Cherokee officials visit Oklahoma Capitol for Legislative Day

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
02/22/2019 12:30 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – Cherokee Nation officials and staff on Feb. 20 visited the Oklahoma Capitol to meet with lawmakers and explain the tribe’s economic, social and political role in the state.

The dignitaries were welcomed were at the state capital for CN Legislative Day. The Oklahoma Legislature includes 57 new lawmakers. The state’s governor is Kevin Stitt, a CN citizen.

“Cherokee Nation Legislative Day is an opportunity for our tribe to not only showcase our programs and services but also the important collaborations with state agencies,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “The Cherokee Nation has a $2.2 billion economic impact as well as provides more than 11,000 jobs.”

By visiting the statehouse and speaking to lawmakers, CN leaders explained their interests, community support and partnerships with local governments.

“We also invest millions into public schools, infrastructure and other areas,” Baker said. “It is important that lawmakers at the capitol know the value of not just the Cherokee Nation but all tribes because Indian Country is a driving force in this state and will be a major partner in helping the state succeed.”

State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, was among the lawmakers who welcomed the CN delegation.

“It was a positive and upbeat day,” Pemberton said. “(President Pro Tempore) Sen. Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) and (Minority Leader) Sen. Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma City) gave the citation and welcomed them on the Senate floor.”

Pemberton said the House of Representatives was in session during the morning, and the CN delegation split to visit both houses.

“In the Senate, (CN Tribal Councilor) Joe Byrd spoke to an ovation, and shook everybody’s hand,” Pemberton said. “They had a lot of visitors.”

Oklahoma’s four-month legislative session is still in its first few weeks meaning most legislation with a chance of becoming law is still in committee. The deadline for all measures and resolutions to emerge from their respective standing committees is Feb. 28. All bills must receive their third reading – the reading before a vote is taken – in their houses of origin by March 14.

The CN Legislative Day is also a chance for tribal officials to express support for or concern about specific measures percolating in the Capitol.

Two CN-supported bills, one moving through each chamber, would amend the date of “Oklahoma Native American Day,” moving it to the second Monday of each October – the same date as Columbus Day. Observation is currently on the third Monday in November. The state holiday asks Oklahomans “to devote some portion of Oklahoma Native American Day to commemorate the accomplishments of Oklahoma’s Native Americans” and suggests teachers observe the day with “appropriate activities.”

The CN already observes “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” on Columbus Day.

Pemberton said the Nation had not yet expressed any direct input on any other legislation, but anticipated he would hear from the tribe during the session.

“I’ve not seen anything right now that would be detrimental to the tribes,” he said. “Of course, we have only had about a half dozen bills on the Senate floor so far, but there are also none that have come through my committees. I also haven’t had the chance to talk with the Nation directly about any legislation they might be promoting or not promoting, but I normally have that conversation at some time. They know what the bills entail and what is good or not good for the Nation, and they will let me know.”

CN Legislative Day also allows lawmakers from northeastern Oklahoma to engage in discussions with some familiar faces.

“I’m glad to see them there every year,” Pemberton said. “It’s nice to see people from home who you know and who are engaged with the community. What the Cherokee Nation does for northeast Oklahoma and Tahlequah is tremendous and the most obvious, but really, their impact and the impact of all the tribes, is statewide.”
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