The three candidates for Osage Nation Principal Chief took questions from Osage constituents on Feb. 1 during the Osage News Election Debates for the primary election candidates. They responded by sharing snippets of personal and professional experiences to discuss why they are the best candidate for the top Executive Branch position.
Thomas Boone, Margo Gray and Geoffrey Standing Bear’s names will appear on the March 10 primary election ballot and the two candidates who earn the highest number of votes will appear on the June 2 general election ballot.
This is the third election year of candidate debates sponsored by the Osage News and the first time the newspaper held the event in Hominy at the Co-op building on Main Street. As in previous years, volunteers from the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Tulsa moderated the event by posing the candidate questions and keeping track of time limits for candidate responses, rebuttals and statements. The volunteers also held drawings to determine the order in which each candidate would respond, rebut or give statements.
Each candidate was allowed two minutes to make opening and closing statements.
Gray, an entrepreneur and businesswoman, said Hominy is significant to her because she started working as the first female Hominy police officer just over 30 years ago. “I took an oath to serve and protect. Many of you may have remembered when I was in law enforcement here. It was a first for a woman… But it means something to serve and protect and I take that very seriously, so to come back and 31 years later I’m still coming back and asking to do that for our Osage people,” Gray said.
This is Gray’s second run at ON tribal office. In 2010, she ran for a seat on the Second ON Congress.
Boone is making his inaugural run for ON tribal office this year. He’s an oilfield worker who also serves on the Pawhuska School Board.
“I have given my life for the betterment of the people – elderly and children – and I have plans for our Nation to move ahead,” Boone said. “I stand for housing, health care, elderly, children and economic development. I’m a firm supporter in the 1906 Act... I will have an open-door policy and my staff will not be my family and my staff will all be held accountable – there will be good, honest people surrounding me.”
Standing Bear, who has his own law practice in Bartlesville and Pawhuska, served with the second and third ON Congressional bodies after being elected in 2010 with his four-year term ending this year. He previously served as Assistant Principal Chief in the 1990s under the former Osage government and this is his first run for ON Principal Chief.
“Our new government is learning a lot about accountability,” Standing Bear said. “We have another dimension, which is the operators of million-dollar businesses. Much of that business is in the Indian gaming where we employ over 1,000 people and presently we turn over $70 million in net profit. This income is highly dependent on our compact with the state of Oklahoma, which is set to expire in a few years and negotiations begin now. Oklahoma has already given us notice they would like a larger share of our profit… In the same bang, Oklahoma has given us notice that they claim our water and our Minerals Estate… If they control our Minerals Estate and water, they will have the ability to issue permits for our oil and natural gas production – I will fight that.”
Questions from the Osage public
This year, the Osage News took candidate questions from the Osage citizenry who submitted questions to the newspaper via phone, email, Facebook and in-person. Those questions were printed on pieces of paper, placed into a clear plastic bin and were randomly drawn by the LWV volunteers. Each candidate was allowed three minutes to respond and a one-minute rebuttal after all candidates responded.
No. 1: “Through 2012 the Osage LLC has lost 11.5 million dollars of our gaming profits. Because of the “Wall of Secrecy” built around it, the Osage people have never been told details of these losses. We only know the gross amounts of their unbelievable misuse of our assets. Would you as Chief, sign a bill authorizing a forensic audit to see if any of our money could be recovered?” – Jim Ryan of San Antonio, Texas
Standing Bear, a public critic of the LLC’s performance, investments and operations, wrote a 2012 ON Congressional bill to dissolve the LLC, which failed to get the necessary number of votes. In his response to the question, Standing Bear said he was informed recently by an LLC board member that reevaluation of the LLC will lower the value even more.
“The Osage Nation Congress and Chief have provided $19.1 million in cash to this entity and millions of dollars in property,” said Standing Bear, who also noted “three Osages have been employed (by the LLC) since the time I asked the Congress to dissolve it and take the bad assets and put them aside, take the good assets and run them correctly. Since that failure of the (dissolution) vote, $4.5 million has been lost additionally. One Osage told me a month ago ‘With that money, we could’ve built 191 elderly housing units at $100,000 each.’ The idea for diversification for our economy is great, but we can’t just take money, give it to non-Osages and trust they’re going to take care of us – they don’t. We’ve been the targets of getting taken advantage of for way too long. I intend to work with good people who have the sense to know what to do in business and not to hand out contracts to friends and give companies unsecured loans so that money can walk out the door – where will it go? Yes, I’m for a forensic audit, but more importantly I would like to see a super board put together to consolidate not only Osage LLC, but the other boards that have millions of dollars of our assets – into one board, into one coordinated economic strategy.”
