TAHLEQUAH – Now that a hunting and fishing compact with the state has expired, the Cherokee Nation is using its own tribal code to regulate the popular pastimes within the reservation – a move that prompted additional questions from Tribal Councilors on Jan. 10.
During the monthly Resource Committee meeting, CN Secretary of Natural Resources Chad Harsha was asked to clarify several issues regarding the change.
“As far as what the regulations require for Cherokee citizens, they will be eligible to hunt and fish … with their tribal ID that they get from registration or their tribal citizenship blue card on their person whenever they’re out hunting and fishing in the field,” Harsha said.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt refused to renew hunting and fishing compacts with Native tribes, including the CN, which had partnered with the state since 2015. Under the compact, the CN purchased and issued from the state licenses annually for its Oklahoma-residing citizens at a cost of $2 each. Over the course of the compact, the state received $32 million from the deal.
But after compact negotiations faltered, on Dec. 20, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed an executive order asserting the tribe’s existing treaty right to hunt and fish. According to the CN, under its conservation code, tribal citizens can hunt or fish only within reservation boundaries.
“All applicable trespassing laws apply and will be enforced,” a hunting and fishing FAQ states. “There are lands set aside for Cherokee Nation citizens to hunt and fish.”
A map of CN-owned properties open to tribal citizens is available at cherokee.org.
Harsha was asked about hunting and fishing at a specific state-owned location – the Cookson Hills State Game Refuge.
“There’s a lot of Cherokees that utilize that over the years, but I heard now that if you do not have a state hunting or fishing license, you are not even allowed on that property,” Tribal Councilor Daryl Legg said. “Is that correct?”
Harsha told Legg it was “an issue we’re still working through with the state.”
“So what the state generally requires for access to state-owned land is that you either have a license or you have what they call a passport in our area or a land-access permit in some other parts of the state,” he said. “We’re still working through coming to terms on an agreement with the state.”
The CN hunting and fishing code has incorporated conservation standards adopted by the state “because we think they work,” Harsha said.
“Not much has changed in terms of opportunities and privileges, but there’s been pretty significant changes in the fact that the combination license that we previously issued jointly with the state is no longer needed,” he said. “There will be no additional tag requirements at this time and there will be no additional license requirements at this time although we may issue regulations down the road to work out certain specifics.”
The compact licenses were recognized by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and provided CN citizens the same privileges of an Oklahoma hunting and fishing license, including a single universal deer tag and a single turkey tag per calendar year. Now, Harsha said, “You’ll have as many deer tags and turkey tags as are available in that particular county.”
“You’ll have the ability and the privilege to take as many as anyone could – a non-Cherokee – if they had an Oklahoma state license, subject to the season dates” and reporting to the CN’s online system at gadugiportal.cherokee.org.
Then-Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed the original hunting and fishing compact.