? Questions persist on the law's effects on American Indian lands

By Luke Engan

CNHI News Service

OKLAHOMA CITY ? A July 12 police raid of a cockfight near Anadarko sparked renewed debate over the reach of Oklahoma's ban, said an advocate of the sport.

Bureau of Indian Affairs marshals raided the Canyon Creek site on American Indian lands. Bobby Jones, national director of the Animal Husbandry Commission, a Texas-based political action committee that aims to preserve cockfighting as a way of life.

Jones said officers held guns on several of those present, including the 13-year-old daughter of a man who was also at the fight.

"He was livid," Jones recalled. "We'll take up a civil action at some point in the future."

But for now, criminal charges against the participants await a determination of how the constitutional amendment meshes with tribal sovereignty.

On Aug. 25, the Court of Indian Offenses is scheduled to take up the case into whether the officers had jurisdiction to close down the operation.

The association leased the land to Mike Turner, director of the Kiowa Association for the Preservation of Cultural and Rural Lifestyles, to hold the sport there.

Turner declined to comment due to his legal involvement. He is arguing his own case in the jurisdiction fight, Jones said.

"He walks softly and carries a big stick," said Jones, a five-year acquaintance.

The association has asked Irven Box, an Oklahoma City attorney, to aid in the case.

"I believe that the Indians' sovereignty will allow cockfighting in Oklahoma on Indian land," Box said.



A culture war

Cockfighting, believed to have started in Asia where poultry were first domesticated, is common in Mexico, said Anthony Villalobos of Skiatook.

He said he was treasurer of the Oklahoma Gamefowl Breeders Association when the organization had money to manage.

In 2002, voters made Oklahoma the 48th state to ban the sport of pitting roosters against each other in a fighting pit.

In Oklahoma, some Hispanics and Asian-Americans do not understand the law due to cultural differences, Villalobos said.

"The Hispanic population - they just don't see this law," he said, and estimated that if the state's culture were more like Mexico's, the Tulsa State Fair and Oklahoma State Fair would provide large rings for cockfighting.

Oklahoma's move pushed the frontier of the culture battle to Louisiana and some New Mexico counties, where fights are still allowed. Because of cockfighting's cultural following, the controversy has been described as one between animal rights and civil rights.

Boxing?

Roosters' natural spurs, on the legs just above the feet, can inflict blood damage on opponents, sometimes leading to death.

Cockfighting makes use of a naturally occurring competitive instinct to establish a pecking order, but critics say the sport exploits the instinct and breeds for aggressiveness.

Gaffes, small knives attached to the spurs, can make the fight more bloody.

So with the support of Villalobos, Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, proposed legalizing cockboxing, a less bloody version of the game.

In cockboxing, tiny boxing gloves cover the spurs, instead of knives. Roosters wear team-colored jackets with electronic sensors that register points for each attack.

At the end of the fight, an electronic scoreboard shows spectators who won, and both contestants walk away with most of their feathers.

Villalobos hopes this gets the industry back on its feet.

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