Gray responded: “The way the LLC was formed and when you staff it, you staff with quality, you staff with someone who knows leadership, how to do business. I don’t believe we did that at the get-go, I don’t believe we had the right person at the helm and if this went on and our government knew for years that this was losing money, at some point you got to know when to stop the bleeding … It takes leadership to put the right people, the right board together, to be able to do due diligence … diversifying our business into solid investments and knowing when to pull the trigger on business. I will say this one thing for our Congress: We have passed some solid laws to do business. We’ve got the foundation already in place. If something’s not working, you back up, you don’t dissolve it completely and say ‘no, this is bad.’ Let’s look at it again – and about the forensic audit? I know what the forensic audit will do, but there needs to be some type of auditing in place all the way through.”
Boone said: “Under my plan, this is what I would do personally. First, I would get them back in our jurisdictional boundaries, then I would support an audit because we have to know what we have and where we’re at before we can do anything else. In my plan we’re going to get key people in these areas that know business, not the ones that just want to be in business, we want proven leadership. It’s nice to be in business or want to be in business, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, you have no business being in it. In my plan we’re going to put key people in these areas so we can thrive as a Nation. You know gaming’s been good to us, but at some point gaming’s going to besaturated and we are not going to have any money. When we get too saturated, we need to diversify, so we can use the LLC to help get different businesses in ... There’s two gas stations in Hominy that aren’t owned by Osages. They’re all owned by outside people. If we had those two gas stations, how much would that generate for us? We need to think outside the box and start looking at things here… that we can buy, take care of that will make money for us. There’s another gas station in Pawhuska: it makes over $30,000 a day but yet we’re not using that, we’re not selling the gasoline out of it, not selling the water, we’re not even selling the chips out of it. We’re missing these opportunities and we need to start.”
In rebuttal, Standing Bear said, “what we need are specific plans,” and added that dissolution of a company in a proper way, “is not a big deal and you take the toxic assets and you place them in one entity or leave them where it is and you take the good assets and put them under proper management.”
Gray said, “It always starts with a plan … we’ve already set a foundation,” adding she also agrees the LLC should be closer to Osage jurisdiction. “When we can’t see what’s going on, that’s when the shadow of doubt comes on. But I believe we have something we can build upon.”
Boone said the Nation needs to get behind successful people in order to diversify businesses, noting he’s aware of a successful oil professional in Hominy. “We need to get behind those types of people that know business, that has a proven model that we can use and get with them to help employ our Osage people.”
No. 2 “Do you intend to clean up these revelations (discovered) during the Removal Trial of Chief Red Eagle; Over 200 employees falsifying their time sheets and poor attendance on the job; Nonexistent job skills but being hired anyway?” – Annette Gore of Aurora, Colo.
Standing Bear said, “Yes, but how do you do that and be fair?” and also added he is unsure where the “200” number came from. That number was raised when former Chief Red Eagle testified at his removal trial that 200 people submitted timesheets to be paid for hours they did not work.
Standing Bear then said – in his own opinion – one of the Nation’s biggest problems is the Human Resources Department. “There are so many reports of Osages not being able to get an interview. When we have an Osage preference law that I sponsored and got passed – can’t even get an interview. Our HR Department is responsible and the front line for monitoring and enforcing and working with us all in keeping a coherent fair system. This failed miserably. Yes, there are people that don’t show up for work, that is well known at the Osage and the tragedy of it is it’s cutting into our services, wasting our money and really discouraging those people who do show up for work, which I believe are the majority of employees … A lot of people have left Osage because it’s an unfair system … I believe in putting in a more modern system and all you got to do is put in a system that’s fair and it’ll take care of itself.”
