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Oklahoma names special counsel for Native American affairs


Kevin Stitt, the Governor of Oklahoma, has appointed attorney Ryan Leonard as special counsel for Native American affairs in the state.

In the role, Leonard will assist the governor and his administration on issues arising from the US Supreme Court’s decision in the McGirt v. Oklahoma case, a landmark ruling issued in July this year stating much of the eastern portion of the state of Oklahoma remains as Native American lands

“The recent McGirt decision creates uncertainty and raises previously uncontemplated jurisdictional issues for the State of Oklahoma,” said Governor Stitt.

“Ryan Leonard is an experienced legal advocate and will be an important part of our team as we work collaboratively with our federal, tribal and state partners to provide an environment of fairness, clarity and unity for all Oklahomans.”

Leonard is currently a private practice attorney in Oklahoma City with law firm Edinger, Leonard & Blakely, PLLC. He previously served as a state prosecutor in Canadian County and spent four years as a legislative assistant to former US Senator Don Nickles in Washington, D.C., as his chief aide on Native American affairs.

He commented: “I am excited to assist Governor Stitt in this important role. I look forward to working with all interested parties, including Oklahoma’s tribal partners, as we work toward a positive future for all Oklahomans.”

Following a dispute over whether tribal gaming compacts had automatically renewed in January this year, the US District Court for Western Oklahoma ruled in favor of the tribes’ interpretation of the contracts in July, stating that the contracts had renewed automatically for a further 15 years.

Governor Stitt, however, claimed that the compacts had come to an end and would have to be renegotiated. In October, while expressing displeasure at the ruling, he did not appeal against the ruling.

He described this situation, together with the ruling in the McGirt case, as raising a number of challenges for the state’s gambling market moving forward.

“For Oklahoma to become a Top Ten state, we must work together to find solutions that respect the unique relationship between the State of Oklahoma and its tribal citizens and that provide certainty and fairness for all Oklahomans,” he said.