Community , Government , Candidates

Assistant Principal Chief candidates share qualifications, debate education, economic development and water rights

Photo Caption: Assistant Principal Chief Raymond Red Corn (left) and Osage Congressman Otto Hamilton debate on current events at the 2018 Osage News Candidate Debates on Feb. 17 at the Osage Casino in Skiatook. CHALENE TOEHAY-TARTSAH/Osage News 

SKIATOOK, Okla. – Osage Nation Assistant Principal Chief candidates Otto Hamilton and Raymond Red Corn fielded questions on various topics during the Osage News Candidate Debates held here on Feb. 17.

Red Corn is seeking a second four-year term as Assistant Principal Chief in the June 4 general election and Hamilton, a current ON Congressman, is running for that Executive Branch office for the first time. The debate took place before a crowd of nearly 100 at the Skiatook Osage Casino Hotel that Saturday afternoon with two volunteers from the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Tulsa who moderated the debate and selected the questions written on pieces of paper that were drawn from a rotating hopper.

The written questions came from both the Osage public and the Osage News before the event. The moderators also kept track of time for the candidates to respond to questions and to issue rebuttals, if desired, after the two candidates initially answered the questions.

Opening remarks

Otto Hamilton III, 41, won a four-year term as an ON Congressman in 2014 and worked as a grant writer for the Nation before seeking elected office. During his legislative tenure, Hamilton served as chairman of the Congressional Cultural Committee; as Second Congressional Speaker for two years; and now serves as chairman of the Congressional Education Committee. Hamilton said he graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 then started working for the Nation’s Education Department before he started working in the Strategic Planning and Grants Management Office in 2006.

“The reason I’m telling you all this, as a Congress member, it’s really helped my perspective and decision making to have that employee perspective, it’s unique and it’s valuable,” Hamilton said. “As an employee, you’re on the front line doing the work for the Nation, so it’s very (important) you don’t lose that perspective.” Hamilton said he also brings a Congressional perspective, if elected, and “I’m also bringing the perspective of a cultured and educated Osage. So, when it comes time to vote, please keep me in mind, I’m not your regular politician, I started at the bottom answering phones for the tribe, now I aim to be your Assistant Principal Chief.”

Raymond Red Corn III, 62, won his first bid for Assistant Principal Chief in the 2014 election and before that, served two terms on the ON Congress starting with the 2006 inaugural election for the reformed three-branch ON government. Red Corn also served as Congressional Speaker during his last two years as a legislator. “My experience in Osage government is extensive … I wrote and sponsored many of the laws that formed the foundation of the Osage Nation Code today,” he said. Red Corn’s earlier professional background includes business, management and he also holds a 2017 bachelor’s degree from Rogers State University. 

“As Assistant Principal Chief, I’ve done my best to form this position, it was once a position of very limited responsibility and productivity, that has changed,” Red Corn said. “The Osage Nation is an organization of specialized positions, the Principal Chief and the Congress have very specific roles. The Assistant Chief navigates that space between the Chief and the Congress and must earn the trust of both in order to earn his or her pay. Without that trust, the Assistant Principal Chief is of little value to the Chief or to the Congress or to you the Osage people … My job is to represent the position of the administration in which I serve … Over the last four years, we’ve made an awful lot of progress and I’m proud to have played a role in that progress and there’s a lot more that can be done.”

First question

"With the Oklahoma education system in shambles and the teacher shortages, how do you intend to help bring in qualified quality teachers to all Osage Nation schools?" - Rachel Blackwell, Skiatook

Hamilton said the Nation’s schools “mean a whole lot” to him, noting his four-year-old daughter attends the Nation's Language Immersion School. Hamilton thought back to the first immersion school party where parents brought food for the occasion. The parents were asked to bring fruits, vegetables and healthy snacks versus sweet and sugary desserts "and that made me realize this is our own school, we get to decide how our children partake in this, we decide what they eat, we decide what they learn, they're learning Osage, we can also decide what else they learn, we can't just hand it over to the public schools ... we want the best, we really have to go out and recruit ... we can't just expect them to fall in our lap." Hamilton said he was proud an Osage teacher (Paula Martinez) who was recently honored as an Oklahoma Indian teacher of the year is now working at the Immersion School. "It all starts with recruiting ... we're going to have to set priorities to offer them something, I believe right now we do, our pay is greater than the other teacher salaries and I believe we don't need to stop there, we need to keep going if we're going to expand our schools ... it also goes to the administrators of the schools, we need to recruit them as well."

