Indigenous women and their allies disrupted Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s State of the State with banners carrying messages uplifting tribal sovereignty, the Covid pandemic, environmental concerns, and the wrongful imprisonment of Julius Jones. Inside the Capitol, two Indigenous women from the Cherokee nation, United Keetoowah Band, and Oglala Lakota nations disrupted Governor Stitt’s speech by unfurling a giant red banner depicting Governor Stitt’s image with a covid mask and the words “land back” etched into it behind the Speaker’s podium. Outside, climbers ascended oil derricks in the lawn of the Capitol and across the Governor’s mansion with banners reading “Free Julius Jones,” “Stitt’s Failed State,” and “Oklahoma: We Deserve Clean Land, Air, Water. Build Back Fossil Free.” Stitt’s State of the State comes as Oklahoma was named the most dangerous state to live in during the Covid pandemic, as regulatory rollbacks for the oil industry and frackquakes continue to ravage the state, as Stitt continues to imprison Julius Jones for a crime he did not commit, as Oklahoma remains a top 10 state for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People, and as Stitt lost his egregious attempts to undermine tribal sovereignty and to further dispossess Indigenous peoples of their land by attacking the McGirt Supreme Court decision.
When asked why they are taking action, the banner droppers stated:
Since Stitt has taken office he has done everything he can to attack tribes and tribal sovereignty, wasting taxpayer dollars on frivolous lawsuits while doing it. Oklahoma ranks 47th in the country for quality of education. Stitt has handled COVID-19 so poorly that Oklahoma is the worst place to live in a pandemic. Contrast his leadership with the tribes, who paid a total of 123 million dollars in exclusivity fees from gaming revenue in 2020 alone. Instead of working with tribes, Stitt has spun the narrative that Oklahoma is somehow now more dangerous while ignoring the fact that prior to McGirt, the state only cleared 36% of reported robberies, murders, rapes, and aggravated assaults. The State of Oklahoma clearly didn’t have the wherewithal to serve Justice for the most heinous crimes prior to the reinforcement of treaties in Oklahoma. This is why tribal sovereignty must be protected for the good of all Oklahomans.
The McGirt ruling, decided by a conservative-majority court with conservative judge and Trump pick Justice Gorsuch delivering the opinion, determined the state of Oklahoma was illegally exerting jurisdiction over the Mvskoke/Creek (and Yuchi) Reservation and further, that this reservation was never disestablished by Congress. This ruling now extends to all of the Five Tribes – Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations – through various Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals cases. Since McGirt, Governor Stitt, Tulsa County DA Kunzweiler, Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum, Channel 6 news’ Lori Fullbright, and others have waged a disinformation campaign against Oklahoma’s Tribes, perpetuating falsehoods about the impact of McGirt on non-native Oklahomans and the state. While Stitt remains unsuccessful in his attempts to overturn McGirt, he and Oklahoma’s Oil Lobby exposed weaknesses in Trump’s EPA that enabled Stitt to request jurisdiction over environmental issues on tribal lands. As home to the Pipeline Crossroads of the World and a multitude of regulatory rollbacks, Oklahoma communities remain subject to the whims of the fossil fuel industry, with Stitt at its helm. Under the Trump administration and without notice to Oklahoma’s 39 federally recognized tribes, Stitt successfully worked in tandem with the EPA to protect dumping of hazardous waste, fracking, and industrial chicken farming – each posing serious health risks to Oklahoman communities and the environment.
Although Oklahoma is considered a “flyover state” and regularly ignored in the national press, the Oklahoma State Legislature is responsible for passing some of the nation’s most abhorrent policies, including HB1123, the “Critical Infrastructure Bill,” which makes protesting the fossil fuel industry punishable up to a decade in prison and $1million in fines, and HB1674, which protects drivers who run over protestors. Oklahoma is the test state to see what industry and politicians can get away with. ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, regularly turns Oklahoma policies like HB1123 and HB1674 into “model legislation” for other states to replicate. With crumbling infrastructure due to frackquakes and lack of investment by the state, the fossil fuel industry gridlocking progress on renewable energy and rolling back environmental protections, alarming numbers of Covid deaths, and policies and police forces that target Indigenous and Black people, Oklahoma is the belly of the beast. Regardless, Oklahoma resistance persists. As the other banner dropper stated:
After using our tribe to get elected, Kevin Stitt has made termination the goal of his administration. He has done nothing but pander to his base while 12,193 Oklahomans died from COVID. We will not let Stitt continue in office with his head held high. We will hold him accountable to the violence he has committed against this state.
We believe another world is possible. We believe in protecting the inherent sovereignty of Oklahoma’s tribal nations and fighting for the liberation of Oklahoma’s Black communities. We want Land Back, we believe Black Lives Matter, and we need Oklahoma to Build Back Fossil Free. Until that day comes, continue to expect us.