Lisa Billy, Oklahoma Secretary of Native American Affairs, Resigns Over ‘Unnecessary’ State-Tribal Conflict

Lisa Billy (left), Oklahoma’s first Secretary of Native American Affairs, has resigned, stating in a letter to Gov. Kevin Stitt (right) that “it has become increasingly clear you are committed to an unnecessary conflict that poses a real risk of lasting damage to the State-Tribal relationship and to our economy.”

Oklahoma’s first Secretary of Native American Affairs Lisa J. Billy has resigned, effective immediately.

Her letter sent Monday to Gov. Kevin Stitt states that “it has become increasingly clear you are committed to an unnecessary conflict that poses a real risk of lasting damage to the State-Tribal relationship and to our economy.

 

“You have dismissed advice and facts that show the peril of your chosen approach and have remained intent on breaking faith with the Tribes, both by refusing to engage with the compact’s language and, more recently, by suggesting you would displace our Tribal partners with private, out-of-state commercial gaming operators. Your actions have shown that my continuing in service on your cabinet is unnecessary to you and impossible for me.”

A member of the Chickasaw Nation, Billy served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 2004 to 2016. Billy, who is serving her third year of a three-year term for the Chickasaw Nation Legislature, became a part of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s cabinet when she was made the state’s first Secretary of Native American Affairs. Gov. Stitt announced her appointment on January 30, and she was confirmed by the senate committee on February 28. While the position was created to increase the state’s economic strength by involving Tribal Nations, Billy has lost faith in the Governor’s commitment to fulfill that promise. 

After failing to acknowledge the automatic 15-year renewal of Tribal-state gaming compacts after January 1, 2020, Gov. Stitt proposed an extension on compacts until August 31, 2020, to provide eight months for negotiations. “An extension will also alleviate any questions or concerns that lenders, employees, entertainers, vendors, and patrons have concerning whether the Class III gaming activities at the casinos are legal as of January 1, 2020,” Gov. Stitt’s letter stated.

In response, the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA) hosted a press conference to announce its rejection of the governor’s offer that refuses to honor the compacts’ renewal.

“We stand united today against the proposed extension by Gov. Stitt as utterly unnecessary, given the automatic renewal,” said Matthew Morgan, Chairman of OIGA, an organization of 32 Indian Nations.

Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby previously indicated that “a formal dispute may be imminent” in a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).

“We reserve our right to take legal action, if necessary, to protect the Chickasaw Nation’s legal and sovereign rights as well as the material interests of our citizens who rely on government programs and services supported by our gaming operation revenues,” Anoatubby previously wrote.

The Chickasaw Nation is among the Tribes with gaming operations that Gov. Stitt has targeted for audit on January 2nd. 

Lisa Billy’s resignation comes the week following Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s withdrawal from his role as the state’s top negotiator on Tribal-state gaming compacts. Hunter stepping down prompted Gov. Stitt to declare that he’s taking the lead and plans to hire his own out-of-state legal team.

Even as his support system falls away, Stitt remains steadfast in his pursuit to negotiate new Tribal-state compacts that would entail Tribes paying higher fees for the exclusive right to operate Class III casino games. Tribes have paid the state about $1.5 billion in exclusivity fees from Tribal gaming operations since 2006, including more than $148 million last fiscal year.

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