In his response, Red Corn said he will not address the direct question because “every time we get into one of these discussions, we start talking about resources … So, when you want to hire more teachers, when you want to extend the schools, when you want to do all of these wonderful things, the very first question I ask – being someone who serves essentially the Congress and also someone who serves the administration – is ‘how are we going to pay for them?’ I agree with everything Mr. Hamilton said about how that happens … but somewhere, sometime we have to start doing a better job of planning. I’m going to speak bluntly, I have sat in Congress as a member of Congress and as Assistant Chief and watch what we call ‘the rush to the podium’ (which happens) when you have spare money there and a member of Congress has a project they believe strongly in and they line up, go up there (in efforts to get the spending bill passed) and pretty soon, we’re spent down to the point where it’s difficult to do more. So, every time you hear about these promises and plans, they have to fit into the budgetary framework and we do not have a whole lot of money sitting in the stacks somewhere … Yes, we need to do everything Congressman Hamilton said we need to do, but the very first thing we have to do is figure out how are we going to pay for them.”

In his rebuttal time, Hamilton said he agreed with Red Corn, adding “it all starts with prioritizing and planning, that’s where we need to sit down and look at what we’re going to fund.”

Red Corn added: “At some point, we absolutely, positively must engage in long-range financial planning, but until that day comes, we’re spinning our wheels trying. If we are rushing to the podium to spend the Osage dollars on this project, that project, they’re all worthy projects, but I agree we need to prioritize them, that’s the hard part.”

Second question

"Why are you running for this office and how are you qualified for this office?" Patricia Spurrier Bright, Pawhuska

Red Corn said "I really like this job," but also said "I do not aspire to become Principal Chief of the Osage Nation, that is a bridge too far for me. If it happens - God forbid it does - but if it happens I'll take up that mantle... The reason I like the job I have is the same reason I believe I'm qualified. I spent eight years in Congress, I know the group dynamics of the Congress, I understand what their motivations are, I understand the process. So, when I'm serving in the administration, then it's my job to go over there to help Congress understand why we're looking for a particular result from the Congress... The Assistant Chief's main job is to navigate the space between the administration and Congress. And if anyone here doesn't believe that's operating between a rock and a hard place, then you ought to come walk in my shoes for a few weeks during session. It's a very difficult job, it is very demanding and most importantly it requires trust... not only from the Chief, but also from the Congress… There's conversations everyday during session between myself and the Principal Chief - 'What's our position on this? If this is a tie, which way do we break it?' – It's a constant ongoing conversation, but the main thing is trust."

Hamilton said: "I agree with everything he said, I also want to go back to my opening statement: I'm bringing three things with me to the Executive Branch: The first one is my perspective as a (former government) employee, it's very valuable, it’s one you don’t lose sight of when you get elected and you have to think about the employees with every decision you make. The second one is my experience as a legislator, I know quite well of our opportunities, the abilities that our government can do and also our limitations ... I want to take that knowledge, go to the Executive Branch and help with the administration ... And to reiterate everything that Mr. Red Corn has said about compromise, being on the same page with the Executive, the same page with the Congress, that's not an easy job. It takes a lot of work and a lot of trust, but I look forward to the challenge."

In his rebuttal time, Red Corn noted "Chief (Geoffrey Standing Bear) has trusted me to be Acting Principal Chief for more than 80 days in this past administration - that's 16 calendar weeks where he was on tribal business away from the office and I was entrusted with those responsibilities. I was the first acting chief to ever call Congress into session, I was the first acting chief to ever veto legislation and to actually write the veto (message) and I'm the first acting chief to have a veto sustained. I don't know how the Assistant Chief can be more qualified to not only fulfill the job of Assistant Principal Chief ... and undertaking the job of chief as necessary."

Hamilton added as a third item he would bring, if elected, is he can bring Osage culture to the Assistant Principal Chief's office, noting that culture is part of the reformed Osage government constitution. Hamilton said a person with cultural knowledge will be needed to bring it into the government, "so that's what I'll bring."

