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Native leaders, Oklahoma City University announce Tribal Sovereignty Institute

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Native leaders, Oklahoma City University announce Tribal Sovereignty Institute

Jun 11, 2024 | 2:30 pm ET
By Nuria Martinez-Keel
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Native leaders, Oklahoma City University announce Tribal Sovereignty Institute
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Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, the dean of the Oklahoma City University School of Law, speaks at a Sovereignty Symposium on Tuesday at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel in Oklahoma City. Tribal leaders and OCU announced a new Tribal Sovereignty Institute. (Photo by Nuria Martinez-Keel/Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — A new institute at Oklahoma City University will seek broader understanding and a greater body of scholarship on tribal sovereignty.

Native American leaders and OCU announced on Tuesday the creation of a Tribal Sovereignty Institute. The goal, they said, is to expand education on the self-government and legal policy of tribal nations, train attorneys with expertise in tribal law and preserve Native culture.

OCU School of Law Dean David Holt, the mayor of Oklahoma City and an Osage Nation member, said there’s a need for independent, credible scholarship on tribal sovereignty matters.

“This information needs to be put in the hands of policymakers, and it needs to be shared with future and current lawyers,” Holt said at a news conference Tuesday.

OCU is the new host of the decades-old Sovereignty Symposium, an annual conference to explore policy and legal issues affecting Oklahoma’s 39 tribal nations. Holt said the university and tribal leaders wished to see the work taking place at the symposium continue year round at the institute.

The university already offers a tribal law program. The first step in launching the institute is hiring an executive director, whom Holt said will teach at the law school and “ensure we are continuing to produce lawyers who specialize in American Indian law.”

The hiring process will continue over the next year, he said.

Native leaders, Oklahoma City University announce Tribal Sovereignty Institute
Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear speaks at a Sovereignty Symposium on Tuesday at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel in Oklahoma City. (Photo by Nuria Martinez-Keel/Oklahoma Voice)

One of the state’s tribal law specialists is Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, who was a practicing attorney for 34 years before his election.

Standing Bear, the Sovereignty Symposium’s keynote speaker, described tribal governments as an integral presence and their legal matters, such as tribal gaming issues, of great importance. 

Sovereignty for tribes, he said, is “supporting ourselves and taking care of each other.”

The way to resolve sovereignty issues is education, said Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton.

“Anytime people can be more knowledgeable about tribal sovereignty and as well as state law and how those come together and how we can unify and build better relationships and better law, that’s going to be the key to success,” Batton said.