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Chairman ABOUREZK. The written testimony of Gov. Overton James will be entered into the record at this point.
[The prepared statement of Governor James follows:]
our goals may be obtained. Not only can the conditions of our
economic boost to the entire area of eastern Oklahoma. This Bill
is a first and necessary step in that direction.
We must follow through with our responsibilities. We must move together to see that this situation is corrected. The
Secretary of the Interior must be given the authority to negotiate
an agreement. To do otherwise deprives us of our property
without compensation in effect, which is, of course, prohibited
by the Constitution.
I thank you for allowing me this opportunity to be heard and we
sincerely hope that you understand how important this legislation
is to all of us concerned. I will be happy to attempt to answer any
questions which you may have.
CHICKASAW NATION OF OKLAHOMA
GOVERNOR OVERTON JAMES
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee and Senator Bartlett.
I appreciate the opportunity to appear before this comittee to present
testimony in regard to S.B. 660.
I am Overton James, Governor of the Chickasaw Nation.
I am here today
as a representative of the people of the Chickasaw Nation.
I concur with the testimony offered by Chief Swimmer and Chief Gardner.
They have covered the subject well, however, I would like to add this to it.
As you know, the Supreme Court has said that the bed and banks of a portion
of the Arkansas River is our's.
You are also aware of the McClellan-Kerr
Navigation System, through which the federal government exerts control
over the river.
And you have been told of this financial restraint upon
us that prevents us from exploiting the resources of the river.
All of this effectively denies us any benefits due us as owners of property rights.
We want what is right fully our's, but since that is not practical, we want
to be compensated for the loss of those benefits.
This bill provides the
means of settling this matter most efficiently.
By reason of early treaties, the Chickasaws owned an undivided one-fourth
interest in the lands of the Choctaws.
For that reason, we have actively
joined the Choctaws and Cherokees in pursuit of this claim.
Also like the Choctaws and Cherokees, the Chickasaws suffer the conse
quences of poverty and unemployment.
The tribal government of the
Chickasaw Nation is working to realize goals which will provide a better
living for our people, and eventually enable them to take a more
active part in affairs that affect their lives.
We have proven in
the past that we can help our people.
Give the Secretary of Interior
the authority to negotiate a settlement withus and the realization
of these goals will be within reach.
The duty has fallen upon you and us to solve the situation of the denial
of our ownership benefits in the Arkansas River.
As it has been said,
further delay, in effect, takes our property without just compensation.
Actually, we are losing money by the fact of the delay.
We can't do
anything with the resources ourselves, so we get no return on our assets
And since no compensation has been for thcoming we have lost
interest on that which we should have had.
Now is the time to act.
This legislation is how to act.
Not only does
justice and equity demand this action, but the law and our very system of
government requires it.
I thank you for allowing me to testify here in behalf of the people of
the Chickasaw Nation.
If there are any questions, I will be happy to answer them.
Chairman ABOUREZK. Our next panel is comprised of two witnesses, Mr. Charles Tate a Chickasaw from Ardmore, Okla., and Mr. Jimmy Sam, a Choctaw from McAlester, Okla. I welcome you to the committee. We are ready for your testimony.
STATEMENT OF JIMMY SAM, CHOCTAW, MCALESTER, OKLA. Mr. Sam. Mr. Chairman, my name is Jimmy Sam, and I am from McAlester, Okla. Mr. Charles Tate is a Chickasaw.
Because the issues here are basically the same for the two tribes we would first like to make individual comments of a general nature. Then we would open up ourselves to questioning by the committee if this would be agreeable.
Chairman ABOUREZK. Yes, please proceed.
Mr. Sam. I would like to express my opposition to Senate bill 660. In addition, I have authorizations from four county presidents of the Choctaw four county councils who have authorized me to convey their dissatisfaction to the proposed legislation and have endorsed the stand taken in these hearings.
We have two primary objections to the bill. One: The Choctaw principal chief has no authority in the Choctaw Nation's constitution either to unilaterally seek or to enter into such agreements as are contemplated by this legislation.
Two: Even if the principal chief were to receive proper authorization from constitutionally mandated sources, the Arkansas riverbed studies contracted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs are clearly inadequate as a basis for settlement.
We ask that the Senate postpone action on this legislation until these two deficiencies are corrected.
Our major concern is that neither the Bureau nor the principal chief has recognized the integral role that the legislative branch must have in authorizing the pursuit of such legislation and in considering the appropriateness of the proposed agreements.
I am speaking of the internal institutional structures of the tribe itself.
Article 7, section 11, of the Choctaw constitution confirms the councils inherent legislative power, while article 5, sections 7 and 8, require the principal chief to act pursuant to legislative authorization only.
He has no authority to enter such agreements without legislative directive and article 2, section 2, prohibits issues of legislative powers.
We expect this committee to respect these constitutional provisions of the tribes own documents.
STATEMENT OF CHARLES TATE, CHICKASAW, ARDMORE, OKLA. Mr. TATE. I am a Chickasaw. I am here speaking for myself and also I have been asked to speak for three community groups within the Chickasaw Nation. These are Chickasaws within the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma.
Senator, first of all I would like to reiterate some things that have already been said by Mr. Sam. As he said earlier, there are similar situations among the Chickasaws and the Choctaws. We are both
definitely concerned with this legislation because our lands in Oklahoma, for the most part, are held in common with the Choctaws' threequarter interest and the Chickasaws' one-quarter interest and the Arkansas riverbed is under that ownership as far as our part of it is concerned.
Senator, we would like to say on behalf of these groups and the Chickasaw Nation that Overton James, appearing before this committee or anywhere else in the world, has absolutely no authority to speak for anybody but himself when it comes to the disposition of our lands and our assets.
Under our present tribal law, Mr. James does not have that authority. That authority rests with the people. The people have not authorized any negotiations of any sort for him to enter into. So anything he has signed or anything he has done is simply on his own.
Chairman ABOUREZK. What is the form of government? Is it a tribal council with a chairman?
Mr. Sam. Within the Choctaw Nation, our constitution establishes a role for a general council. But through years of suppression by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and in cooperation with that policy by the principal chiefs since statehood in 1906, they have tended to identify tribal interests without the principal chief and have recognized him as the sole embodiment of the tribal interests.
Chairman ABOUREZK. How was Overton James elected ?
Mr. TATE. He was elected in an election just like an executive officer is elected.
Chairman ABOUREZK. An election of all the tribal members?
Mr. TATE. I do not want to get into a long history of that, Senator. We do not contend that there was a fair election to begin with but of those people registered, yes, it was voted by the majority.
Chairman ABOUREZK. We are not going to look into an election. Mr. TATE. I agree.
Chairman ABOUREZK. He was elected. Is there a tribal council elected in the Chickasaw Tribe!
Mr. TATE. Not at present, sir. Chairman ABOUREZK. Has there ever been? Mr. TATE. Not since statehood. Chairman ABOUREZK. So you are contending that the constitution of the tribe requires some kind of referendum?
Mr. TATE. It may be helpful to explain to you and I am sure it is brand new to you
because Chairman ABOUREZK. Yes; it's brand new.
Mr. TATE. Let me explain a little bit. I will tell about the Chickasaws and the basic same thing happened to the Choctaws.
Before statehood we were governed by a constitutional form of government, a three-branch government, very similar to the U.S. Government.
In fact, this is a copy [indicating) of the constitution of the Chickasaw Nation.
Under that constitution there was an executive branch, a legislative branch, and a judicial branch.