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Shawnee News Star

Tribal land potential arena for cockfights

Cockfighting on tribal land may be a way around Oklahoma's new law to ban the sport, but a former Shawnee game breeder is skeptical.

Lester Hasbel, a game breeder of more than 40 years, said he heard the Kiowa Tribe was selling licenses to allow Oklahomans to breed and fight gamecocks on tribal land.

Although he believes it is too late for him because he has destroyed most of his birds, he still wonders if the effort is legal.

"I've done destroyed most of my battle chickens," he said noting he had more than 300 birds. "I just didn't want to go to jail."

Mike Turner, a member of the Kiowa Tribe, joined with Texan Bobby Jones three years ago to begin forming an association for cockfighters through the tribe, Jones said.

The Kiowa Nation is a treaty tribe and since they are a sovereign nation, he said, the state and federal governments do not have jurisdiction over their reservation.

Although, both Kiowa chairman Cliff McKinzie and Kiowa vice chairman Hess Bointy said the tribe is not behind the association in its efforts.

"The Kiowa Tribe is not sanctioning cockfighting in any way," Bointy said. "If they want to go out and do it on their own, they're going to get into trouble. We can't seem to make them stop."

McKinzie also said the effort is not licensed by the tribe.

"It is in no way affiliated with the tribe," he said. "My understanding is that it is probably illegal."

Jones said he has spoken with McKinzie and explained their association is not a "scam" and is within tribal laws. He said Turner formed the Animal Husbandry Commission under the nucleus association called the Kiowa Association for the Preservation of Cultural and Rural Lifestyle. Turner then presented the tribe with a preservation resolution that was passed in June 2000 by the tribe and was adopted by the Kiowa Business Committee on Aug. 5, 2000.

The resolution states, "Shall the Kiowa Indian Council preserve our rights for cultural and rural life styles of Kiowa tribal jurisdiction by (a) protection against infringement of state laws and federal laws (b) protection of Kiowa tribal rights in pursuit of cultural and rural activities."

This resolution, Jones said, allows them to offer gamebreeders and cockfighters protection against the state's ban.

"These treaties are going to be able to put a stop to urban America dictating politics in rural America," he said.

Three different attorneys told Bointy the licensing of cockfighting on tribal land would be legal.

"I'm just as confident as I can be about it," he said, adding Turner has done extensive research on the legality of the licensing and said all the bases are covered. "I wouldn't be in on this if I thought we had a chance of loosing in court.

"I have all the faith in the world," he said. "If the attorney general wants to take us to court, then we're ready for them."

He said he understands that Hasbel and others like him are nervous about continuing to breed gamecocks and attend cockfights. The new law makes cockfighting or possessing gamecocks for the purpose of fighting a felony.

"This is new and I can understand some of their reservations," he said. "It's definitely a new situation for anybody who owns chickens. There's no telling how many people destroyed their flocks."

The first cockfighting facility will be opened on Chickasaw land at the Red River Game Club, Jones said, but the association will wait until after the courts have waded through the injunctions throughout the state.

Assistant Attorney General Sherry Todd said there have been requests for temporary restraining orders against the enforcement of the ban in 25 counties. Pottawatomie County is not on that list, she said. Several court cases have been set for hearing on the temporary injunctions.

She appeared at the first court hearing Nov. 18 in Idabel. The court issued the temporary injunction and set the case for a hearing on the merits of whether the new statute is constitutional. That hearing is set for Feb. 24.

"The attorney general's office is taking the position that we believe the Supreme Court or the district court will find the law constitutional," Todd said.

Their office is preparing an application to ask the Supreme Court to consolidate all the cases into one hearing, she said.

"We believe we're going to end up in front of the Supreme Court anyway," Todd said.

Jones said he does not think the injunctions will help the fight and believes their association will become the only chance for the sport to continue.

"The Supreme Court's not going to overturn the will of the people," he said. "Somewhere in the future they (cockfighters) will either have to buy a license or get rid of their chickens."

Hasbel said Oklahoma's economy has already suffered from loosing the sport which generated thousands of dollars spent on feed and supplies.

"I think Oklahoma is already feeling the pinch," he said.

He had $200,000 invested in his gamebreeding business and has the paperwork to prove it, he said.

"It's illegal and I had a hard time biting my tongue, but it's over," Hasbel said.

He kept a few brood stock, but may soon destroy them also because he said he is fearful of the new law.

"Even if they open it back up, it would take me two or three years to get me back up and I'm getting old," Hasbel said.

In a year or two, Jones said, the association hopes to have 10 facilities open around the state and is planning to expand and offer cockfighters protection across the country.