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National Congress of American Indians
Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, delivers the State of Indian Nations address on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, in Washington. (Hogan Gore / Gaylord News)

WASHINGTON — American Indian tribes face “a direct threat to their sovereignty” if they don’t stand up to the Oklahoma state government trying to manipulate its gaming compacts with the tribes, an official of the nation’s largest Native American group said Monday.

Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, warned of an “annihilation” of the tribal sovereignty as she spoke following the 18th annual State of Indian Nations address hosted by George Washington University in Washington D.C.

Gaylord NewsThis story was reported by Gaylord News, a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma. 

“The National Congress of American Indians, our delegates and members, we stand with those tribes that are facing a direct threat and annihilation to their sovereignty through this compact dispute,” Sharp said.

The debate boils down to whether the Oklahoma Model Tribal Gaming Compact, agreed to by gaming tribes and the state of Oklahoma, expired on Jan. 1, or if it automatically renewed for an additional 15-year term.

The Choctaw, Cherokee and Chickasaw Nations — later joined by the Muscogee (Creek) and Citizen Potawatomi tribes — filed a lawsuit in federal district court Dec. 31 against Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt seeking an order declaring that the compacts renewed.

In response, Stitt denied the allegations and insisted the compacts expired in the new year. Both sides have echoed that they were willing to negotiate before the deadline. However, now the issue has turned from negotiations over exclusivity fees paid annually by the tribes to an issue of tribal sovereignty.

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“When the tribal nations succeed in putting the state of Oklahoma in its place, we will be standing right there with them,” Sharp said on the NCAI’s position on the compact dispute.

A Gaylord News request for comment from the Stitt administration went unreturned Monday.

Meanwhile, other National Congress of American Indians speakers agreed with Sharp.

“This nothing new to Indian Country, right — when the other side wants to breach their duty and responsibility in a contractual agreement. This is nothing new to the tribes in Oklahoma, and they’re handling this just right,” said chief executive officer of the NCAI, Kevin Allis.

Currently, casinos are operating as usual while the issue is before Western District Court of Oklahoma Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti.

On Monday, DeGiusti called for mediation between the two parties. Both are to suggest three mediators by Friday, Feb. 14, with any additional tribes wanting to join the suit doing so by the same deadline. The mediation itself to be “completed or substantially completed not later than March, 31 2020,” DeGiusti wrote.

Read the mediation order from Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti