Review Of Last Week’s Top Stories In Oklahoma’s Indian Country

Jan 13, 2014

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has been selected as one of the first five organizations in the nation to test a new anti-poverty program to improve life in chronically poor areas. The tribe will create a “Promise Zone” in an economically challenged area in southeastern Oklahoma and use community groups, businesses and schools to focus on specific education and economic development goals.

Credit Susan Shannon

The designation is expected to give the communities priority for grants, on-site help from federal officials and, if Congress approves, business tax breaks for hiring employees. Tribal spokeswoman Judy Allen says the tribe's proposed zone includes several tracts in Atoka, Bryan, Coal, Choctaw, Haskell, Latimer, Le Flore, McCurtain, Pittsburg and Pushmataha counties. The zone has a poverty rate of 22.6 percent, seven points above the national average.


Gov. Mary Fallin's Native American liaison has issued her first report on tribal affairs in Oklahoma and says the new position is helping improve relations with tribes. Jacque Hensley's 18-page report on tribal outreach, health care, public safety and other state and tribal issues was released Tuesday to tribal leaders across the state.

Hensley was appointed in July 2012 to the newly created executive branch position after Fallin and the GOP-led Legislature approved a bill to abolish the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission in 2011. Some Native American lawmakers initially voiced opposition to the plan, but officials from several tribes have since said they are pleased to be working directly with a liaison to the governor's office.

The Cherokee Phoenix reported that Oklahoma-based Indian tribes reached agreements with the state on burn bans, policing, smoke-free casinos and the installation of compressed natural gas filling stations as a result of successful negotiations with Fallin’s office in recent months, according to the governor’s Native American liaison.

Hensley is a citizen of the Kaw Nation. In her report, she said tribal leaders from across Oklahoma have been participating in regular conversations with the governor.

“I think that we have made big strides in the relationship between the tribes and the state,” Hensley said. “We’ve had all of the tribal leaders and Gov. Fallin and myself sit down, and we talk. I don’t think the tribal leaders have ever had that.”

“We appreciate the increased access to the governor’s office that the Native American liaison has facilitated,” Judy Allen, a spokeswoman for the Choctaw Nation, said.

The governor’s office currently is involved in lawsuits against the state by various tribes over water rights and tobacco compacts, but Hensley said she hopes ongoing dialogue between tribal leaders and the governor can minimize the need for legal action in the future.

Among the accomplishments Hensley cited in her 18-page report were negotiations with the Kaw Nation that led to the tribe opening the state’s first entirely smoke-free casino at Kaw City and the passage of a bill that would expand the law enforcement authority of tribal police through cross-deputization agreements with local law enforcement.

Hensley also worked with Fallin on a collaborative agreement between the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and tribal welfare officials on certain child welfare cases.

The governor’s office also pushed for an agreement with the Chickasaw Nation to convert its vehicle fleet to natural gas and install compressed natural gas fueling stations at some convenience stores. In exchange, the tribe received a more favorable tax rate in its tobacco compact with the state.

That “more favorable tax rate” prompted the Comanche Nation to file a lawsuit and U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron issued a temporary restraining order that allows the Comanche Nation to enjoy the same tobacco agreement the state has with the Chickasaw Nation. The temporary restraining order will remain in place until the court resolves the dispute.

"The Comanche Nation sought a fair compact that was equal to the (Chickasaw Nation compact)," Wallace Coffey, the chairman of the nearly 16,000-member southwest Oklahoma tribe, said in a statement. "We feel like the state of Oklahoma didn't give us fair treatment and showed a lack of respect, and so we took action."


The Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program announced an open call for applications for its 2014 Native Lab Fellowship, a two-stage artist development program that begins with a filmmaker’s lab in May 2014. Four projects are selected each year for the fellowship program, which is open to Native American, Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native film artists.

“We encourage artists from all tribal communities to submit their work to the Native Lab for consideration,” Bird Runningwater, Sundance Institute Native American and Indigenous Program director, said.

“The creative environment Sundance Institute fosters gives filmmakers an opportunity to shape their work, find a unique voice and share different perspectives through film.”

Applicants are asked to submit a proposal for an original narrative, documentary short or feature length film. Applications are selected based on their originality, artistic voice and potential to advance toward production.

Storylines do not require a Native American theme. Applications must be completed by Feb. 3, 2014. For more information, visit


Children and young adults who are members of the Chickasaw Nation are invited to enter a creative writing contest. The Anoli Creative Writing contest is accepting entries in three categories: poetry, short story and essay.

Anoli means ``to tell'' in Chickasaw. Chickasaw Nation members from grades six–to–12 and young adults up to age 24 are invited to enter. The topic for this year's contest is ``Expressing Yourself Through Art.''

The contest is free and is only open to members of the tribe. Proof of citizenship is required. The deadline is Feb. 21.

Winners will receive cash and medals.

Entries can be delivered to the division's office at 201 N. Broadway in Ada, Okla., or mailed to Chickasaw Nation Arts & Humanities, P.O. Box 1548, Ada, OK 74821


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