The Norman Transcript

February 28, 2014

OU symposium discusses importance of tribal sovereignty

By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript

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.”

A lot of tribes across the country have taken the actions of Oklahoma tribes and used them as a blue print, Tiger said, describing several accomplishments of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, including being the first tribe in the country to own its own hospital as well as the first tribe in the state to have property transition from a university to tribe and a new $350 million casino project in the works.

“A lot of history books say the five tribes had their version of the Trail of Tears, but that’s wrong. As far as I know, all 39 tribes in Oklahoma had their version of the Trail of Tears,” Tiger said. “So all of use were removed, but we have all learned since then to move forward and use sovereignty. It didn’t happen overnight, and we’re still working on it.”

Tiger said as long as large and small tribes continue to work together and utilize sovereignty, he believes the future will only get better.

“In the future, I believe tribes today will be recorded that here in Oklahoma, we’ve influenced things. In the past, we have lost some battles, but we’re still winning the war because we weren’t supposed to be here.”

Tiger was the fifth elected principal chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in 2012. He is the leader of the fourth largest tribe in the United States.

Prior to being elected principal chief, Tiger served on the Muscogee (Creek) National Council for 14 years and as speaker of the council from 2006-2007. Tiger is responsible for reviving the Five Civilized Tribes Intertribal Council after his election.

Other symposium speakers included: Dr. James Collard, director of planning and economic development of Citizen Potawatomi Nation, “Using Tribal Sovereignty — A Global Perspective;” Council of Fire Debate and Leadership Council of the Native American Studies Department, “Critical Areas of International/Tribal/State Engagement: Why and How?;” Lindsay Robertson, OU College of Law professor and moderator, Dinah Shelton, George Washington University Law School professor, and Armstrong Wiggins, Indian Law Resources Center director, “Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Panel Discussion;” Evelyn Aswad, OU College of Law professor and moderator, Neha Sheth, U.S. Department of State attorney-adviser, and Dr. Dieter Dorr, Johannes-Gutenberg University professor, “United Nations Panel Discussion;” and Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, afternoon keynote and UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination chairperson.

For more information, visit,


NatvAmer.html and law.ou.


Katherine Parker


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