Friction between Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and the Cherokee Nation escalated this week when Stitt claimed the tribe owes the state millions in unpaid turnpike tolls. In a tweet, the governor alleged the Cherokee Nation owes $5 million since May for its citizens using the turnpikes without paying.

The tribe quickly refuted the accusation, saying no agreement on the issue had been reached. This latest quarrel shows the deteriorating relationship between Oklahoma’s governor and one of the largest tribes in the state.

Kevin Stitt Move on Renegotiating The State’s Compact With Native American Tribes

When Kevin Stitt became Oklahoma’s governor in 2019, he vowed to renegotiate the state’s gaming compacts with Native American tribes.

Source: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

However, talks broke down and Stitt took the tribes to federal court last year to press for higher fees. The rancor has now spread to car tags.

The Cherokee Nation Owes The Government Millions

Stitt claims the Cherokee Nation owes $5 million in unpaid tolls since May because the tribe’s compact allows it to issue license plates and register vehicles.

Source: Wikipedia

The problem, Stitt says, is that the Turnpike Authority can’t bill Cherokee drivers who lack a PikePass transponder when they use the turnpikes.

The Cherokee Nation Disputes Governor Stitts Claims

The Cherokee Nation disputes Stitt’s claim. Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the tribe was unaware of any agreement with the state.

Source: X/Kevin Abourezk

The tribe operates its own motor vehicle agency and tax commission under a compact with Oklahoma. About 45,000 Cherokee car tags are issued each year.

PlatePay System Was Installed Without Consulting The Tribe

Hoskin called it “shocking” for Stitt to single out the Cherokee Nation. The tribe says Oklahoma’s cashless tolling system, PlatePay, never consulted tribes and has also had issues collecting tolls from out-of-state drivers.

Source: Facebook/Oklahoma Turnpike Authority

“Thousands of drivers, Native or not, may have never received bills,” said Attorney General Chad Harsha. He said solutions would be easier to find if Stitt preferred cooperation over “political attacks.”

The Cherokee Nation Shares Vehicle Registration Data With State Law Enforcement

Harsha said that the Cherokee Nation shares vehicle registration data with law enforcement statewide. However a bill allowing that data to be shared with the Turnpike Authority for billing tribal drivers stalled in the legislature.

Source: Courtesy Cherokee Nation

The Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, unlike the Cherokee and Muscogee nations, use state motor vehicle agencies.

2 Million Recorded Plates Overtime

Stitt’s spokeswoman said nearly 80,000 Cherokee plates were counted over 2 million times on toll roads, totaling nearly $5 million owed.

Source: The Oklahoman

But without access to registration data, the Turnpike Authority can’t bill Cherokee drivers lacking a PikePass. Both sides agree on the need for a solution but remain far apart on the details and dollars.

Background on Cherokee Nation License Plate Agreement

The Cherokee Nation has had a license plate compact with Oklahoma for over a decade, allowing tribal citizens to get license plates through the tribe rather than the state.


Under the terms of the agreement, the Cherokee Nation collects vehicle registration fees and sales taxes when tribal citizens register their vehicles with the tribe. The tribe then remits a portion of those funds to the state.

How Oklahoma’s Cashless Toll Roads Work

In recent years, Oklahoma transitioned its turnpike system to cashless tolling through a system called PlatePay.

Source: YouTube

Cameras capture images of license plates as vehicles pass through toll plazas, and the registered owners receive bills in the mail for the tolls. For drivers with PikePass transponders, the tolls are deducted automatically from their prepaid PikePass accounts.

Proposed Solution To Share Tribal Data Rejected

A bill was proposed to allow the Department of Public Safety to share tribal vehicle registration data with the Turnpike Authority solely for the purpose of toll billing, but it died in committee.



The tribes have argued that the issues stem from flaws in the PlatePay system itself and that cooperation would be better than the “political attacks” Stitt has leveled at the Cherokee Nation.

A Flawed System

The Cherokee Nation and others argue that the issues stem from Oklahoma’s flawed cashless tolling system, PlatePay, which was implemented without consulting tribes.

Source: Tim Gilbert

Harsha noted that the Cherokee Nation provides vehicle tag information to a law enforcement database used statewide.

Casting Blame on Native Tribes

Some see the governor’s statements as an attempt to cast blame on tribes rather than acknowledge problems with the state’s systems.

Source: LinkedIn

“Thousands of drivers, Native or not, may have never received bills or be aware they owe bills,” Harsha said. Muscogee Nation Secretary Zechariah Harjo pointed out that Oklahoma has also struggled to collect tolls from out-of-state drivers.

Solutions Needed More Than Political Attacks

The ongoing dispute between Governor Stitt and the Cherokee Nation regarding unpaid tolls highlights the need for cooperation over confrontation.

Source: YouTube

Rather than trading barbs on social media, leaders from both sides should come together to find practical solutions.

Consider Alternative Billing Methods

Rather than relying solely on PlatePay to bill drivers after the fact, alternative options could be explored.

Source: YouTube/KOCO 5 News

Another option could be developing a system where tribes collect tolls from their members directly and remit payments to the state.

Both Sides Want The Best For Oklahoma Residents

Although the recent disagreement over unpaid tolls has sparked tension, a spirit of cooperation between the state and tribes would serve Oklahomans best. With open communication and good faith on both sides, solutions can surely be found.

Source: Wikipedia

The governor’s urgency comes from a desire to fund road repairs, while the tribes aim to protect their citizens’ interests. By recognizing their common ground, Oklahoma’s leaders can move forward together. With some creative thinking and willingness to collaborate, a path exists where all parties win.