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McGirt community forum ends early amid protests from tribal members

Posted at 10:52 PM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-15 14:35:13-04

TULSA, Okla. — A forum to discuss the impact of the Supreme Court McGirt decision didn’t go as planned Tuesday night.

The forum featured a panel of area district attorneys and law enforcement agencies. Governor Kevin Stitt acted as moderator. But, the meeting quickly went downhill after many interruptions from the crowd. Governor Stitt and panelists found it difficult to speak as members of tribal nations packed the room and often disrupted the speakers as they protested the meeting.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said the forum was held to help victims and give them resources if they're unsure of what to do if the McGirt ruling affects their case.

“On every day, practically, I have somebody asking me what’s going on with this particular case, what should I be able to do," Kunzweiler said. "So this is educational, we’re trying to just inform our community, especially on the eastern half of the state, where they can access resources.”

The protest started prior the meeting. Tribal members gathered beforehand to object to the lack of tribal leaders on the panel and to show support for tribal sovereignty. Once in the meeting, tribal members spoke up throughout. They also held up red cards when they disagreed with something said and at one point turned their backs to the speakers.

SEE MORE: GALLERY: McGirt community forum ends early amid protests from tribal members

“I don’t think there was anything accomplished here other than maybe those DA’s saw displeasure Indian people have with the racist system we have to deal with and have been dealing with," said David Hill, a member of Choctaw Nation and part of the American Indian Movement.

While there were no tribal leaders on the panel, Kunzweiler said he welcomes working with them.

“Obviously my office and other offices are trying to help them out," Kunzweiler said. "So it’s helpful, I think, for the tribes to be actively involved in this.”

But tribal members saw it differently.

“It was for them to recognize that a lot of what they’re talking about and a lot of this fear that they’re trying to perpetuate and propel through the audience and everything is coming from this sense of control," said Brittany Dias, a member of Kaw Nation. "They’ve lost control in certain areas, they’re trying to regain that back.”

Cherokee Nation Chief Chuck Hostin released this statement about the event:

Muscogee Nation released their statement as following:

“Last night’s event was billed as a forum to connect victims with services they need as we deal with the consequences of decades of illegal actions by the State of Oklahoma. Had that been the true intent, organizers would have coordinated with Tribal Nations that offer those services. But instead, they chose to turn the event into the political theater to sow fear and create division among Oklahomans.

While we don’t condone any disrespectful activity, we do understand the many frustrations expressed last night. It can be a maddening experience to see officials politicize victims’ pain while at the same time steadfastly refuse to work with Tribal Nations to pursue opportunities for better public safety.

The Supreme Court decision has opened so many doors to collaborate and make public safety stronger than has ever been possible. We are working tirelessly to make those possibilities into realities, but ultimately it requires the State and other officials to engage with us as honest partners. Last night was not an encouraging sign, but we continue to hold out hope that they’ll eventually do the right thing.

In the meantime, we encourage those looking for information regarding victim services to visit our website where they can be connected with someone who can help them.”

Dias said another forum needs to be held that features tribal leaders. Gov. Stitt asked the panel a handful of questions from victims before ending the meeting. It was planned to last two hours but ended 45 minutes early.

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