Government , Minerals Council , Legal

Conflicting views over recent OMC draft resolution and letter to BIA

The question of who does the Osage Mineral Estate belong to is a question that’s been asked repeatedly since 2006.

And according to a draft resolution and letter from the Third Osage Minerals Council to the BIA Osage Agency Superintendent Robin Phillips, the question is being asked again.

The minerals council is asking Phillips for a specific explanation of the BIA’s legal reasoning, rationale and authority for the transfer of trust assets to the Osage Nation that include the mineral estate, trust property (Osage villages) and headrights, specifically those given back to the tribe for educational purposes, and why the BIA recognized the transfer.

Osage Minerals Council Chairman Everett Waller said he was not allowed to discuss the draft resolution or letter.  

Osage Minerals Councilwoman Cynthia Boone said the council wants to know exactly where their trust property is.

“We just want to have an updated list of our property, what are our assets. That’s all we’re asking the bureau for,” Boone said.

Councilman Talee RedCorn had a different reason. He said at the last Environmental Impact Statement scoping meeting, the word “Nation” was left off of brochures by the BIA and he wanted to know why.

“We as a minerals council are seeking clarification … I asked their attorney present why the word ‘Nation’ was left off the material and he didn’t give me a straight answer as to why, but made a gesture, at least to me, on whose assets they were trying to protect, the Osage headright holders or the Osage Nation,” RedCorn said. “That’s what prompted our query – what’s going on here with our trust assets. So we sent a letter to our attorney and requested a recommendation.”

Draft resolution and letter

Whether the word “Nation” was left off brochures or whether a list of trust property is being requested, that’s not what the resolution and letter say.  

The letter talks about the “conveyance” of land, or the transfer of land, to the Osage Nation and whether or not the Osage Minerals Estate should be under the Osage Nation. It talks about the “violation” of the 1906 Act. It says the Osage Nation has “hindered” the minerals council’s ability to serve headright holders.

According to the letter: “The Osage Nation has consistently exercised and/or claimed authority over these trust assets, especially the Osage Mineral Estate, in violation of the 1906 Act. The 1906 Act specifically states that ‘the oil, gas, coal, or other minerals covered by the lands for the selection and division of which provision herein made are hereby reserved to the Osage [T]ribe…’ 34 Stat. 543.”

The minerals council references Public Law 95-496, an amendment to the 1906 Act passed by the 95th U.S. Congress in 1978. The amendment extends the ownership of the minerals estate to the Osage Tribe “in perpetuity,” meaning forever or permanently.

The council references a second amendment to the 1906 Act from 1984, Public Law 98-605, passed by the 98th U.S. Congress. The act defined mineral estate to mean “any right, title, or interest in any oil, gas, coal, or other mineral held by the United States in trust for the benefit of the Osage Indian Tribe under section 3 of the 1906 Act.”

These are all arguments made to suggest the mineral estate doesn’t belong to the Osage Nation.

When asked if that was the minerals council’s intent, Boone said they are simply seeking a list of trust assets.

Inherent Sovereignty

In 2004 the 108th U.S. Congress passed Public Law 108-431, an act to reaffirm the inherent sovereign rights of the Osage Tribe to determine its membership and form of government. This act is what allowed the 31st Osage Tribal Council to form the Osage Nation, its Constitution, and to allow lineal descendants of individuals on the 1906 roll to be registered as members regardless of whether or not they owned a headright share.

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, who was also an assistant principal chief under the old form of government, the Osage Tribal Council, said when the tribe held the 2006 referendum vote and the Constitution became law, the mineral estate was included. There was no transfer because the Osage Tribe and the Osage Nation are the same entity. He said the BIA recognizes the Osage Nation as a federally recognized tribe and has done so since 2006.

“The tribe’s foundation is not just the 1906 Act, it’s the treaties with the Great and Little Osage with the United States. If you say that the Osage government is nothing more than a creation of the federal government, then we don’t have any independent sovereignty, that means we wouldn’t have gaming,” Standing Bear said.

He said the minerals council has not consulted him on the subject of trust assets, even though there is a provision in the Constitution for his role with the minerals council.

“When I met U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, when she met with tribal leaders about a year-and-a-half-ago in Oklahoma City, she said to us the big danger to Indian tribes is that there are people in the federal government who believe sovereignty comes from the U.S. Congress instead of treaties. She said that is an extremely dangerous view for all tribes,” he said. “As a headright owner, I want to know how much of our money they’re spending [the minerals council] to get these kinds of opinions. I think that’s the big question.”