Governor remains confident in Native American liaison despite tribal opposition

By: - September 26, 2023 5:29 am

Gov. Kevin Stitt continues to back his Native American liaison. Tribal leaders passed a no confidence resolution against the selection. (Photo by Kyle Phillips/For Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s governor continues to have confidence in his newly appointed Native American liaison and will continue to rely on him to build tribal relations, his spokeswoman said Monday.

Despite opposition from five of the state’s most powerful tribes, Gov. Kevin Stitt will retain Wes Nofire as his liaison, said gubernatorial spokeswoman Abegail Cave. 

“I think it’s interesting that these leaders attempt to shut down any of their members who don’t agree with them,” Cave said. “Our door is always open, and Wes is eager to engage in healthy, productive dialogue with all of the tribes, even the authors of this resolution.”

Last week, leaders of the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes — the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole nations — passed a resolution of no confidence against Nofire.

Nofire declined to comment Monday.

In a joint statement, the leaders said Nofire cannot be an effective advocate for Oklahoma tribes or act as a “bridge” between them and Stitt “when he clearly echoes the same anti-tribal rhetoric” as the governor.

They said Stitt appointed Nofire, a former Cherokee tribal councilor, to “simply parrot” his views opposing sovereignty.

Tribal leaders and Stitt have been at odds since 2019 when the governor incorrectly argued Oklahoma’s gaming compacts didn’t automatically renew. 

Tensions have continued to grow as tribal leaders and Stitt have disagreed over a variety of issues, including tribal sovereignty, compacts, criminal prosecutions and ramifications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling, which found that much of eastern Oklahoma remains reservation land.

Stitt, for instance, refused to renew hunting and fishing compacts with the Cherokee and Choctaw Nation that his Republican predecessor signed.

Leaders with the Five Tribes then made a historic and unprecedented endorsement of Stitt’s Democratic gubernatorial challengers.

Stitt also irked legislators and tribal leaders when he vetoed bills to temporarily renew some tobacco and vehicle registration compacts. After lawmakers overrode his vetoes, Stitt sued legislators, saying they didn’t have the authority to remove them.  

Stitt’s office has said Nofire is an ideal choice for the liaison role because of his work with the Cherokee Nation government and a “deep familiarity” with tribal governments.

Stitt has said Nofire has been outspoken about the challenges the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision created in eastern Oklahoma.

Nofire unsuccessfully ran against Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. in 2019.


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Janelle Stecklein
Janelle Stecklein

Janelle Stecklein is editor of Oklahoma Voice. An award-winning journalist, Stecklein has been covering Oklahoma government and politics since moving to the state in 2014.