Joe Dorman’s career at the Oklahoma State Capitol didn’t start by winning an election. Instead, it started in the capitol building as a mail clerk. The Oklahoma State University alumnus would eventually run for office in his hometown of Rush Springs, where he served as state representative for House District 65 from 2002-2014. This district includes portions of the Chickasaw Nation and the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache tribal jurisdictions. On June 26, 2010, Dorman represented the governor’s office by reading the proclamation for “Indians for Indians Day,” which celebrated the 70th anniversary of the southwest Oklahoma Native American radio program.
In May 2013, Dorman began a statewide campaign to bring storm shelters in all Oklahoma schools as a result of the most recent tornado devastation in Moore, Oklahoma. By the end of 2013, Dorman announced his plan to run for the Governor’s Office in Oklahoma City.
With a campaign that has included all 77 Oklahoma counties, Dorman has also made a strong effort to include Indian country as part of this campaign by visiting with tribal leaders and attending events such as Cherokee National Holidays, Comanche Nation Fair and the Kiowa Black Leggings Ceremonial. At the time of Dorman’s interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, Dorman had visited at least 20 of Oklahoma’s 39 federally recognized tribes. As part of this interview, Dorman unveiled his plan to complete the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City, which has been in construction since 2006 with stalled funding for completion.
Upon being elected, how would your office as governor show respect for tribal sovereignty?
I think my campaign has been unique in state history, as I’ve tried to reach out to each of the individual sovereign nations. I have made an aggressive attempt to sit down and visit with individual nations to learn more about their culture. Each culture is different in each of the 39 sovereign nations. As governor, I want to recognize each of those nations by having my own cabinet-level secretary position to deal with outreach to the nations.
What would be the responsibilities of a cabinet-level secretary of Indian Affairs?
Their responsibilities would be to maintain contact with the tribal leadership—that’s not just the head of the nations but also the council members—and have an active role in reaching out to the different nations, learning about their concerns, finding ways to address those issues, and working in partnership to build up that portion of Oklahoma. We’ve got to work together and build up the infrastructure, deal with economic development issues, and deal with healthcare concerns.
Governor Mary Fallin’s administration has shown adversity toward Native issues, whether it is water rights, the Indian Child Welfare Act or having Dusten Brown extradicted. How would your administration change these positions taken by Fallin?
First and foremost, we need to protect our citizens. I certainly would have handled the situation differently [with Cherokee Nation member Dusten Brown]. We must provide the opportunity for our citizens to have fairness in the system. I was very disappointed with the Baby Veronica case.
We have to sit down and discuss each of the issues that are a part of the compact agreements that we will have to negotiate through my term of office. I want to have a clear understanding. I want to make sure all sides are represented and negotiate as a matter of fairness and come up with the right answer that will best benefit all of our citizens.
You’ve had a chance to reach out to Indian country, whether it’s Cherokee National Holidays, Comanche Nation Fair or the Kiowa Black Leggings Ceremonial. What have you learned so far, Joe?
It’s been an eye-opening experience. I certainly want to find a way to increase that exposure to the citizens of our state. Most Oklahomans are not aware of the rich culture—the beauty of these holidays, ceremonies and the different events in Indian country. I certainly want to try and expand that where there is a greater understanding. It should no longer be a hidden secret.
With the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in various phases of completion, how can the state under your guidance complete this museum?
I want to sit down with the different nations and work into the compacts a way to take an additional percentage—if we can negotiate additional revenue—where that revenue upfront would go to finish the construction of the cultural center. It won’t come out of the state budget. It would not have to come out of private dollars. I want a good faith effort to show that we can commit the money from a newly negotiated compact that could go over a period of time to finish the cultural center. They would have that guarantee from my administration.
After that completion, I would like for that percentage of the revenue to directly go to education programs such as a teacher pay raise and funds to go for a per-pupil increase in allocation where it will help all Oklahomans as we try and provide greater opportunities. We’re seeing a crisis with our education system, and I see this as a way we can provide additional revenue to help out Oklahomans. The Nations would know completely where their revenue would be going.
Usually in April of each year, there’s some conflict in Oklahoma Native educational circles in regards to Land Run re-enactments. How could public schools under your administration show a more balanced approach for both Native and non-Native educational viewpoints?
I certainly want to provide an accurate telling of history. I feel that we must educate our young Oklahomans about what happened with the state, how the state was settled, and the trials and tribulations that were faced by many residents before the Land Run. We’ve got to do a better job of telling history accurately.
There’s been a growing movement of cities and states with significant Native populations to rename “Columbus Day” to World Indigenous Day, American Indian Day or Indigenous Peoples Day. Do you think Oklahoma has the possibility of moving in this direction?
I would certainly love to see a specific day designated recognizing a rich culture with the tribal nations. I do believe we must do a better job of telling that tale to Oklahomans. I remember back to my day of Oklahoma history in high school. Very little was told about Oklahoma history pre-statehood. I think we must do a better job of educating our young Oklahomans so they will have a greater understanding. I certainly think a holiday would be a wonderful way to provide that opportunity.
A lot of Oklahoma high schools have various names for Indian mascots. How, in this state, whether it’s Tulsa Union or your hometown of Rush Springs [both use the team name of “Redskins”], how can we create more change on this issue?
Being raised in Rush Springs, that was our mascot from the very first day. I was not aware, as a young person, that it was an offensive team. Only as I got older and really, only when I got into college, did I realize that was a term that was derogatory. That goes back to education. We must do a better job of educating people. You have to be aware of those terms and they can be offensive. We need to work with those different areas to avoid any issues where there are offensive terms that are used in any element—sporting names and cultural events.