Gov. Mary Fallin pledged Tuesday to work with tribal leaders in Oklahoma, saying she meets weekly with her recently appointed American Indian liaison. She also thanked the tribes for the economic boost they provide the state.
“I personally want to thank you for your leadership, for your service,” Fallin said during a talk with about 50 tribal members. “In Oklahoma, we appreciate and we respect the impact that our tribes have had upon our state's economy, upon the jobs that have been created, certainly upon our culture in our state — keeping the history alive, the traditions alive”
“The tribal governments … are important partners in helping us grow the prosperity of all of our Oklahoma citizens,” she said.
The governor spoke of efforts by her administration to settle a long-standing dispute with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in August by signing a tobacco compact with the tribe, which settled a lawsuit filed by the state over the practice of tribal stores selling cigarettes with the wrong and much cheaper tax stamp.
Fallin said tribes and the state should keep an open dialogue to continue to work together on various public safety issues, such as cross-deputizing law officers and cooperation in the issuing of burn bans.
However, she didn't bring up the topic of water. The Chickasaw and Choctaw nations filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Oklahoma last year, seeking to maintain control of the water in southeastern Oklahoma. The suit has been delayed while the two sides continue to work with a court-appointed mediator.
Aaron Cooper, Fallin's press secretary, said later the governor didn't address the topic because of a gag order issued by the judge in the case.
“There's not really much we can say,” Cooper said. “The judge has basically told our attorneys not to talk about it.
“Negotiations are ongoing, and Gov. Fallin is involved in those negotiations,” Cooper said.
Brian McClain, executive director of legislative advocacy for the Choctaw Nation, said both sides are withholding comments on the issue.
“We're all under a gag order,” he said.
Tribal leaders react
About 20 of the state's 38 federally recognized tribes were represented at Tuesday's informal session hosted by Fallin in recognition of a national proclamation designating November as Native American Heritage Month.
Several tribal leaders said after the session they were glad to hear the governor is talking regularly about tribal issues with Jacque Hensley, whom the governor appointed in August in the new post of Native American liaison.