Published January 5, 2017
TAHLEQUAH — The creation of a state secretary of Native American Affairs will raise the level of importance and better prioritize Native issues in Oklahoma. Gov. Mary Fallin recently announced that former Secretary of State and former Speaker of the House Chris Benge will serve in the new role.
Benge, who also serves as the governor’s chief of staff, is a Cherokee Nation citizen.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said tribes and Native legislators, including State Representative Chuck Hoskin, have been advocating for a secretary level position since the state’s Indian Affairs Commission was dissolved five years ago.
“With 38 federally recognized tribal governments located in Oklahoma, communication and cooperation between the tribes and the governor’s office is critical,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “We have long championed this position to improve these government-to-government relationships. Chris Benge is a friend to tribes and will continue to do an excellent job.”
Hoskin said the new role carries more authority than a Native Affairs liaison, which is important because so many issues—including economic development, education, health care, natural resources and tourism—involve partnerships between the governor and tribal governments.
“I think it is important for the governor’s cabinet to include a secretary of Native American Affairs to serve as a key advisor. And I hope all future administrations embrace the idea,” Hoskin said. “It is vital to elevate this position, especially when the governor negotiates with tribes.”
Hoskin, who also serves as Cherokee Nation’s chief of staff, authored multiple bills in the House of Representatives, seeking to establish a permanent secretary of Native American Affairs position.
“Without question, tribes are a major contributor to the Oklahoma economy, as well as the Oklahoma identity,” Hoskin said. “When tribes do well, so does Oklahoma. This role will increase collaboration between the tribal nations and the state, and that will impact all citizens of our great state. Oklahoma should be a national leader when it comes to progressive American Indian policies.”
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