Wildlife official says Cherokees need gaming license

By Will Chavez Staff Writer TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation officials, Cherokee Nation citizens caught hunting or fishing without proper state licenses in areas where the ODWC patrols could get fined or arrested. ODWC Law Enforcement Chief Larry Manering said he knows about the CN’s recently enacted wildlife code and stressed that no wildlife agreement between the CN and Oklahoma exists. He said the only direction his department has in dealing with Cherokees using blue citizenship cards to fish or hunt off tribal or restricted land is state law. “Articles on Cherokee Nation’s Web page warn people they may get a ticket if they are caught hunting or fishing off of tribal or restricted lands without a state license,” he said. “That lets you know that even the tribe recognizes the fact that there is no established agreement, contract or MOU (memorandum of understanding) They’re saying there isn’t one, and you may be subject to arrest if you hunt and fish without proper licensing or don’t follow the state guidelines on bag limits or season dates. We’re not wanting to arrest anybody. We’d rather people have licensing and follow what the state law says.” A page on www.cherokee.org shows the tribe’s wildlife code, but may not answer all questions for people interested in hunting or fishing with their citizenship cards. Some Cherokees are confused about where they can hunt and fish using citizenship cards. But confusion hasn’t kept everyone from testing the waters. Kellie Vann, a CN citizen from Tulsa, said a game warden recently fined her for fishing with only her blue card at Oologah Lake. “He asked for my license, and I showed him my tribal card. I told him that the Cherokee chief had stated this was all I needed. He laughed and said he had heard about this,” she said. “He said I had two choices. I could go ahead and buy a temporary 30-day license from him for $50, or I could take a fine. I told him I would go ahead and take the fine.”  Vann said as the game warden wrote the ticket she asked him if she could continue fishing and he told her no. She said she was with friends and wanted to fish, so she purchased the temporary license. “In hindsight, I’m glad I chose to go with the temporary license. However, what I would really like to do is try it one more time and this time go back to fishing whether the game warden liked it or not, and see if I can land myself in jail. But without the proper backing, I doubt I’m going to do that,” Vann said. CN Marshal Brian Catcher of Tahlequah said he harvested a deer in 2008 while hunting on restricted tribal land using his blue card for a license. But he said he would not risk fishing with only his blue card away from trust or restricted lands.  “Unless something changes I’ll probably stick to tribally owned land. I can’t risk a court battle being in the profession I’m in,” he said. “Unless something changes in the state code, if I hunt or fish off of tribally-owned land I’ll buy a state hunting or fishing license.” The Tribal Council approved the code two years ago, but Principal Chief Chad Smith said the CN delayed implementing it while his office attempted to negotiate a compact with Oklahoma. Those negotiations failed, but the CN decided to move forward, he said. A warning in the wildlife code states: “there is not yet any written agreement with the State of Oklahoma…therefore, it is possible that you may be stopped, or even cited, for hunting off of trust or restricted land using only your Cherokee Nation license. If you are in full compliance with Cherokee Nation regulations and you receive such a citation, notify the Cherokee Nation Office of the Attorney General or Marshal Service at (918) 456-9224. The Nation may or may not attempt to assert its hunting/fishing rights in your case as a defense.” Smith said the CN is committed to practicing sound management of wildlife resources. The CN would have the same consistent rules for how much game and fish are taken, for seasons and would prohibit poaching and other illegal activities, he said. Manering said he appreciates that the CN practice wildlife resource management based on Oklahoma codes. “Choosing to adopt them (state codes), they are acknowledging our expertise, and I think that’s very appropriate,” he said. Manering added that he is concerned about CN citizens using citizenship cards to hunt and fish because a lot of confusion remains. “I think it’s confusing for members of the tribe. I think it’s confusing for the public, and it’s certainly confusing for law enforcement and for the (wildlife) agency. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this unfolds.”

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