Negotiations between the state of Oklahoma and two large American Indian tribes over water rights may resume after grinding to a halt recently.
A federal judge in Oklahoma City granted a 60-day stay Tuesday, giving both sides a breather before a water rights lawsuit continues. A lawsuit filed by the state against the federal government was stayed, as well.
Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby and Choctaw Nation Chief Gregory Pyle issued a joint statement following the judge's decision.
“We are hopeful that the stay of court proceedings agreed to by all parties will mark a positive shift in our efforts to mediate these issues,” Anoatubby and Pyle said in the statement. “We have believed for some time that state and tribal leaders are fully capable of settling this matter around a negotiating table.”
The Oklahoma Supreme Court had agreed to decide a stream adjudication lawsuit filed on behalf of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board in late February, but the U.S. Justice Department removed the case to federal court two weeks ago.
Joint motions filed by the water board, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations and the federal government reveal negotiations are ongoing. In recent weeks, however, tensions had mounted as both sides released statements to the media calling for the other to acquiesce.
“In these circumstances, the parties to this action have concluded that a 60-day stay ... would be beneficial to the mediation process,” lawyers wrote in the motion. “Even if the mediation does not resolve all issues, continued consultation ... may enable the parties to identify specific procedures that would facilitate the resolution of the issues that remain in dispute.”