Chairman Byrd's Corner
This is certainly a busy time in the Quapaw Nation, with the conclusion of Halloween and Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. We also gathered at our tribal grounds for a cultural day which included demonstrations, supper, and a dance. In November, many events began taking place in recognition of Native American Heritage Month. Quapaw Nation was honored at the Quapaw High School Football game on Native American Night as the Wildcats got the win. There is of course Thanksgiving and Rock Your Mocs which are some of my favorite things about November. Veterans Day also falls fall in November and is an opportunity to honor our own tribal veterans who served and some who paid the ultimate sacrifice. This year we honored our veterans with a program as a small token of our appreciation and gratitude and everyone enjoyed themselves.
On October 21, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the existence of the Quapaw Nation Reservation, concluding that it was never disestablished by Congress. Our reservation is Indian Country for purposes of the Major Crimes Act (MCA). This is probably the most historic event involving Quapaw Nation since Indian gaming because it not only confirms our reservation status, it acknowledges our treaty rights with the United States, and our tribal sovereignty. The Quapaw Nation joined the ranks of other Oklahoma tribal nations who’s reservations were also affirmed with the McGirt decision from the United States Supreme Court last summer. What makes our status unique is that we are the only tribal nation with a confirmed reservation that is not part of the larger Five Tribes, which includes the Muscogee Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole.
Since the McGirt ruling last summer, Quapaw Nation has worked diligently, developing our court infrastructure and law enforcement agency in anticipation of reaffirmation of our reservation. We created a task force that consisted of judges, prosecutors, marshals, and court personnel to assist in this legal development. Our leadership has had ongoing discussions with local and county law enforcement, we have hosted training sessions with the U.S. Attorneys Office and District Attorneys Office, so that we could be prepared for this moment. It is important that we maintain these crucial partnerships so that criminal activity occurring within our reservation does not get overlooked and I am encouraged by the degree of cooperation and communication with federal and state officials.
Last year, immediately following the McGirt decision, Governor Kevin Stitt asserted state environmental authority over all fee land located within Indian Country and the EPA approved this assertion. Needless to say, many if not all tribal nations in Oklahoma voiced their displeasure with this decision, and under the Biden administration, more consultations with EPA have occurred. This environmental issue does not impact Quapaw Nation’s current Tar Creek remediation project which is a partnership between the tribe, the state of Oklahoma, and the federal government but it is an ongoing issue that we will continue to monitor as it relates to our reservation status.
The Bear settlement distribution bill, H.R. 4715, that was introduced in July has been under review by the House Natural Resources Committee. We have gained full support from our Oklahoma and Arkansas delegation including Tom Cole, the original sponsor of the 2012 Congressional Reference bill, and Bruce Westerman, ranking member of House Natural Resources. While we await the decision of the committee, our next stage of the process is to meet with the Department of Interior to consult on the distribution. Congressional attention has been primarily focused on passing the $1 trillion infrastructure bill for the entire country and now that it has been signed by President Biden, I expect the political process to resume.
We will continue to push Congress to support and pass our Bear settlement distribution bill.
Covid-19 and Delta variants continue to disrupt many aspects of the economy including healthcare, finance, construction, and the overall labor workforce, and Quapaw Nation is not immune from these disruptions. Our Department of Public Safety continues to monitor and address these concerns. The Northeastern Tribal Health System continues to administer vaccination measures and I encourage all our citizens to get the vaccine and boosters to help combat the spread of the virus. For those individuals unwilling to receive their vaccines, I still encourage everyone to respect others by wearing masks and distancing appropriately. Together, we can all do our own part to help protect ourselves and our community from the virus, especially with the coming of the holiday season.
As we get into the holidays, it is a time when we gather with friends and loved ones. This time of year can also be difficult for individuals dealing with grief, depression, loss of home, and other issues that plague our tribal community. We have services available and information can be found on our Quapaw Nation homepage for anyone in need of assistance. I encourage everyone to check on our elders, those who are disabled, and those who may be in need as we come into the colder months.
I am excited to announce we have placed Blessing Trees throughout our tribal offices. Angels will be available for those who wish to support the Quapaw Nation Blessing Tree Project. We will be issuing Christmas funds for children and will also be hosting an elder Christmas party, with all COVID precautions taken of course. Please look for all of these program details on our Quapaw Nation webpage or the Quapaw Post, the official news outlet of the Quapaw Nation.
Best Wishes These Holidays,