Third question

“What is your understanding of the Osage LLC and the Tallgrass Economic Development LLC? If you are elected, how will you approach ensuring both of these entities turn a profit for the Osage Nation?” – Osage News

Hamilton said the Nation’s LLCs were controversial before he was elected, which included losses as high as $19 million incurred by former Osage LLC management and newer business entity Tallgrass Economic Development’s later formation. “I do know the Nation is managing to resolve these issues with the LLCs and doing what it takes, we don’t want a tarnished record with the Small Business Association, we’re going to do what it takes to be in good standing. And also, I believe in autonomous of the boards, these boards are appointed by experts. As a member of Congress, I believe that we need to confirm these appointees and stand back and let them do their job, we don’t need to micromanage them and worry about who they’re spending money on, they’re experts, we’re supposed to place that trust onto them, but with the records, trust is hard to come by these days, but I still believe the LLC framework will work. I’m not against the Chickasaw Nation (business board) model (discussed during the Principal Chief candidate debate), I need to look into it more… Chickasaw has a very good track record, so if we can model something similar and we make money, I’m all for it.”

Red Corn said this is the “toughest question we face, the biggest challenge we face as a Nation in trying to get these things off the ground, trying to get them profitable. Right now we’ve had several internal conversations about the current status of these two companies and I want to say this: The way I see it, we’re supposed to think strategically at this level, the way I see it, we have three options: You can call it quits, you can pack it in. That saves us money, but it costs us our reputation, it costs us our ability to do more and try to do better in the future. We could appropriate another large stack of money… and then stop and assess where we are and at that point, we can either decide whether to put more money into it or call it a day, we’ve spent money but we have saved our reputation … We believe strongly in the next few weeks we will have those numbers and have the information that we need to start making those decisions, but there’s going to be nothing easy about it. I’m sorry I’m not answering the specific question about moving to profitability, but that really is the job for those boards under our Constitution. Our (ON) Supreme Court has said they are operationally autonomous – that keeps Chief Standing Bear, myself, and Congress out of their business and they operate … It is not our job to determine how they’re profitable, it’s our job to assess where they are and assess whether they deserve any more assets of the Osage Nation.”

In his rebuttal time, Hamilton said one discussion topic he’s heard is whether the Nation’s LLCs will invest locally, especially considering The Pioneer Woman Mercantile opened in Pawhuska in fall 2016 and draws crowds from out-of-state. “I wonder what it’s going to take for the LLC to invest locally in our local economy? We’re just standing by watching. That’s something I’d like to see at least talked about, discussed.”

Red Corn referred to the recent relocation of the Legislative Branch to the Nation’s now-owned former First National Bank building, which is across Main Street from The Mercantile. “Well, the very first thing that could happen is to have the Congress move out of the bottom of the bank building and make it available so we can put in a business or something there that can make money off those very same people who are right across the street,” he quipped, with some audience members laughing in reaction. “Regardless of what happens with the LLCs, I think we may have something in front of us that’s a better prospect, it’s not going to make money fast, but it’s going to make money long-term – commercial real estate. And that is why we went down and bought that bank and we had the legal right to do so without the permission of Congress ... We knew that would be a rock-solid investment and down at the (ON-owned) Tulsa Airpark, what we have in mind is going forward with a plan to develop that and establish landlord-tenant relationships with those people and those companies that we hope will locate there in the future.”   

Fourth question

“Oklahoma is set to vote on legalizing medical marijuana in June. What are your thoughts on the Osage Nation venturing to this economically? Is medical marijuana something the Nation needs to consider?” – Billy Keene, Skiatook

Red Corn said he spends a lot of time reading about national news topics, which includes the question of legalizing medical marijuana "and on this issue, there is an open question about the spectrum of options when it comes to marijuana" which includes questions about growing marijuana for wholesale/ retail use, open up a marijuana emporium and noted: “There's also other options where the government just regulates it and taxes it... and simply opens up the market or offers limited licenses ... This is a decision that's going to be really hard to make ... If you take everything I just said and consider it, especially anything from decriminalization on, you have to ask yourself this: We're a tribal nation, we have $26 million in federal money coming to us every year, do we really want to risk all of that money ...?" Red Corn ran out of time to finish his response.

