United Indians seeks political voice For the first time in a decade, Indian tribes in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas have an organization to share best practices and present a united front on political issues. After a series of summit meetings during the past year, tribal leaders decided in August to organize as the United Indian Nations of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Although Oklahoma has several multitribal organizations, this is the first open to all 39 tribes since at least the mid-1990s, said Barbara Warner, director of the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission. The new group is not out to replace existing ones, said George Tiger, a Muscogee (Creek) Nation legislator who presided when the group met Thursday in Oklahoma City. "We're not trying to take any other tribal organization away from anybody. We're just trying to be an added resource," he said. A pantribal organization gives the tribes more political clout at national meetings, Warner said. "They say, 'One stick you can break, a bundle of sticks you can't.' That's what we're trying to do -- stay together and have that big voice," Warner said. Roots for the organization go back to December, when Creek, Osage and Cherokee leaders held a summit in Sapulpa to discuss state-tribal tobacco compacts. The discussion expanded to other issues, and a series of monthly tribal summits followed from April to August. "At each meeting, we were finding out it didn't make any difference how large or small our tribes were, we had the same concerns," Tiger said. "Then we got to talking about how important it was to be in the political process -- getting our people to register and go out and vote," he said. That led to an initiative called "Native Vote United," which will hold a get-out-the-vote rally at 11 a.m. Oct. 21 at the Reed Center in Midwest City. Summit attendance ranged from a low of 17 tribes to a high of 28, but only eight were represented Thursday morning, when the organization was supposed to elect a chairman, vice chairman and sergeant at arms. The vote was postponed until Oct. 24, when tribal leaders will be in Tulsa to attend an economic summit. The delay disappointed Darrell Flyingman, chairman of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes, which co-hosted the meeting with the Comanche Nation. "I'm disappointed that our leadership hasn't shown up. They need to get behind it because this organization can do a lot of things for our people," Flyingman said. Others urged patience. "Don't get too discouraged about the turnout. It will happen -- I guarantee it," said Jerry Bread, representing Sac & Fox Chief Kay Rhoades. Some politicians already see the group as a way to solicit the Indian vote. At each meeting since July, candidates for statewide office have appeared -- sometimes at their own request. "We were astounded because they were finding out the tribes were making an impact, not only economically but politically as well," Tiger said. Warner predicted the organization will become an important voice in Oklahoma. "Any time you have a large group that has a common thread that has a single voice, there's strength in that. And people will listen," she said.
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