Gray referred back to “leadership” in her response. “Being the Chief or being the CEO of a company or being the president of a company, you set the example across the board. When they see you motivated, they’re going to be motivated. When you empower your people, that is when people become productive, but when they’re scared, they’ve been using tactics of ‘nobody cares about us,’ ‘we’re the pawns in the middle of everything,’ you’re not going to get the hope of a better day. You come in and you’re just hoping you make it through the day because someone might be coming in to scare you, to fire you, threaten you. I’ve heard a lot of this – I heard about it even before I was running. You’ve got to give them the tools, the skills, the knowledge and everything they can do in order to be the best that they can be.”
Using ON government department as examples, Gray said employee cannot do their jobs without the proper equipment but stated she believes in them and they are the tribe’s “best assets … We empower our people to believe in ourselves. When they’re beat down, they do not perform – that goes without saying. But I believe in our people and I believe that we have better days ahead. And I believe if we get a right system with our HR it should function at the best and top performance, but we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the right HR so it can function and they have the right tools.”
Boone recalled his first few days after being elected to the Pawhuska School Board. “I went around to all the employees – superintendent, principals, school teachers, even the janitors – and I told them this: ‘What you’ve done in the past is in the past, we’re going to start with a clean slate. Here’s what we’re going to do. I want you to hold me accountable and I will hold you accountable.’ I own my own small business … I support my employees, I support the Nation’s employees. I’m going to show up to work every day Monday through Friday 8-4:30 and I will be there and I expect the employees to be there as well.”
If elected, Boone also said: “We need to train our employees because a better trained workforce helps everybody out. You know you have to show up to get trained. I want the best people here so we can get better services to our elderly people, because sooner or later we’re all going to be there. And our children – we need our teachers there because our Head Start teachers, our daycare workers, they are making the difference in their lives each day. I want everyone to be held accountable and I will be held accountable.”
In his rebuttal time, Standing Bear said he will close his law practice if elected. He also added he is used to working 40-60 hours each week noting, “we need to contribute,” in everyday life, “and I expect that from people who work for me. I’m not going to ask anyone who works for me to not do anything I wouldn’t do myself. I want to be fair.”
Gray said she also believes the Nation’s employees need to be held accountable and said training and listening to what they have to say are also important, “because there’s a problem there and we’ll work it out together. Because we need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder – they’re our best resource.”
Boone also said he’s used to working long hours as an oilman with 60-80 hour days and said, if elected, “my employees, as well as my staff, is going to work hard for their money and they’re going to get rewarded for it. If they happen to see something wrong in the system, if they want to come talk to me … they will be able to come talk to me so we can improve the program and the Nation.”
No. 3 “What qualifications and skills do you bring to the Chief position?” – Candy Thomas of Pawhuska
Standing Bear said he served four years as Assistant Principal Chief starting in 1990 under the 1906 tribal government in addition to his ON Congressional service for four years. “It’s been a really interesting ride to see the difference and growth of our people and the conflict that still is with us to the relationship between the headright interest and our government. My wife and I both have been headright holders since we were in our early 20s and I was raised in the headright system, I understand that and it needs to be protected … It’s impossible to redistribute the Minerals Estate, I’ve heard that, but as an attorney, I understand how that works and I’ve done hundreds of Osage probates using the federal law that’s there.”
As an attorney with 30-plus years of experience, Standing Bear said he’s worked with various tribes including the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, served as legal counsel to the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association. “I know where they’ve been – I know the good and the bad … Working with other tribes, I’ve seen what diversity can do if we all come together for a common goal. That common goal is to go forward and survive as one Nation.”
Boone said he brings a “hard working” ethic in seeking office. “I’m honest and I’ll always be transparent. I’m going to do what’s best for the whole Nation – not just one family, not for myself, not for my immediate family, but for everyone. I’m going to be the same person today that I was yesterday and I’m going to be tomorrow. You know what? It doesn’t matter where we’re at, if you have a need, if you have a problem or a question you want to express to me, I’m always open for that. If I’m in a restaurant with my family eating dinner, I’ll always make time for that. I’ve done that not only on the school board, but for church and with you first … My life has proven I’m going to do what’s right for everyone.”
