The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is once again seeking to negotiate a compact with the state involving hunting and fishing rights.
Jim Gray, executive director of government relations and communications for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, confirmed the negotiations are in the beginning stages. He offered no details about the potential compact or its scope.
“We have met with the state of Oklahoma and are interested in pursuing talks on a compact concerning hunting and fishing licenses later this year,” Gray said. “Until we have had that discussion, it would be premature to speculate on details.
“We have a positive relationship with the state and the governor's office and have every intention of maintaining that rapport,” Gray said.
In July 2009, the Cherokee Nation announced that tribal members wouldn't need state-issued licenses to hunt or fish within the nation's historical treaty borders.
The tribe contends that such rights were granted to them through centuries-old treaties with the federal government. The tribe's treaty lands sprawl across all or part of 14 counties in northeast Oklahoma.
The relatively new laws, posted on the Cherokee Nation's website, state that tribal members need only carry a “blue card” while hunting or fishing within the tribe's treaty lands.
A warning also is posted at the bottom of the document outlining the Cherokee Nation's hunting and fishing laws, telling members they still can be cited for illegal hunting by agents working for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“Until there is a formal agreement with the state, you may be subject to fines and/or other penalties for hunting on state land without a state license,” the warning reads.“While the Nation believes that such penalties would be improper, there is no guarantee that you will not be subject to them.”
The warning also states that Cherokee officials may or may not intervene on the member's behalf if they are cited for unauthorized hunting or fishing by state wildlife agents.
According to the March 2009 edition of the Cherokee Nation's newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, an initial attempt by the tribe to negotiate a compact with the state was unsuccessful.
In a story from that edition, former Gov. Brad Henry said the potential hunting and fishing compact was put on hold because of a tobacco compact the Cherokee Nation was negotiating with the state at the time. The story indicates Henry was concerned about “all the tribes in Oklahoma having hunting and gaming codes, saying it could be ‘problematic.'”
“It's more important to work together,” Henry told the paper. “If every tribe has its own hunting and fishing rights and water rights, it creates a problem for creating business opportunities.”
Four months after that story appeared in the Cherokee Phoenix, Henry's spokesman at the time, Paul Sund, told The Oklahoman something a little different.
“Governor Henry is very protective of the hunting, fishing and property rights of Oklahomans, and the preservation of those rights will certainly be his priority in any compact discussions,” Sund said at the time. “Federal law requires state leaders to enter into discussions about tribal compact proposals, but it does not require them to approve the compacts without regard for the details.”
Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin's office, confirmed the tribe's “desire to discuss a compact affecting hunting and fishing licenses.”
“We have indicated that our administration is happy to listen, and we expect a meeting to take place after the legislative session,” Weintz said.
Weintz declined to say how such a compact would affect state agencies that rely on hunting and fishing licenses for funding.
The state Wildlife Conservation Department draws roughly a third of its funding — about $15 million a year — from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, spokesman Nels Rodefeld said.
Rodefeld says the agency receives no general tax revenues from the Legislature and employs more than 300 across the state.
In addition to licensing, he says the agency also receives funding from oil and gas sales on lands owned by the state and through a federal tax on hunting and fishing equipment.
Rodefeld declined to speculate on how a hunting and fishing compact with the Cherokee Nation — or all of the state's federally recognized tribes — would affect the wildlife agency.
“We have a lot of great hunting all over the state, which has a lot of different ecosystems,” he said. “We also feel like we've done a good job of maintaining what we have, which has lead to that great hunting.”