented to Congress, the $300 million didn’t make it,” Riley added. “(Why) wasn’t it included? We don’t know.”

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Riley said the $300 million was calculated using a Bureau of Indian Affairs formula that the agency utilizes to determine what other tribes across the nation receive for police and safety funding. That total amount would be designated for the so-called “five civilized tribes,” he said.

During the consultation, Riley pointed out to the OMB that the administration had proposed an increase of $70 million for the U.S. Department of Justice to perform duties in Oklahoma related to lawyer and FBI expenses.

As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision of July 2020, major questions about sovereignty, economic development, culture, police and safety have arisen among tribal, state and federal officials. The decision, which was widely celebrated by tribes, found that most of eastern Oklahoma remains an Indian reservation because of treaties that had long been ignored by state and federal leaders. 

The case centered on criminal jurisdiction, but much wider consequences are at stake. For instance, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in May added a notice to the Federal Register that notified the state of its loss of surface coal mining jurisdiction within the boundaries of the Muscogee Nation, the Cherokee Nation, the Choctaw Nation, the Chickasaw Nation and the Seminole Nation. 

The notice said that the federal agency is to have regulatory authority over surface coal mining and reclamation operations on Indian lands in cases where tribes had not requested and received control. 

Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and the state have filed suit against Interior over the action, saying that the move is “unlawful” and that McGirt “does not apply outside of the limited context” of criminal jurisdiction.

On July 13, Stitt made an early exit from a state-sponsored tribal sovereignty forum in Tulsa after receiving jeers from the many Indigenous attendees who were disappointed by a lack of Native representation at the meeting. Before the event, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. had called the planned forum “an anti-McGirt rally for political reasons.” 

The five tribes of Oklahoma remain very concerned that Stitt, working with state and federal legislators, will try to take back tribal territory, undermine tribal rights and sovereignty, and maybe even try to disestablish Indian lands. 

Choctaw officials noted to OMB during the consultation that Stitt is actively trying to get legislation passed or a court case brought forward to overturn the McGirt decision. 

Riley told the OMB that if the federal government doesn’t step up and provide the necessary resources to the tribes, the resulting potential for the governor to say that tribes can’t keep order over their lands will be fodder for anti-tribal efforts.  

Riley commented on the issue to Tribal Business News, saying, “I do think that the folks from OMB understood what I was trying to convey to them, as far as the urgency of the need. Though, I’m not sure they understand reservation disestablishment and what that would mean, and exactly what the governor of Oklahoma is trying to do.”

Riley added: “OMB should/could focus on understanding the treaty and trust responsibility and the fiduciary obligations of the federal government. In doing so, they would understand how crucial it is for these things to be included in the budget presented to Congress.”

OMB officials said during the consultation that McGirt is a decision that everyone there is very attentive to, and they said they are interested in receiving additional feedback on it. 

An OMB official further told Tribal Business News that they heard all of the concerns presented by tribal leaders during the session, and they are continuing to investigate them. Consultation will continue, the official said.

Riley said that his tribe and the others in Oklahoma are positive that Congress will end up appropriating much more money than called for in Biden’s proposal.

“We are absolutely hopeful that more than $10 million will be appropriated, and we’re confident that it will be,” Riley said. “How much? Not sure. Appropriators seem to be supportive, on both sides of the aisle.”

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About The Author
Rob Capriccioso
Senior Editor
Rob Capriccioso serves as senior editor for Tribal Business News. An enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Capriccioso formerly served as the D.C. bureau chief for Indian Country Today from 2011 through 2017, and started at the publication in 2008 as a general assignment reporter. He has also contributed to Inside Higher Ed, Politico, The New York Times, Forbes, The Guardian and Campaigns & Elections. He can be reached at rob [at] indiancountrymedia.com.
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