#RealTalk with Jason Salsman

#RealTalk with Jason Salsman
(Native News Today)

“Endorsing a governor of Oklahoma for “a history of working with Indian tribes” is almost like giving credit to human beings for converting oxygen to CO2.”

Jason Salsman/Multimedia Producer

Fallin- friend, foe, both?

OKMULGEE, Okla. — Political journalist and author Elizabeth Drew said, “It takes two to write a letter as much as it takes two to make a quarrel.”

What about five?

Surely by now most have seen the letter from the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes endorsing Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to head the U.S. Department of the Interior.

It contains the signatures of each of the five chiefs of the ITC. You may not have seen the letter circulating on social media, or published by your tribal news outlets (it wasn’t provided), but you must have seen the big headline in the ‘Tulsa World.’ “Oklahoma Tribes join oil and gas industry in support of Gov. Mary Fallin for interior secretary.”

It’s not our job to tell you how to feel as tribal citizens about this letter, that’s up to you as readers. However, for the sake of some #RealTalk, let’s break this letter down with some key points.

First, the timing is odd. It’s now known that Fallin was not chosen for the Cabinet position, and according to an article in ‘The Wall Street Journal,’ the meeting with Trump was described as “awkward” with the governor stumbling over questions about the sale of federal lands under Interior Department control.

My question is, why not wait until you know how the interview went or she is named to the position for such a risky move? If you release a letter after she is confirmed to the Cabinet, you look like an organization that is willing to make the best out of the situation that you are being given to work with. Drafting the letter and giving the interview to the ‘Tulsa World’ at the time they did, looks exactly like what it was, an endorsement.

Speaking of timing, go out and ask anyone nationally right now with no ties to Native Americans or tribes whatsoever about the biggest issue facing Indians today. I suspect you’ll get a steady dose of Standing Rock and pipeline talk.

We even have the threat of the Diamond Pipeline coming through our very own Muscogee Nation land. Everyone knows about the atrocities that have reportedly happened at Standing Rock.

There have been benefits, gatherings, letters of support and trucks and trucks of goods and supplies that have made the trip to North Dakota. Even from these Five Tribes. So we know Indian people are passionate about and have strong convictions regarding these issues.

Imagine then a tribal citizen picking up the ‘Tulsa World’ and seeing that headline….”Oklahoma Tribes join oil and gas industry…” You can stop reading it there because that’s probably where most of them stopped as well, and started seeing red.

Granted, there are decisions made politically that involve compromise, but this is a hard sell to the people. Not to demonize an industry, but we’re talking about timing here, and right now big oil is not a friend of the Native community. It’s just not a good look.

Also, in the article Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker is quoted as saying that Fallin has a “history of working with us.” I realize that Baker is being diplomatic and has many factors that he has to evaluate before making decisions, but I wonder if this is too soon for those still feeling the emotional toll the Baby Veronica Case took on the Cherokee Nation and the citizens involved.

It was Fallin, who one day after agreeing with Baker that the girl’s Cherokee father Dusten Brown deserved his due process and day in court, reversed her stance and threatened to order an extradition warrant for Brown.

There are many Native Americans in Oklahoma who haven’t forgotten that. Those like Choctaw Nation citizen David Townsend, who according to an ‘Indian Country Media Network’ article, confronted the governor during her visit to the Choctaw Festival.

According to a witness, “David approached Mary Fallin and let her know that she was not welcomed at our camp grounds, she was not welcomed at the pow wow, and there was going to be a protest if she made the Grand Entry.”

The chilly reception was reportedly due to Fallin’s disregard for tribal rights in the Baby Veronica case, a final indignation for some of those Choctaw citizens. Makes you wonder what they think of this letter.

Endorsing a governor of Oklahoma for “a history of working with Indian tribes” is almost like giving credit to human beings for converting oxygen to CO2. As if she has a choice? That feel’s like a hollow compliment.

This is Indian Territory, home to 39 federally recognized tribes that provide billions of dollars to the state government and are some of the top employers of our state. You better be working with them, if not you’re doing an incredible disservice to your position.

Native voices are loud now at the state level, that wasn’t always the case. There hasn’t always been a Native American caucus of tribal citizen Oklahoma legislators. But there is now, and there is a place at the table.

As an Oklahoma governor, your decisions regarding Native issues will now be looked at with a fine-toothed comb. For example, many lauded the water rights deals with the Chickasaws and Choctaws, but many saw it as a weakening of tribal sovereignty.

At best this letter is a united front from the ITC to show that they are ready to work with a new administration, at its worse it is a little tone deaf and could have waited.

Mvskoke Media has an interview scheduled and we’ll have a chance to ask MCN Principal Chief James Floyd his thoughts on the letter and the process in which it was drafted. Judging by the reaction of tribal citizens on social media, it hasn’t been well received. There is definitely a disconnect when it comes to the issue.

In a perfect world, tribal leaders and elected officials are the voices of the people. For those unhappy with this letter, I guess utopia will have to wait.



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