OKLAHOMA CITY —
The governor of one of Oklahoma’s largest Native American tribes said Wednesday he is hopeful about ongoing negotiations with the state over lawsuits involving the tribes’ legal rights to water in their historic territories in southeast Oklahoma.
When asked about ongoing negotiations with state officials over the lawsuit involving the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby (AN’-uh-tub-ee) said: “I have hope for the future.”
All parties in the ongoing mediation talks are limited about what they can say because of a gag order that’s been put in place by a federal judge, and Anoatubby declined to speculate about a timeline for when a decision might be reached.
“We have hope that it will be resolved timely,” Anoatubby said. “I think it will be something for the benefit of both the tribes and the state. We’re looking at long-term sustainability for the asset, proper allocations so that the people in southeastern Oklahoma and the state of Oklahoma can benefit from its resources.”
Brian McClain, who is involved in the negotiations on behalf of the Choctaw Nation, echoed Anoatubby’s sentiments.
“We’re after a long-term solution, so you don’t try to put a time frame on anything you’re trying to do long term,” McClain said.
The tribes filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City in 2011 that sought an injunction to bar the state and Oklahoma City from transporting water from Sardis Lake in southeastern Oklahoma to the state’s largest city.
A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin confirmed Wednesday that active negotiations are taking place between the state and the tribes.
“The governor is optimistic these negotiations are moving in the right direction and will result in a resolution that is fair to all Oklahomans,” said Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz.
Weintz said former Secretary of State Glenn Coffee, who was hired Wednesday to be the general counsel for business and industry group The State Chamber, will continue to represent Fallin in negotiations with the tribes, along with the attorney general’s office, which represents the state.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built Sardis Lake, which straddles Latimer and Pushmataha counties in a southeast Oklahoma region from where Oklahoma City has received water in the past. The tribes allege they have been excluded from negotiations between the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Oklahoma City Water Utility Trust in spite of the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek that they claim gives them authority over water resources in their jurisdictions.
State officials maintain that other treaties must also be considered, including one signed by the tribes in 1866 that they claim relinquished tribal rights following the tribes’ revolt against the United States during the Civil War.