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February 28, 2014

OU symposium discusses importance of tribal sovereignty

NORMAN — The tongue was foreign to some and familiar to many others, but the message was welcoming for those who wanted to know more about tribal sovereignty.

Dr. Gus Palmer Jr., Native American Studies Department interim director spoke in Kiowa to all attendees of the University of Oklahoma College of Law’s third annual symposium Thursday, “Tribal Sovereignty: A Global Perspective.”

Organized by the American Indian Law Review and OU Native American Studies Department, the symposium highlighted issues indigenous people face at the international and regional levels, including the ability of indigenous people to assert their rights at the United Nations and the Organization of American States, in addition to the ability of tribes to engage economically on an international level.

“A part of what we do (in the Native American Studies Department) is encourage non-Indians and Indians to engage in dialogue and challenge what we’re all about inside and outside of the university,” Palmer said, adding that he was proud the symposium would continue the dialogue.

Keynote speaker George Tiger, principal chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, began the symposium with his speech, “Engagement in Tribal/State/Federal Decision Making and Affairs.”

Tiger said sovereignty is sacred among Indian people because they care about where they come from and the land and are always trying to protect it.

“Sovereignty allows us to do a lot of things, but the most important part of that is taking care of our people,” he said.

Tiger said in the past, tribes had not used their sovereignty to the fullest extent and that while it was still a learning process, many tribes had come to make economic and financial impacts in their communities due to things like gaming.

“Today, we’re big players in Oklahoma. Sovereignty has allowed us not to level the playing field but do a lot of things,” he said. “Collectively as tribes, we are one of the largest, or the largest, importers into the state of Oklahoma, and that’s because of sovereignty.”

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