Tribal nations representing hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma’s nearly 4 million residents have taken the unprecedented step of supporting the Democratic opponent of the state’s governor, a sign of the fragility of relations between the indigenous population and the state.
Chiefs of the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Choctaw, Chickasaw and Great Seminole Nations unveiled their endorsement of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, the Democrat challenging Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, at a press conference Tuesday in Oklahoma City. Although the state’s native tribes have been politically active to varying degrees before, this is the first time that all of the so-called five tribes have jointly endorsed a gubernatorial candidate.
“When it comes to working with Oklahoma’s tribal nations, she understands that our sovereignty is not a partisan issue or a threat, but rather a chance to forge new partnerships while strengthening existing ones because that Oklahomans thrive together when we all work together. the tribal leaders said in a joint statement.
The five nations that have endorsed Hofmeister are the largest in the state and among the largest in the country, representing nearly 800,000 people across the country. The Cherokees alone have over 400,000 registered citizens. And according to the Census Bureau, of Oklahoma’s 3.9 million people, about 9.7 percent claim Native ethnicity, and the figure is undoubtedly higher for mixed-race natives.
“She understands that our sovereignty is not a partisan issue or a threat, but rather a chance to forge new partnerships while strengthening existing ones because Oklahomans thrive together when we all work together.”
– Chiefs of the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Choctaw, Chickasaw and Great Seminole Nations
Hofmeister, who switched parties to run for governor, has been surprisingly competitive in a state that has turned redder in recent years. Leading a campaign emphasizing her unifying qualities, Hofmeister has spoken out against charter schools and the privatization of Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, and supports the elimination of sales tax on medical products. grocery.
“I will respect the inherent sovereignty of tribes and not waste taxpayers’ money on unwinnable court battles. Let’s stop fighting in court and fight for each other instead,” Hofmeister said at the endorsing press conference.
Hofmeister’s long-term offer was bolstered as a series of scandals plagued Stitt.
The governor has been linked to the alleged misuse of state funds to set up and operate a chain of restaurants in state parks, a charter school whose founders were later arrested, and a COVID-19 testing center that has been slow to test the omicron variant.
The attention drawn by the scandals led many Oklahomans to believe corruption is endemic in the state, according to a recent survey.
Stitt, a member of the Cherokee Nation, has a longstanding adversarial relationship with the state’s 39 Native tribes. He sought to renegotiate the state’s agreement with the tribes regarding gambling revenue, which resulted in the tribes taking Oklahoma to federal court, where they won.
But the biggest bone of contention involves a federal case, McGirt v. Oklahoma. In 2020, the Supreme Court found that Congress failed to formally dissolve reservations major tribes, although Oklahoma became a state incorporating their lands in 1907.
Although the decision was seen throughout Indian Country as a rare legal victory for Indigenous sovereignty, it prohibited state prosecution of certain crimes involving Indigenous residents, which Stitt opposed. Filing more cases to get another U.S. Supreme Court hearing, this time with a friendlier slate of judges, Stitt won a knockdown of the most important part of the 2020 decision.
“I will respect the inherent sovereignty of tribes and not waste taxpayers’ money on unwinnable court battles. Let’s stop fighting in court and fight for each other instead.
– Joy Hofmeister, Democratic candidate for Governor of Oklahoma
Polls show the race for governor shrinking after Stitt started with a big lead. A poll showed Stitt leading by just 3 percentage points in mid-September and another this month gave Hofmeister a 4-point lead. Oklahoma has not had a Democratic governor since Brad Henry took office from 2003 to 2011.
Stitt’s campaign, in a statement, said Stitt is proud to have the endorsement of a state police force “as well as the support of thousands of tribal members across the state, because Governor Stitt delivered on his promises to turn deficits into surpluses, to provide safe communities, to fund teachers and education at historic levels, while lowering taxes for every Oklahoman.
Hofmeister actively courted the tribes in his race. In a Twitter dedication on Monday’s National Indigenous Peoples Day, she said she honored the “sovereignty, resilience and immense contributions of Native Americans.”
Neither Stitt’s governor’s official Twitter account nor his campaign account rated the day.