Government , Legal

Nation files application to put 43,000-acre ranch into trust

After months of hard work by the Nation’s Tribal Development and Land Acquisition department, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear signed the final documents to complete the fee-to-trust application for the newly purchased 43,000-acre Bluestem Ranch.

“Once put into trust, it cannot be sold, burdened with legal, financial obligations unless approved by the United States by trust standards,” Standing Bear said. “This way, I feel this land is safe from the activities of this generation and will be preserved for the next, and the next generation thereafter.”

Standing Bear signed the application on June 20. He hopes for a swift process, barring no objections to the application. He hopes the application will be approved by the end of the year.

Putting land into trust is when the title of the land is transferred to the United States to keep in trust for the benefit of a federally-recognized tribe. Once in trust, only federal and tribal jurisdiction will govern over the land instead of the state. Standing Bear said, “it is a reversal of the taking of the tribe’s reservation.”

Local, state and federal regulatory entities will be notified of the tribe’s fee-to-trust application and will have 30 days to protest. Historically, said Standing Bear, the Osage County Assessor’s office has objected to fee-to-trust applications because once approved they will no longer be able to tax the property. He said the tax on the ranch is approximately $30,000 a year, a low number.

“We contribute and will continue to contribute to the county,” Standing Bear said. “We’ll be able to create more wealth than anyone once this process is complete.”

Currently, the Nation governs small areas in the county, mainly the Osage Indian Villages in Grayhorse, Hominy and Pawhuska. Less than 500 people live on the Nation’s trust land, Standing Bear said.

Helping with the fee-to-trust process is Melissa Currey, former Osage Agency Superintendent and now TDLA employee. Standing Bear said with her unique insight and years of BIA experience, she has helped make the fee-to-trust process run smoothly and efficiently.

Currey said the TDLA department has been in constant contact with all federal agencies involved in the complicated fee-to-trust process. Surveyors, BIA employees, environmental firms, employees with Turner Enterprises, Osage Nation employees, have been involved in completing the site assessment (completed in May), legal descriptions, mapping of the property, locating the numerous oil and gas leases on the property, locating easements and right of ways on the property, she said. 

"I am happy to say that they didn't find anything detrimental in putting this into trust," Currey said. "And we have reported all of the findings to BIA so they can start cleanup on any ... oil spills."

Currey said the goal of the Obama administration was to put 400,000 acres of land into trust status for Indian Country, “we’ll help them get to that mark.”

Standing Bear said Special Trustee for American Indians, Vince Logan, who is also an Osage tribal member, has helped tremendously in keeping the lines open for communication.

Cobell Land Buy-Back

Standing Bear said a goal of his administration is to buy back as much surface land as possible in Osage County and convert it to trust land. He said that is the only way to get the Nation’s federal reservation status back.

The Nation received $7.4 million from the Cobell Land Buy-Back program, which is currently being implemented by the TDLA department. His staff estimated that to buy back all of the fractionated interest available in Osage County would cost the nation a little over $60 million.