Hamilton said he's not opposed to legalizing medical marijuana. "If you look at the state of California and the state of Colorado and what they've done, the numbers are there. “From a medical standpoint, I've read reports, I've seen the issues, and I believe it's coming to the state of Oklahoma ... Just like gaming, if it does happen, we're all going to get the same chance to start at the same time, but when are we going to start?” Hamilton said he believes the medical marijuana idea is something “we need to prepare for, at least look at it, consider it. Again, economic development numbers from Colorado? They’re doing a really good job. The state of California was medical (use only) until Jan. 1, now they (allow) recreational (use) … It’s a big decision that’s going to take a lot of people to sit down and hash out, but for the use of medical marijuana, I believe we have to start now, start looking into it.”

In rebuttal time, Red Corn finished his response by questioning whether the current President Trump administration would take action if the Nation pursues medical marijuana operations, thereby putting the $26 million in federal grants awarded to the Nation at risk. “This President is so unpredictable, I really hesitate and wonder whether a guy like that is going to order (U.S. Attorney) Jeff Sessions to come right down with both feet and say ‘Fine, let’s make an example out of these people, shall we?’ Well, that didn’t work out so well. And then, we’ve talked about Trump’s (proposed budget) in 2019, that’s not just wiping out 10 percent, 15 percent of your federal budget, that’s wiping out all of it. That kind of unpredictability gives me great pause in a cost-benefit analysis.”

Hamilton said “that is very true when it comes to a cost-benefit analysis” but added “my logic and what I have to say, I don’t consider the current administration to be the basis of what my logic is, we shouldn’t.”  

Fifth question

Within the past year, the Osage Nation has begun negotiations with the state of Oklahoma Attorney General over our Nation’s water rights in Osage County. If you are elected, will you further these negotiations? Why or why not? – Osage News

Hamilton referred back to earlier debate responses that used the word “diplomacy” and said “yes, I will sit down at the table and talk to these people … when we’re two nations, two entities, governing bodies, we need to come to a decision and diplomacy is the only way to go. Yes, I would sit at the table and listen to everything they have to say and I hope they listen to everything I have to say on the Nation’s behalf. When it comes to water rights … As a sovereign nation, we need to include it in every talk that we have.”

Red Corn said: “When the discussion turned to diplomacy in prior debate, I made a note to myself here in my notebook and I wrote this down: ‘The extension of diplomacy assumes your counterpart will respond in good faith.’ Do I believe that the state will respond in good faith? – Although I think they made a diplomatic misstep right out front when we drilled that well in Skiatook … It ended up in such a way that the Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma came to our office (also with the New Mexico-based law firm that wrote an October 2017 letter to the Nation objecting to the Nation’s Skiatook water-well permit) and we sat down and had a good chat and it was diplomacy at work.” Red Corn also briefly addressed the ongoing tension between the Nation and Osage County government, which grew recently after the County Commission voted to contest the Nation’s land-into-trust application for 75 acres just to the north of the Tulsa Osage Casino. “On the county, I don’t believe they are negotiating or even acting in good faith – I’m not talking about the entire county, I’m talking about one or two particular officials. So, when diplomacy is advocated, you absolutely must assume that your opponent or your counterpart is going to act in good faith – We didn’t start that fight… The (Osage County) District Attorney (Rex Duncan) started that fight and we responded and I thought we responded appropriately under the circumstances.” Back on the question topic, Red Corn added he’s provided testimony on behalf of the Nation on water rights and added: “Ladies and gentlemen, don’t ever take the short answer on water rights, those negotiations go on for decades, the lawsuits certainly go on for decades and I admire what our administration has done, which is to undertake to negotiate right up front.”  

In rebuttal, Hamilton referred to the Nation/ Osage County issue and said he was proud, as an Osage in addition to Congressman, to see the current administration’s response where “they stood their ground… When it comes to diplomacy, it does take two sides and I can see the Osage being more diplomatic than the other side and for those that know me, like they say, I’ll kill them with kindness” … when it comes to sitting down to discuss issues.

Red Corn passed on rebuttal time.