In her response, Gray said she spent 17 years in law enforcement and 17 years in business where she’s seen the, “highs and lows in business. I’ve also worked in the nonprofit world.” Gray said she’s severed on several boards on the local, state and national levels including her recent appointment to the Big Brothers Big Sisters National Board of Directors. Gray said people do not get to positions like the Big Brothers Big Sisters board, “by not working, by not having those skill sets, not connecting with the people and being compassionate for our children ... I’ve also been in business for the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development … I’ve been a champion for businesses and receive many accolades for that. The experience is having the board experience and the leadership to make decisions.”
During rebuttal time, Standing Bear held up a small booklet copy of the Osage Constitution and referred to the Executive Branch section regarding, “Supreme Executive Power.” He said, “that doesn’t mean you’re all powerful, that means you are ultimately responsible for executing the laws of the Nation and our past two chiefs did not understand that … The Chief and Assistant Chief serve the Nation, they are not above the law, they are the most responsible for carrying it out … So I’m going to work with our Congress and I am going ask them to assist in revamping our health systems … let’s do something about our elderly housing, that is the Congress and Chief working together.”
Boone said he brings experience in working in the education field and noted he is one of the members of a Pawhuska school board predominately occupied by Osage citizens who are dealing with annual budgets that shrink with less state money coming in every year. “I can deal with the tough issues and tough times, but the one thing I want to do mainly is I want to bring our Osage people back together.”
Gray said another area of experience she has is, “listening to the people and what they want. We have a three-branch government, we have our executive, our legislative, our judicial but the missing point in all of this has been you – You who sit out there. Many times we wait for our government to come with us or come to us, reach out. But I believe in asking for you all to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us as we move forward. The skill I have is bringing people together.”
No. 4 What do you consider the single most pressing issue facing the Osage Nation and what would you like to see done about it? – Elizabeth Homer of Alexandria, Va.
Gray said she also believes the first pressing issue is “unifying our Nation” noting that working separately, fractionating, non-communication as well as, “hating, tearing each other down has no place, not culturally. It benefits no one, but coming together, that’s what we need to do … As we start getting ready for those dances, that movement of In-Lon-Schka is already starting, that movement of having those breakfasts, taking care of those mourners. We’re coming up in that season where we have spring meetings and then we know we go into our dances … Those are beautiful ways that we have. The men know what they need to do, the women know what they need to do from each district. When we come together for those sparkling 12 days in June, we are one … We have beautiful ways but we have to apply them to our everyday life.”
Boone said he believes, “the single most important issue among our tribe is education. Without education, I couldn’t be an oilman. Without education, people couldn’t be doctors, couldn’t be lawyers, couldn’t be whatever they choose to be. I think we need to spend more time on education so our young people can be empowered to live better lives … Without education you can’t move forward.”
Standing Bear said, “accountability, fiscal responsibility – those are important. The No. 1 threat is the threat to our Nation right now from the state of Oklahoma (and) other interests … It is very clear to me that we are under attack. For those of you that don’t know, Oklahoma has filed a claim against our Minerals Estate and that occurred as a result of a very poorly handled case in the federal courts called Osage Nation v. Irby (the reservation status case which the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear in 2011) and in that case, the 10th Circuit (Court of Appeals) said the Osage Nation Reservation was disestablished … The target is our water and we can’t do oil and natural gas production without water. Secondly you may have noticed, I voted against our tobacco compact – that compact has clauses in it giving Oklahoma jurisdiction over our lands… That is not acceptable … We’re under attack, we need all the talent we can to get through this – that’s the biggest issue I see coming.”
In rebuttal, Gray said there are unknowns regarding oil and gas production because the Nation has never invested in internet broadband technology that we need to be on a level playing field … We have only so much access to the internet and the reason I say that is if you don’t have high-speed internet, you can’t even do business… It makes a difference how you take care of your business, it makes a difference how you take care of you Nation.”
Boone said he’s a strong believer in the 1906 Act and believes the water belongs to the Minerals Estate. He then said “I’m not a firm believer in compacting with the (Bureau of Indian Affairs) … I will do whatever I can to make sure the tribe has all that they need.”
Standing Bear noted the Nation is not eligible for compacting with the BIA due to a fraud finding last year in an audit. Standing Bear also said he has experience in working with attorneys and consultants and he would handle billing issues, if elected. “We’ve been easy pickings for them, when they come for appropriations, I’m the one always asking for the bill – I want to see the timesheets … When these lawyers get together, there’s no need to have five lawyers together having lunch and billing us at $250-$300 or higher an hour. I can control that madness. These guys respect me I was selected by my peers as a top Indian lawyer in Oklahoma for 2013, they know who I am, I can control them.”
