A tribal leader is calling for Oklahoma’s Native Americans to unite as the federal government ponders the future of key environmental regulatory activities in Oklahoma’s Indian Country.
In July, Oklahoma asked the EPA to grant it the authority to continue regulating key environmental issues across areas of the state designated as Indian Territory before statehood. The federal agency is currently consulting with the tribes and taking comment on the state’s request.
The request comes as Oklahoma and the Five Tribes continue to discuss ramifications from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision that Congress failed to dissolve the Creek Nation’s reservation in 1907.
While the case dealt specifically with a criminal matter that happened within the Creek Nation’s pre-statehood territory, tribal and state officials interpreted its outcome as more broadly applicable to areas of eastern and southern Oklahoma held by the Five Tribes before Oklahoma joined the union in 1907.
Casey Camp Horinek, environmental ambassador of the Ponca Tribe, said the state’s request seeks to undermine the Supreme Court’s decision in the McGirt case by stripping environmental authority from tribes.
“It all comes down to money,” Horinek said. “The tribes impacted by the Supreme Court’s McGirt decision and all tribes in the state must stand together. Our very existence is at stake. If (Gov. Kevin) Stitt has his way, the fossil fuel industry will line his pockets with our lifeblood.
“Oklahoma was founded on racism, and Gov. Kevin Stitt follows a long line of governors who have considered tribes sacrifice zones for fossil fuel industry profits,” Horinek said.
Oklahoma contains the largest convergence of pipelines in the U.S. and has experienced numerous man-made earthquakes scientists attribute to wastewater injection wells, Horinek noted. Much of the state’s oil and gas activities are happening either on or near tribal lands, and Horinek asserts those activities contaminate soil, rivers, aquifers and air and add to the climate crisis, directly impacting community health.