Congressman Cole talks tribal sovereignty, business

TAHLEQUAH, Okla.–The link between tribal sovereignty and Oklahoma’s prosperous economy was explained to members of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma (AICCO) by United States Congressman Tom Cole, recently.

Cole (OK-04) was the keynote speaker of the AICCO Oklahoma City Chapter Wednesday, Aug. 12.

The meeting was conducted at the Gardner Center at the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University in Oklahoma City.

"Watching the Oklahoma economy, we have our series of challenges, but not like the rest of the country," Cole, a Chickasaw citizen, said.

When his Washington colleagues discover Oklahoma’s low unemployment rate, Cole said, "They look at me and ask ‘what in the world is going on in Oklahoma."’ One factor in Oklahoma’s strong economy, explained Cole, is tribally-owned businesses.

"The tribes contribute so much to the Oklahoma economy; they are a huge reason why Oklahoma is prosperous. There are thousands of jobs with tribes. They are here and they are anchored, corporate headquarters will never be moved to Dallas or Houston and jobs will never go to China."

Collectively, Oklahoma Indian tribes are the fourth or fifth largest employer in the state, Cole said.

"That’s a pretty phenomenal number."

Tribal sovereignty is critical to maintaining a healthy Oklahoma economy, Cole said.

"There is an enormous interest in maintaining tribal sovereignty as a state, because of the enormous wealth that is flows into the state, (because of tribal business)."

Tribes, according to Cole, have been working with Washington lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican.

"Tribes are dependant on federal status and tribal issues are not partisan issues at all."

Cole, who is the only Native American in Congress, also touched on other issues facing Indian County during his 20-minute talk.

"A lot of Native American issues are festering or ripe for movement," he said, such as the Indian Health Care Reauthorization Act, which was approved last year by the Senate, but not by the House.

"That bill will come back again, it is working its way through committee," he said.

Another important issue, Cole explained, is a renewed government focus on 8 (a) contracting, a federal business development program that focuses on minorities.

"We need to really keeping an eye on it, because it could really blow up a lot of investment and a lot of opportunity."

He also touched on a recent the Carcieri v. Salazar Supreme Court decision that ruled the Narragansett tribe in Rhode Island was not a nationally-recognized tribe under the Indian-Reorganization Act of 1934.

As a result this tribe cannot put land into trust, he explained.

"We are going to try to get that fixed, legislatively."

That issue, he said, underscores the importance of tribal government and federal government relations.

"Tribes are dependant on federal status; you are what the Congress wants you to be."

He also stressed the importance of keeping Indian County tax credits as a law. "It’s not a permanent law; it comes up every two years.

It is not a tribal issue, its an Oklahoma issue that encourages jobs in Indian Country," he said.

Cole also mentioned the federal budget for Indian p rograms up 14-15 percent, describing it as "catch-up spending."

The meeting ended with the Congressman answering a few questions from chamber members.

Several Chickasaw citizens and business owners attended the meeting. The American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma’s purpose is to assist American Indian businesses to expand and grow their business. The Chamber actively supports and nurtures well-planned, long-term business opportunities for members by providing organized access to public sector agencies and private industry.

The Chamber also acts as a collective voice for American Indian businesses on important issues.

For more information about the AICCO, log on to

About Tom Cole

Tom Cole, a Chickasaw citizen, has been Representative for Oklahoma’s Fourth Congressional District since November 6, 2002.

He is an advocate for a strong national defense, a defender of the interests of small business and taxpayers, a proponent of education at all levels and a leader on issues dealing with Native Americans and tribal governments.

Cole was appointed to the House Appropriations Committee in 2009. Cole has previously served on the Armed Services Committee, Natural Resources Committee, Rules Committee and Education and Workforce Committee.

Cole serves as a Deputy Whip in the U.S. House. In this role he helps line up the votes needed to pass the legislative agenda of the House Republican Conference. Cole recently served as Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee for two years.

This made him a member of the House GOP Leadership. Cole also serves as Republican Co-Chairman of the Native American Caucus.