TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Cherokee Nation Tribal Council members during a Resource Committee meeting Monday discussed the tribe's Hunting and Fishing Compact extension with the state and a potential new program to locate and preserve unmarked Cherokee graves.

In the midst of a legal dispute with Gov. Kevin Stitt over the state gaming compact, the Nation was hoping for a long-term compact extension with Oklahoma to allow more access for hunting and fishing to its citizens, according to CN Secretary of Natural Resources Chad Harsha. But talks broke down.

"Those conversations didn't make it very far, and I don't believe that's the fault of the government agencies we work with," he said. "The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, they see the value of this program, and it's just an unattended consequence of the current environment of things, but we did get there."

In renewing the compact, the tribe did reportedly receive assurance that the two entities would meet once a month to discuss a long-term compact and find common ground. Harsha said there is a "slight difference" in the new one-year extension that differs from the previous agreement.

"What they have agreed to do is give us what I call a universal license, meaning it can be used for any manner of take under the state regulations, back limits, and season dates," said Harsha. "So that tag can be used for archery doe, archery buck, deer gun/rifle. It can be used for any tag that you could otherwise get for any type of deer."

District 9 Councilor Mike Shambaugh commended Harsha on the compact extension. He said he would like to see Cherokees be allowed to take two deer - a buck and a doe - in future agreements with the state.

At-Large Councilor Mary Baker Shaw asked if there was any chance at-large citizens would be included in hunting and fishing licenses in the future. Harsha said the request was part of the conversation he's been having with the state.

"I will say that has been one of the points the state has been most reluctant for reasons outside of our arrangement with them," he said. "There are other factors they've been dealing with for decades that make that complicated, particularly for them."

In December, District 13 Councilor Joe Deere suggested the tribe create a program to preserve unmarked Cherokee graves. Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. indicated the Cemetery Preservation Assistance budget is typically underspent, and that the administration would support a pilot project with unused dollars.

Deere said Monday that he's been working with Harsha and other councilors to determine how the tribe would go about locating and marking graves. He and other councilors discussed using the book series, "Our People and Where They Rest," while also using ground-penetrating radar to help verify unmarked graves of Cherokees.

District 15 Councilor Janees Taylor asked if it was a matter of not having more than one certified operator of the GPR equipment.

"We're working with the people who do the certification with that, because we do have that unit," said Deere. "It's not a huge piece of the puzzle to get people certified."

What's next

Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilors will meet for the next resource committee Feb. 10, 2 p.m., at the CN W.W. Keeler Complex.

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