No. 5 What will be your policy on attending the (Osage) Mineral Council meetings? – Patricia Spurrier Bright of Pawhuska
Gray, who is also a shareholder, said she attended a meeting recently and said: “Again when you talk about not having unification in a room, when you talk about not being on the same page, when we have issues that are water issues or the attack on our Minerals Estate, we need to be connecting with the Minerals Council and understanding exactly what it is they need from this office and how to connect with you.” She also added: “We don’t need to be crossing any lines, everyone needs to stay in their lane, but respecting the roles and understanding that you’re independent … But where we meet together to be a united force is on this issue right here that has to do with the attack on the Minerals Estate. And as we’re moving forward, I am in favor of us looking at other ways we could work together … We need to look together under our LLC – how can we form these businesses to where we get a part of it? If elected, I would definitely be over there to be a part, to listen and tell me where I can help.”
Standing Bear said, “I would attend where there’s a role for the Chief … I would support the Minerals Council’s wishes – I know many of them very well, I think they’d expect that from me. Standing Bear also said: “To my surprise when I sponsored a bill to assist in the eagle (kill permit) fight with attorney fees, it was not accepted by the Minerals Council and there was a belief that somehow if the Osage Nation provided money for that fight, it would somehow come with strings attached. I don’t understand that concept… I’d rather see that money come from our gaming than from my headright … I’d like to see that money used somewhere else besides attorney fees.”
Boone repeated that he’s a firm believer in the 1906 Act. “I will visit there if they want me to, but they take care of the Minerals Estate and the minerals business. I’ve always believed in that … The Minerals Council has qualified people there, elected people that can look over and take care of the business of the Minerals Estate and if they need me, I will be glad to help.”
During rebuttal time, Gray said she views the Chief’s attendance at the Minerals Council meetings as more than sitting there, but to really, “sit down at the table with them because this affects so many of us. There’s opportunities for us to work together more so than there ever has been before.”
Standing Bear said a quote on costs for litigation and lobbying costs for the battle to protect the Minerals Estate interests, “and I can only tell you it exceeds a million dollars for sure and that’s all the Minerals Council has … Somewhere along here we’re going to have to get the Nation and the Minerals Council together and I believe that moment is coming fairly soon … The role of the Chief is to go ahead and assist the Minerals Council and execute the laws. The unity in the government and the Minerals Council and the Congress is the first and foremost step that has to be taken.”
Boone said, “If they need my help, I’ll be more than happy to help, I’m not going to go over there and tell them ‘you’re going to do it this way, and this way, I’m not that way. They have qualified people, intelligent people that can take care of that part.”
After the debate, each candidate was allowed two minutes for closing statements.
Standing Bear said, “In the four years of serving on your Osage Congress, I have learned that consensus and cooperation is the way to move forward. When I first went in there, we had 12 people and 12 different views. Some of the personalities in that Congress are very strong. You learn quickly the only way to move things forward, you have to have a majority – and to really move things forward, you need two-thirds, so you’ve got to learn to compromise... You learn how to do that and it’s been a really wonderful experience so that’s something I want to carry forward if you elect me as your Chief.”
Gray used her closing time to acknowledge the out-of-state Osage voters, “For too long you’ve been left out of the loop of what’s going on here. For too long you’ve not known really what it means to be back here and live amongst our Osage people that are here … What I want to see is I need to hear from you – what you need? Gray also said she would like to see the Nation build its own healthcare facility and explore universal healthcare and life insurance coverage for Osages.
Boone said he would like the voters to hold him accountable. “I’ve got a plan for education, economic development, housing, elderly … Of course this is a hot topic, but healthcare – we need to start growing our own food. Healthier food equals healthier lives and longer lives – a better lifestyle that will cut down on our health costs ... I have a plan for the needs of our Nation and today I want you all to join up with me so I can execute that plan. And before I go, I want to say one last thing: My name’s Tom Boone and I’m No. 1 on the ballot.”
To view the video of the debate visit the Osage Nation’s website at www.osagetribe.co.