As the Cherokee Nation seeks to elect a new chief, the growth of the poultry industry in Northeastern Oklahoma is among the issues.

The candidates for principal chief are Chuck Hoskin Jr., Vinita; Dick Lay, Ochelata; and David Walkingstick, Tahlequah. Current Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker cannot run for re-election.

During a debate held on April 16 at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, the candidates discussed environmental concerns created by the addition of poultry houses in Delaware and Adair counties.

Walkingstick noted that there are fears that poultry farms can use so much water that the supply is reduced and that the farms could contaminate the existing supply, according to a report on the Grand Lake News website.

“Water is our life supply; water is medicine,” he said.

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Walkingstick further stated that he would like to see the Cherokee Nation sue the companies for which the poultry houses are being built.

Lay, however, said, “You can’t sue everybody,” and suggested that the Cherokees work with the state, which passed rules in February establishing setbacks and stricter guidelines for poultry houses. The setback rules were approved by the Oklahoma State Board of Agriculture by a 3-2 vote.

The Cherokee Nation and the state worked together in 2018 to form a Coordinating Council on Poultry Growth. Several weeks after the coordinating council formed, the Oklahoma State Board of Agriculture placed a temporary moratorium on new registrations for poultry feeding operations. Hoskin worked on that moratorium, which was never intended to be permanent.

Since the time the coordinating council was established, Oklahoma has elected a new governor and a new state agriculture secretary has been appointed. Kevin Stitt has succeeded Mary Fallin as the governor of the Sooner State, while former Oklahoma 4-H Foundation executive director Blayne Arthur replaced Jim Reese as the secretary of agriculture.