February Message

Governor Bill Anoatubby

Cooperating for Stability and Success

By Bill Anoatubby, Governor, Chickasaw Nation

At its most basic level, sovereignty is the ability of a group of people to make decisions for themselves. Chickasaw Nation sovereignty is inherent and existed for hundreds of years prior to European contact.

Hundreds of years before we established our Constitution in 1856, Chickasaws made decisions through a government that included leaders of clans and towns in a system with many similarities to the federal system established by the US Constitution.  

As a nation of entrepreneurs, the Chickasaw Nation interacted with dozens of other tribes across the continent through trade and commerce long before the United States was established. 

While the Chickasaw people could make decisions for themselves as a sovereign nation, they had no authority to control other sovereigns.

Similarly, pursuant to guidelines established by the US Constitution, each sovereign makes its own decisions, but has no authority to control other sovereigns.  

The US Constitution recognizes the sovereignty of states, tribes, and federal governments.

And while the US Constitution establishes federal laws and treaties as the supreme law of the land, it also provides broad guidelines for the exercise of sovereignty by states and tribes. 

Included among those broad guidelines is the concept that states do not control tribes and tribes do not control states.

However, those broad guidelines do not address a wide variety of legal details and conflicts that may arise as separate sovereigns exercise their own authority.

Therefore, sovereigns have a responsibility to work together with their counterparts to develop agreements to address those details.

Otherwise, those disagreements could result in years or even decades of court battles with no final resolution of issues.

Compacts have been fundamental tools to preserve Chickasaw self-governance and sovereignty in areas where our geographic boundaries and jurisdictions may overlap with the State of Oklahoma.

The Chickasaw Nation entered into its first compact with the State of Oklahoma in 1992. In more than three decades since, Chickasaw Nation compacts with the State of Oklahoma have been key to strong and effective intergovernmental relationships.

These carefully crafted legal agreements between two sovereigns are designed to preserve sovereignty, balance competing governmental interests, and serve citizens.

These compacts help avoid extended litigation and offer more stable relationships with local, state, and federal governments.

We have negotiated dozens of agreements with the state to set forth rules by which we and Oklahoma can work together to the benefit of the Chickasaw people and our neighbors across Oklahoma.

Our recent agreements with the State of Oklahoma to continue compacts regarding tobacco and license plates are examples of the Chickasaw Nation exercising our sovereignty through compact agreements.

These intergovernmental agreements enable the Chickasaw Nation to work more productively with the State of Oklahoma on a variety of issues that benefit Chickasaws and our neighbors across the state. 

In short, compacts offer sovereigns an effective way to work together to address disagreements in a manner that promotes cooperation and stability.

Compacting is an exercise of sovereignty that will benefit those we serve for generations to come.