- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A proposal to create a cabinet-level position focusing on Native American affairs within the Governor’s Office would be a positive step in improving the relationships between Oklahoma and its 39 tribes, tribal leaders say.

Rep. Chuck Hoskin, D-Vinita, authored a bill that elevates the Oklahoma Native American liaison to a cabinet-level position. The Secretary of Native American Affairs, whose salary would be capped at $65,000, would consult and advise the governor on tribal policy issues. The General Government Committee approved the bill by a 9-1 vote on Feb. 20.

“The tribes all want to work in partnership with the state and they desire a stronger government-to-government relationship, and they feel if the position is cabinet level it will provide a strengthening of that partnership,” said Hoskin, who is also chief of staff for the Cherokee Nation.

Alex Weintz, spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin, said the Governor’s Office has not reviewed the proposal. In 2012, Fallin appointed Jacque Hensley, a member of the Kaw Nation, to a newly created executive branch position of Oklahoma Native American liaison after the Republican-controlled Legislature abolished the Oklahoma Indians Affairs Commission the year before.

Weintz noted Hensley already attends senior staff and cabinet-level meetings and meets with the governor regularly.

The abolishment of the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission in 2011 initially drew opposition from some Native American lawmakers, though tribes later said they were pleased to be working directly with a liaison to the governor’s office.

Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said Friday in a statement to The Associated Press that Hensley’s appointment has been a “positive development” and has enhanced the relationships between Indian nations and the state of Oklahoma.

He said the tribe is pleased to hear the Legislature is considering creating a Secretary of Native American Affairs post because “effective communication has long been the cornerstone of positive and productive relationships between Indian nations and the state of Oklahoma.”

Cherokee Nation Principle Chief Bill John Baker echoed that statement, and added that tribes are a major contributor to the economy and culture of Oklahoma.

“When tribes do well, so does Oklahoma,” he said.

Citizen Potawatomi Nation Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett said anything that promotes cooperation and a partnership between the state and Indian tribes is a positive step.

“If this new position would lead to a better relationship between the two and better understanding, it’s a good thing,” he said.

Barrett said the Oklahoma Indiana Affairs Commission, on which he served, was designed to be a rotating body of elected tribal leaders who have face-to-face relationships with directors of various agencies of state government.

“A cabinet post would be a very different kind of relationship than one body meeting with another body, but it would be an improvement,” he said, later adding: “We would love to see the governor herself occasionally.”

The measure is House Bill 1305.


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