TYT has obtained a copy of Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s scheduling calendar for June, July, and August 2020. TYT obtained it after filing an Open Records Request, the state’s version of the federal FOIA, or Freedom of Information Act.
After examining Stitt’s schedule, a pattern has emerged.
In the days and weeks following the U.S. Supreme Court’s July 9 McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling, Stitt met and conferred with the non-Native American business and political interests of the state. That was his response to the high court's McGirt ruling that much of the eastern portion of the state is still sovereign Native American territory.
Stitt met with state representatives of areas that were suddenly in tribal land and business leaders; conferred with the state’s top law firm, which has represented energy interests; discussed with his advisors, who are closely allied with the state’s fossil fuel businesses; gave a speech to the Oklahoma Petroleum Alliance; and was the key participant in a webinar with the the state’s Farm Bureau, which represents big agribusiness.
There may have been other meetings, but some of Stitt's schedule was redacted or blacked out with no indication of the content or subject of the redacted parts.
STITT HAD LITTLE CONTACT WITH TRIBES
What is also missing are any meetings, conferences, Zoom calls, speeches, or visits to the Five Tribes of eastern Oklahoma impacted by McGirt. There was only one phone call each to two tribal chiefs.
During an August 3 Farm Bureau webinar, Stitt characterized his McGirt discussions with tribal leaders this way:
“The problem is a couple of the chiefs I've talked to think it's fantastic, it's a great, it was a great day for their people. It validated what they've always believed: That they're sovereign over this jurisdiction, so they don't see any need for, for a congressional fix or federal legislation to fix anything. They're happy to have us [conduct] government-to-government negotiations.”
OKLAHOMA COMMISSION ON COOPERATIVE SOVEREIGNTY
Stitt’s goal is clear. On July 20, he set up the Oklahoma Commission on Cooperative Sovereignty, which has no tribal representatives but includes oil billionaire Harold Hamm, and is chaired by a former oil company CEO, Larry Nichols. On Thursday, the commission issued its first report and supported the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transfer of regulatory power. After starting off by hailing Native Americans at length, section 4b supports the state of OKlahoma controlling the environmental regulations in the state, including on tribal lands, without mentioning that this could include dumping hazardous chemicals on reservations. The report concluded, “Congress should let Oklahoma return to being One people.” This may hint at a desire for federal legislation to nullify the Supreme Court’s McGirt decision. This does mean keeping state regulations that favored fossil fuel production regardless of pollution and climate change. In a press release, Stitt said, ”As governor, I represent members of all 39 tribes and all 4 million Oklahomans… This is why one set of rules is so essential to becoming a Top Ten state.”
OKLAHOMA INDIGENOUS ACTIVIST RESPONSE
This commission’s position has infuriated Native American leaders and activists.
“This statement issued on behalf of the so-called Oklahoma Commission on Cooperative Sovereignty is nothing less than a white-washed effort to undermine and eradicate the inherent sovereignty of Oklahoma’s 39 federally recognized tribal nations while uplifting a settler-terrorist regime built on the extraction of fossil fuels…It would benefit their capitalistic goals of accessing more lands to exploit and extract while ensuring that regulatory rollbacks are systematic and consistent. This is another reason why tribal sovereignty is important for everyone and not just tribal citizens — in states like Oklahoma, where oil & gas regulations are virtually non-existent, tribal sovereignty and regulatory control over their lands sometimes serves as the only protection between greedy extractive companies and Oklahoman land and communities.
"The entire nation — especially the #LandBack and environmental justice movements — should have their eyes on Oklahoma. What we are seeing here is not only a test for the implications of #LandBack in the wake of the McGirt decision, we are also seeing Oklahoma emerge as a test state for the Trump Administration’s Termination agenda. - Ashley Nichole McCray, Indigenous Environmental Network (ienearth.org)
STITT AND INHOFE CONFER JUST BEFORE EPA LETTER SENT
Stitt’s schedule also reveals that he had a cellphone conversation with Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) on July 21. The next day, Stitt sent an official letter to Andrew Wheeler, the EPA administrator. The Stitt letter sought for the state of Oklahoma environmental regulatory control over tribal lands in the state. It included requesting the right to dump hazardous waste on the reservations. Wheeler granted Oklahoma’s request on Oct. 1, which TYT Investigates was the first to make public. Wheeler was once a coal lobbyist and worked for Inhofe for 14 years. Inhofe is staunchly pro-fossil fuel and a climate-change denier.
Inhofe’s press officer denied that the senator spoke to Stitt about Oklahoma’s letter to the EPA.
TYT emailed Inhofe’s press officer, asking: "Based on Governor Stitt's schedule calendar, was the cell phone conversation between Governor Stitt and Senator James Inhofe on July 21, 2020, about McGirt v. Oklahoma or writing to the EPA about SAFETEA? Did it last the entire half hour from 8am to 8:30am?"
Inhofe’s press officer responded:
"The senator spoke with the leaders of all five tribes and the governor the week of July 20. Each conversation was a broad discussion of McGirt where Sen. Inhofe reiterated his commitment to working towards a consensus based solution. The EPA item you mentioned below did not come up."
This is interesting, since it appears Inhofe spoke to more tribal leaders than Stitt did, at least based on his schedule and the senator’s response.
It is curious that the senator allegedly did not bring up the EPA letter, since it was sent the day after Inhofe and Stitt talked by cell phone. Also, the main legal basis for Stitt's request was a two-paragraph rider attached by Inhofe himself to an 836 page transportation bill in 2005 known by the acronym SAFETEA. The rider allows the EPA to turn over environmental regulatory control of reservations in OKlahoma to the state and can nullify even a Supreme Court decision.
TRIBES REACT WITH DÉJÀ VU
The environmental ambassador of Oklahoma’s Ponca Tribe responded to TYT’s request for a comment.
“Senator Inhofe has disrespected the government to government relationship with the 39 Native Nations of Oklahoma for the 53 long years that he has been in office. He is an expert at undermining sovereignty and his failure of discussing Governor Stitt's request to bring the EPA under the state of Oklahoma's auspices was no mistake. He deliberately added the SAFETEA rider in 2005 with the idea of using it at the convenience of the fossil fuel regime's needs. His so-called 'consensus based solutions' are political rhetoric, nothing more. The only chance that Oklahoma has for an honorable relationship with the 39 federally recognized Native Nations is to vote him out of office.”
Casey Camp-Horinek, Environmental Ambassador, Elder & Hereditary Drumkeeper, Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma
On November 3, Senator Inhofe is up for reelection to a fifth term. He is expected to win in this deeply red state.
With additional research by TYT Investigates intern Zoltan Lucas.