Oklahoma’s relationship with tribal nations has always been complex and challenging, never more so than following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 McGirt ruling that upheld tribal sovereignty. To promote policy reforms and address challenges in tribal-state issues, the Oklahoma Policy Institute is entering into a new role working with tribal partners, state officials, and community leaders. OK Policy’s newly created Tribal-State Policy Analyst role will be pivotal in providing research and analysis on tribal priorities within a state policy context. Our organization has been built on working collaboratively to advance equitable and fiscally responsible policies that expand opportunity for all Oklahomans. We recognize the challenges of entering the tribal and state policy space where we have not worked historically, but we are eager to learn and collaborate with tribal leaders, elected officials, and advocates for a better Oklahoma.
A dedicated tribal-state focus
Oklahoma has the second-highest Native population in the United States, and Oklahoma tribes contribute $12.9 billion in economic impacts while employing 52,000 people statewide. Tribal nations also have long-standing, significant cultural and community contributions beyond economic impacts. To advance the state’s intersectional, collective progress for both racial equity and policy reform, tribal nations need to be included in policy debates.
OK Policy seeks to ensure this happens by prioritizing government-to-government relationships, federal Indian trust responsibility, tribal sovereignty, indigenous sovereignty, and how these inform and shape state, local, and tribal nation interactions and policy formation. We seek to ensure that our work is fundamentally inclusive of policy effects on Oklahoma tribal citizens and nations. By hiring a Tribal-State Policy Analyst, our goal is to foster this inclusivity as a product of our community partnerships with Oklahoma tribal nations, combining knowledge on state and distinct tribal agendas, issues, impacts, and trends in tribal-state policy.
OK Policy has hired a Tribal-State Policy Analyst to begin this work
By way of introduction, my name is Vivian Morris, and I bring to OK Policy experience in non-profit, state, and tribal administration. I am Alabama (federally recognized as Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town), Mvskoke-Seminole, and Diné (Navajo). I have worked in various advocacy spaces, including Believing in Native Generations (BLING) and Oklahoma Successful Adulthood Program (as a program participant), where I highlighted the importance of the Indian Child Welfare Act. I found my passion for equity advocacy through lived experience sharing. I also was an invited speaker at the Pitchwise Annual Festival of Women’s Art and Activism in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, where I spoke about the epidemic of violence on Indigenous women in Indian Country. (Beginning with sharing that Indigenous peoples in North America are still here.) Before joining OK Policy, I worked on the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) Tribal Government Relations team, where I supported tribal consultation and tribal outreach.
OK Policy is leveraging the SPP Fellowship to fill the gaps in tribal-state policy and research
The Tribal-State Policy Analyst role is supported by the State Policy Fellowship Program of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The position is a competitive two-year fellowship designed to tackle state policy challenges on a wide range of policy issues and bringing diverse perspectives into state policy debates to uplift historically marginalized, disenfranchised, and excluded voices. While OK Policy’s Tribal-State Policy Analyst position is currently supported through the State Policy Fellowship Program, the organization plans to make the position permanent.
OK Policy’s work encourages policy solutions that allow all Oklahomans to thrive. The state-tribal policy focus will enrich our ongoing commitment to responsible policy that supports all Oklahomans. Today, we are in a pivotal moment in state, tribal, and federal policymaking, from the McGirt decision to the notable increase in American Indian and Alaska Native population in the 2020 census. This exemplifies the need to focus on tribal-state policy formation — from more Indigenous school lessons, the inclusion of American Indians/Alaska Natives in data reporting, and state and federal legislation, such as the Indian Child Welfare Act.
As Oklahomans work together to address tribal-state issues, it will be vital to acknowledge how systemic racism shaped past policies and is still prevalent in current policies that marginalize and harm Oklahomans because of race, income, involvement with the criminal justice system, or a combination of other factors. Policy development and practices should address these issues as well as power imbalances when creating tribal-state policy. We can only move forward if we recognize and acknowledge what has occurred in the past and how it influences today’s tribal-state relations and policy formation.
Oklahoma is poised at a moment of opportunity to collaboratively advance tribal-state policy that supports tribal sovereignty and the state of Oklahoma, and OK Policy is excited to see what can be achieved when everyone has a seat at the table.