MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 7, 2014

Governor’s tribal liaison issues first report


— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)  —  Oklahoma-based Indian tribes have reached agreements with the state on burn bans, policing, smoke-free casinos and the installation of compressed natural gas filling stations as a result of successful negotiations with Gov. Mary Fallin’s office in recent months, the governor’s Native American liaison announced on Tuesday.

Jacque Hensley, a member of the Kaw Nation who was appointed to the newly created executive branch position in July 2012, outlined the state of tribal affairs in her first annual report. Hensley said tribal leaders from across Oklahoma have been participating in regular conversations with the governor and appreciate having a direct contact inside the office of the state’s chief executive.

“I think that we have made big strides in the relationship between the tribes and the state,” Hensley said. “We’ve had all of the tribal leaders and Gov. Fallin and myself sit down, and we talk. I don’t think the tribal leaders have ever had that.”

The position of Native American liaison in the governor’s office was created after Fallin and the Republican-controlled Legislature approved a bill to abolish the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission in 2011. Some Native American lawmakers initially voiced opposition to the plan, but officials from several tribes have since said they are pleased to be working directly with a liaison to the governor’s office.

“We appreciate the increased access to the governor’s office that the Native American liaison has facilitated,” said Judy Allen, a spokeswoman for the Durant-based Choctaw Nation, one of the state’s largest tribes.

The governor’s office currently is involved in lawsuits against the state by various tribes over water rights and tobacco compacts, but Hensley said she hopes ongoing dialogue between tribal leaders and the governor can minimize the need for legal action in the future.

Among the accomplishments Hensley cited in her 18-page report were negotiations with the Kaw Nation that led to the tribe opening the state’s first entirely smoke-free casino at Kaw City and the passage of a bill that would expand the law enforcement authority of tribal police through cross-deputization agreements with local law enforcement.

Hensley also worked with Fallin on a collaborative agreement between the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and tribal welfare officials on certain child welfare cases.