Choctaw Nation amends hunting, fishing codes

·3 min read

Dec. 30—Choctaw Nation leaders said they will continue to fight for tribal sovereignty following the passage of a bill that will allow tribal members to hunt without a state license within tribal boundaries.

Tribal councilors unanimously passed the historic bill Thursday amending the tribe's hunting and fishing codes to allow tribal members to hunt/fish within the 10-and-a-half county reservation area in southeast Oklahoma.

"We're exercising our God-given right as Choctaw people," said District 1 Councilman and Speaker Thomas Williston during the special meeting livestreamed from the tribe's capitol in Tvshka Homma.

Nels Rodefeld, Chief of Communication and Education for ODWC, said the agency has a cross-deputation agreement with the Choctaw Nation and will prosecute any violations.

Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said the tribe will defend tribal members prosecuted for hunting or fishing on state-owned properties without a state license.

"I'm saying we will defend that," Batton said. "We will use our tribal lawyers to defend that because I think they (tribal members) should have that right to do that."

Gov. Kevin Stitt previously refused to renew hunting/fishing compacts with the Choctaw and Cherokee Nations.

After the refusal became public, a spokesman for Stitt said the governor believed all Oklahomans should be treated equally.

"Personal attacks on the governor will not deter him from protecting the interests of all 4 million Oklahomans, including the state's wildlife and natural resources," Charlie Hannema said in a statement.

Hannema said the tribes were made an offer to purchase licenses at the current prices, $25 for a license to either hunt or fish and $42 for a combination license.

The compact with the Choctaw Nation offered the license to tribal members at no cost with the tribe paying the state $2 for each license issued to a tribal member.

Stitt signed a one-year extension of the compacts in 2020, saying the compacts helped capture federal funds "for conservation efforts across our state while promoting hunting and fishing opportunities for citizens of the (tribes)," according to statements released at the time.

According to the tribe, only Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma tribal members will be able to hunt and fish within tribal boundaries in accordance with tribal laws at this time with non-tribal members allowed to hunt with a valid license issued by the state.

Tribal members who hunt and fish within the reservation boundaries will need proof of their membership along with a completed hunter safety course.

Members will then use the online Chahta Achvffa member portal to register their harvest prior to processing and being sent to a taxidermist.

"We'll keep fighting the governor as long as he wants to fight it," Brian Danker, executive director of legal operations for the tribe, said.

District 12 Councilor James Frazier asked Batton if the tribe will also defend tribal members if their equipment is confiscated by a state game warden.

"They'll probably try and take you to state court," Batton said for citations and confiscations for alleged illegal hunting on state property.

Danker said if any tribal member receives a citation from a game warden while hunting or fishing on state property, then to contact the tribe and the tribe will figure out "the best course of action."

The tribe's legal department can be reached by emailing memberlegal@choctawnation.com with more information to be posted online soon.

Contact Derrick James at djames@mcalesternews.com

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