Sixth question

“How do you plan to grow on Immersion School? If the students are going from Immersion to public schools, how can we plan on continuing growth in the (Osage) language beyond immersion and what can you do? Rachel Blackwell, Skiatook

Red Corn said: “This is a subject I do not know a lot about, you need to understand in my job, I take written instruction from the Principal Chief, he gives me a list of tasks. If I have something I have an initiative on, I go and ask ‘can I use resources to do this?’ and he either says yes or no and 90 percent of the time, he says yes and we go take care of that … The answer is, again, resources, the way most governments or entities or organizations do this is they start with (ages) 0-5.5 group and they add a grade … Let me tell you, it is very expensive to do what we are doing, we are spending a lot of Osage Nation resources (properly I might add) to have these immersion classes, to have these early childhood learning centers … very soon, if you have a flat amount of money (to spend each year) coming in from distribution from the casinos and no other income to really count on – and a growing number of people taking advantage of the health benefit and the education benefit – all of a sudden, those numbers start to squeeze you again. We went from $40 million to $45 million last year and almost immediately, we’re already hitting our heads on the ceiling again because of the demands on us.”

Hamilton said there is the federal Administration for Native Americans (ANA) grant opportunity that could help fund language initiatives and noted the Nation has received it numerous times in past years. ANA “wants you to succeed, they want your language to survive. We have to keep planning our immersion program and ANA will help us, it’s just a grant, but we do need tribal dollars to supplement that. When it comes to the immersion school, I can’t help but be proud of the fact that my daughter is four years old and more Osage is spoken in my household than it was before … She’s brought us all together as a family to speak more Osage in attending classes. If one day there is no immersion school, we still can have that conversation with my daughter … Immersion is not something that we take lightly, we do it for our language survival … We need to get everyone at the table to plan it. If we’re going to go to first grade, second grade, let’s get the word out, let’s get the tribal members’ support, let’s get the Congress support, immersion is something that’s proved to benefit other tribes and I can see the benefits here in the Osage daily.”

In rebuttal, Red Corn said he respectfully disagrees with Hamilton on the point of grants because “I just don’t see grants, any grants, really coming through to fill that need to really do a whole class in time,” noting he’s observed the Nation’s budgeting processes for years. “But really, the way to do that if it’s going to be done, is you go to those people (foundations that award grants), you understand what you have to build yourself and then you go back and ask those people who have billions of dollars for the money to continue your program.”

Hamilton said ANA officials will work with its grant awardees, adding “these aren’t to fully fund the whole school, these are to fund projects, language projects, if we want more teachers, the ANA grant will fund that project.”

Seventh question

“Within the past year, the Osage Nation has begun a relationship with the state of Missouri to possibly expand our gaming enterprise into our original homelands. Are you for or against this move and why?” – Osage News

Hamilton said: “I’m for it and the reason is right now there is no tribal casino in Missouri … That’s like an untapped resource we can go to for the people, with the traffic and people flow, I’ve been to Missouri on a few occasions this past year with the Wazhazhe Ballet and the (Osage Legacy) Statue unveiling and a mural unveiling, and I have to say the people of Missouri were very welcoming to the Osage people. It was very admirable to be walking up and to see (written signs that read) ‘Welcome Home Osage’ when we went to the statue unveiling off I-44.” Hamilton then quipped: “Wow, we don’t even get that in Osage County, to see that in Missouri with open arms, opportunities, I can’t help but think of the possibilities of where we couldn’t go without gaming in Missouri … As long as we get a plan in place, I’m all for it.”

Red Corn said he spent several days as Acting Principal Chief while Standing Bear and other ON officials visited Missouri for business related to the possible gaming expansion, and added: That opportunity represents the very best long-term chance for us to really get something toward a substantial increased income. It is a tricky, tricky operation, you’re not only navigating Osage politics on this side, you’re also navigating Missouri politics on that side … There’s a lot of long conversations, a lot of trust building, a lot of relationship building involved in that and it takes a lot of. I’m hopeful and I’m bordering on optimistic … If we don’t get it, I still think that the risk is worth it, I hope they’re successful.”

Both Red Corn and Hamilton passed on using rebuttal time.

