A federal lawsuit filed Thursday by the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations that seeks to halt future sales and exports of southeastern Oklahoma water without tribal approval is “not helpful” to the state, contends Gov. Mary Fallin.
Fallin learned of the lawsuit while on an economic development trip to Washington, D.C., and New York.
“I was surprised to learn that the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations had elected to file a lawsuit against the state of Oklahoma, especially while I was out of town promoting Oklahoma as the go-to place to do business and raise a family,” Fallin said in a news release. “This kind of action is, quite frankly, not helpful to our efforts to create a better and more prosperous home for all of our citizens.
“Moving forward, it is important for the state of Oklahoma that the tribes, the state and all other parties have a productive conversation about water rights outside of the courtroom. I am committed to pursuing solutions that benefit all Oklahomans, and I will continue to work in good faith to find common ground and resolve this issue.”
Tribal officials said Thursday that they tried unsuccessfully for more than a decade to get state officials to negotiate water rights issues with them before filing the lawsuit to protect their interests.
The tribes claim an 1830 federal treaty grants water rights to them within their tribal jurisdictions, which includes all or parts of 22 counties in southeastern Oklahoma.
They want the court to prohibit the Oklahoma Water Resources Board from authorizing the future sale and export of water from within tribal boundaries to Oklahoma City, Texas or anyplace else unless an agreement has been negotiated with the tribes or the issue has been decided in court.
Oklahoma City and several north Texas communities have been seeking to obtain water from the area to meet future needs.
Fallin commented on the timing of the lawsuit, noting a Congressional delegation reception with tribes is set for Sunday.
Fallin will host a reception at the Governor's Mansion for state, federal and tribal officials in honor of the visit to Oklahoma by members of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.
The subcommittee members are visiting Oklahoma and other states as part of research on tribal and federal government relations.
Joining the governor will be members of her cabinet, state lawmakers, members of the legislative Native American Caucus and representatives of tribal governments from across Oklahoma.
Among the federal officials scheduled to attend are U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore; U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, chairman of the House subcommittee; U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota, a member of the subcommittee; Larry EchoHawk, assistant secretary for Indian affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior; and Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, director of the Indian Health Service.
This kind of action is, quite frankly, not helpful to our efforts to create a better and more prosperous home for
all of our citizens.”