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5 To Watch in 2020

Here are five stories that should have an impact on Oklahoma’s corner of Indian Country in 2020!



Gambling with the governor

Going into 2020, Gov. Kevin Stitt and tribal leaders across Oklahoma are still not seeing eye to eye over the future of the state’s gaming industry.


As worded, Oklahoma’s tribal gaming compacts includes language that says the compacts automatically renew for another 15 years if certain prerequisites are met, including the authorization of pari-mutuel betting at the state’s horse racing facilities.


However, Gov. Stitt has seized on a section of the compacts that state they expire on Jan. 1, 2020, and has steadfastly maintained that they must be renegotiated with tribes paying a higher exclusivity fee. The compact also includes a provision that either side can request that the terms be renegotiated if at least six months’ notice is given. In early July, Gov. Stitt announced his interest in renegotiating via a guest column published in the Tulsa World.


Despite Gov. Stitt claiming it is against the law, tribal officials have maintained that it will be business as usual on New Year’s Day at casinos across the state. Since 2004, the state of Oklahoma has received more than $1.5 billion in exclusivity fees from gaming tribes. The exclusivity fees for Oklahoma’s 131 tribally operated casinos max out at 10 percent, prompting a $148 million payout to state coffers in fiscal year 2019 alone.


In accordance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Class III compacted games in Oklahoma include slot machines, craps, roulette and house-banked table games, such as blackjack. Class II gaming, which includes electronic bingo and pull-tab games, is not subject to the compact. The current compacts do not include provisions to allow

for sports betting or online gambling.


U.S. Supreme Court and the Muscogee (Creek) boundaries


In June, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear arguments for a second time in Carpenter v. Murphy. A citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Patrick Murphy was convicted in 2000 by a McIntosh County jury for the death of George Jacobs Sr., also a tribal citizen. Jacobs, the ex-husband of Murphy’s girlfriend, was found in a ditch outside of Eufaula with his throat slit and his genitals cut off.


Murphy’s attorneys have argued that the assault happened on Indian land, thus giving prosecution authority to the federal government rather than the state of Oklahoma.


If the 10th Circuit Court’s decision is allowed to stand, it could potentially alter which court systems have authority to prosecute what cases moving forward within the 11 counties at least partially within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s re-affirmed reservation. Three of Oklahoma’s largest cities – Tulsa, Broken Arrow and Muskogee – are either partially or wholly within those boundaries.


As of Dec. 15, the Supreme Court has not set a re-hearing date. However, on Dec. 13, it announced it would hear a case in 2020 with a similar fact pattern: McGirt v. Oklahoma.


A citizen of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and of Creek descent, Jimcy McGirt was convicted in 1997 in Wagoner County District Court of first degree rape, sodomy and lewd molestation of his wife’s underage granddaughter. Citing the 10th Circuit Court’s ruling in Murphy v. Carpenter, McGirt argued in his appeal that since the crime happened within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s boundaries, the state would not have jurisdiction. Oral arguments have not been scheduled yet.


No More Stolen Sisters

It’s been almost year since the Violence Against Women Act lapsed during the protracted government shutdown.


As of press time, two reauthorization measures are still pending in Congress. One, authored by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), would allow non-Natives facing domestic abuse charges before a tribal judiciary to appeal their cases to the federal court system without exhausting all tribal remedies.


Ernst’s bill, which also omits discrimination protections for LGBTQ abuse victims, would

require additional tribal court audits by the U.S. Attorney General’s office. The House of Representatives passed its version of a VAWA five-year reauthorization bill in April. It has since languished in the Senate, in part because it includes additional restrictions on gun purchases for people convicted of stalking or domestic abuse.


Meanwhile, President Donald Trump signed an executive order in late November, establishing a task force to address the rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The eight-member panel will include representatives from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the FBI and departments of Justice, Interior and Health and Human Services and is charged with delivering its findings within two years. Although the panel has officers from entities that work with tribes, the order establishing it does not mandate tribal representation.


At the state level, Rep. Mickey Dollens (D-Oklahoma City) has announced plans to file a measure during the 2020 legislative session to form a task force that would help address Oklahoma’s rate of murdered and missing Indigenous people. Initially requested by a constituent, Dollens’ proposal is being developed in consultation with tribal domestic violence and MMIW organizations.


As per a 2018 study by the Seattle Indian Health Board’s Urban Indian Health Institute, Oklahoma is 10th nationally for the number of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women. However, the study’s authors also acknowledged that due to the dearth of data, the numbers are “likely an undercount.”


2020 Census

The count is on. Starting April 1, the U.S. Census bureau will begin its constitutionally mandated count of the country’s residents.


Census data is used to draw state and federal legislative districts, with those redistricting counts sent back to the states in March 2021. t is also to used divvy up about $675 billion in annually federal dollars for population-based programs, including disaster relief, road and bridge repair funds and rural broadband grants. Historically, American Indians and Alaska Natives are among the most widely under-counted groups in the country.


Indigenous hemp


Starting in 2020, tribes will be able to further diversify their agricultural portfolios by growing industrial hemp. The establishment of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s program, originally outlined in the 2018 edition of the Farm Bill, will allow industrial hemp to be grown under federally-approved plans and make hemp producers eligible for a number of agricultural programs, including crop insurance, farm loans, and farm storage facility loans.


The interim rule currently in place includes provisions for the USDA to approve hemp

production plans developed by states and Indian tribes including requirements for maintaining information on the land where hemp is produced, testing the levels of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, disposing of plants not meeting the necessary requirements, licensing requirements and penalties for non-compliance.


Tribes and states will be required to share some licensing information with the USDA, including names and contact information of every producer, as well as the legal description of each production site. In turn, the USDA will make that shared information available in real time to federal, state, tribal and local-level law enforcement in accordance with the terms of the 2018 Farm Bill.


As of Dec. 17, almost 20 tribes have either already submitted regulations for review or have notified the USDA of its intent to submit a plan, including the Pawnee Nation and the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. With the comment period on the interim federal rule open through late January, no production plans have been approved yet.

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