During my years on the staff of The Lawton Constitution, I covered several Indian tribes and in the process became fairly well-versed in exactly what is meant when tribes refer to themselves as nations.
It wasn’t long before I was well schooled in both the concept of tribal sovereignty – and the reality of it in practice.
The comeuppance if you will awaiting outsiders who would challenge the unique status of these nations within our nation.
One chairman explained it to me like this:
“Tribal sovereignty means we can do everything the state or federal government can do except raise an army or print our own currency.”
It is a birthright that tribal leaders take very seriously and will defend to the highest court in the land.
I saw the Kiowas – a tribe neither very populous nor prosperous – take a sovereignty case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. And win.
That judgement took down one of the largest advertising agencies in the state and left lenders empty-handed.
I witnessed a judge in a Bureau of Indian Affairs courtroom chastise non-Indian attorneys when they tried to argue a Constitutional point in a case.
Tribal customs and constitutions take precedence over the U.S. Constitution.
I learned quickly when I stepped foot on tribal land I was a visitor from another country.
Those lessons weren’t hard. Maybe because as an Army brat I spent many years in other countries.
Or because as a journalist I’m trained to look at things from more than one angle.
Now the state is squared off against the tribes because one man thinks he can force the tribes to accept his terms and renegotiate a gaming compact that was written to automatically renew.
The Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee Nations have filed suit in federal court to force the state to honor the compact as written.
Talk about deja vu.
The state has already spent more than $200,000 in legal fees and will probably spend another $300,000 to defend this lawsuit.
And that is our money, by the way.
Our governor needs a comeuppance and I think it is heading his way.