Eighth question

“Twenty-five years from now, what would you like to see the Nation’s Bluestem Ranch providing for the Osage people?” – Billy Keene, Skiatook, OK

Red Corn said the ranch has the capacity to produce beef for Osage entities including the casinos, restaurants and to have a possible local brand, but “what I’d really like to see happen – and Congressman (William ‘Kugee’) Supernaw deserves props here – Congressman Supernaw was the voice in Congress to say ‘buy land, buy land, buy land’ … the most and the loudest … What I’d like to see in a five-year period is for profits from that ranch go right back into buying adjoining land or other ranches, let’s keep our hands off that money and let that be our engine that allows us to buy more land. Is that what the Drummonds do? You bet … Bouncing back to the (Osage County issue), Rex Duncan is known to say ‘My gosh, the Osage Nation wants to buy every bit of land in Osage County!’ Guess what Rex, I can name five ranchers who want to do exactly the same thing, so what makes us the bad guy for wanting to buy our land back? The direct answer to the (debate) question is I want to see them reinvest the profits and have that be the land acquisition (tool) that moves us into the future.”

Hamilton said “I agree with everything Mr. Red Corn has said, buying this ranch has been one of the highlights of the last four years, it was an opportunity that came when I got a call in the middle of the night (from Red Corn) talking about the possibility of a ranch.” He said tourism is also a possibility for ranch use with people who are game hunters and would stay in a lodge if one were built there. Hamilton noted the ranch has its own board and he is behind the board members 100 percent in overseeing the 43-acre property. “I believe in the short term that we’ve owned the ranch, it has turned a profit,” Hamilton said.  

Red Corn said the ranch also represents “a very rare piece of real estate where one entity owns the surface rights, the mineral rights, there’s all kinds of oil and gas operations on there and drone companies can test their drones on there … That land acquisition for that ranch was the finest moment of the Osage Nation that I think will probably occur in my lifetime … I was astounded when we pulled that off.”

Hamilton passed on using rebuttal time.

Closing remarks

Red Corn said “I believe the Osage Nation is moving forward, it has taken its place along other successful tribal nations. Working with our Congress, we have increased benefits, we’ve assumed control of our clinic, real estate services, we’ve built new wellness centers and we’ve created early childhood education programs for our children. This administration has set out to increase the use of our language – the language, along with the land base and culture, they’re essential to our sovereign status. We now have a state-of-the-art language app for a smartphone or tablet, our immersion students speak Osage all day in school and adults can be heard in Osage conversations … we’ve established our own food sources in Bluestem Ranch and Bird Creek Farms. We have new arbors in which you can dance, we have new community centers, which we need, and we have a new flagship casino to support our Nation’s income stream. I think we’re on the right path, but being on the right path is not enough, it takes initiative and hard work to make things happen. It takes hard work to locate scarce resources, it takes hard work to start a new project and to keep it going. Good ideas? They’re abundant. The leaders who work hard to make those ideas a reality are honestly harder to find. We’re not perfect, no administration is going to be. At the end of the day, it’s about hard work and results. I respectfully ask you to make your choice based on hard work and results. If you do, I promise you the hard work will continue.”

Hamilton said “I believe I have a rapport with the Osage Congress, who I’ve served with for the last four years, I think I have a rapport with you as Osage tribal members who know me, who got to know me for the past four years who knows what kind of person I am and what I stand for. I believe I have a rapport with our next Chief, that we can all get on the same page and get with Congress for our project completion. Project completion is something that sounds easy until you get on a project with five people, it’s not an easy thing. That’s something I look forward to, it’s something I believe I’m good at in working on projects. I have a project management background, it came from me being an employee, with that employee perspective. I don’t know if we’ve ever had an Executive (Branch) official that was once an employee, so I aim to be the first one. Again, I bring this perspective with me to do things, everything that Assistant Chief Red Corn has just said and more. I want to be a part of it, the Osage Nation has done big things right now and I believe I can be an asset to the administration. Through language, through culture, through our economic development we’re looking to get into, I believe I can be a part of those discussions and I believe I can be an asset. So, when it comes time to vote, please don’t look at me as your normal politician, lots of you have known me since I grew up here. You can look at me as Otto Hamilton, former employee, former Congressman, who aims to be your next Assistant Principal Chief.”

 

To watch the Osage News Candidate Debates for the Assistant Principal Chief Candidates, visit https://youtu.be/jBse_9leGf8

 

 

 

The Osage News wishes to Thank the Osage Nation Communications Team, the Osage Casinos and the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Tulsa and the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma.