At least 25 leaders from Oklahoma tribal nations converged recently on Stroud to form a united front in their negotiations with the state to reach new tobacco compacts.
Comanche Nation Chairman Wallace Coffey joined the effort to promote government-to-government consultation between the Native American nations and Gov. Mary Fallin on extension of tribal tobacco compacts set to expire in June.
"The majority of tribes in Oklahoma stand united behind the principle of good-faith negotiations between the state and tribes over matters that are economically important to both our peoples," said George Thurman, principal chief of the Sac and Fox Nation and chairman of the United Indian Nations of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas (UINOKT).
The organization said Fallin rejected its unified request to extend the compacts until 2017. Fallin has renewed compacts with at least two tribes and is in negotiations for more agreements. But other tribes say their concerns are being ignored.
Steve Mullins, the governor's general counsel, whom she also designated to negotiate the tobacco compacts, said Friday he disagrees with the criticisms because state officials gave the tribes repeated notice about the negotiating plans.
Mullins explained that the tobacco compacts of every tribe in Oklahoma (with the exception of the Creeks) will expire in June. Because the state knew the six types of compacts used by state tribes were expiring at the same set time, state officials also knew there were some things "that could be improved on in the compacts," Mullins said.
The compacts are an outgrowth of a U.S. Supreme Court case involving the Citizen Potawatomi tribe in the early 1990s, in which the court ruled that the state could not tax commercial activity between natives and native smoke shops on their land, but non-Indian sales on Indian land could be taxed by the state. That decision led to the first Oklahoma tribal tobacco compacts.
Since Fallin took office, Oklahoma tribes have been waiting to establish good working relations with the governor's office, and the first real issue to come before her office regarding tribes has been the tobacco compacts, according to a statement issued by UNIOKT.