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Non-shareholders should not have a say when it pertains to the Osage Mineral Estate

Twenty-five years ago, when I was pushing for membership and voting rights for all tribal members, I did not think it would result in non-shareholders gaining a say in the Osage mineral estate. That, however, is exactly what has happened.   

The call has been made to reduce the number of Osage Mineral Council members by way of a constitutional amendment. Under the 2006 Constitution, non-shareholders, as well as shareholders, can vote to amend the constitution, including the number of council members.  

I continue to urge tribal members to read both the 1994 and the 2006 Constitutions dealing with the OMC. They are free and can be had for the asking. The 1994 Constitution is available at the Osage Cultural Center’s Library and Resource Center, located at 1449 Main Street. The 2006 Constitution is available at the Attorney General’s Office located at 1071 Grandview Lane in Pawhuska.

Prior to the 2006 Constitution, the only way to make a substantial change in the Osage Mineral Council was through the United States Congress. The 1994 Osage Constitution makes one direct declarative statement concerning the OMC; “Ownership of the mineral estate of the Osage Indian Reservation is to be determined by the Act of June 28, 1906, 34 Stat. 539, as amended.”  (OSAGE CONSTITUTION 1994 - ARTICLE II: PROTECTION OF THE MINERAL ESTATE)  

It was never intended for non-shareholders to vote on matters of the mineral estate. Even if it were legitimately voted on by shareholders, the suggestion itself is misguided. The reason given for reducing the number of Osage Mineral Council members is the belief that OMC’s only function is to sign leases; and as the suggestion goes, the BIA does the same thing. Tribal members more familiar with the OMC are aware of many varied and important functions performed by the OMC.

The OMC continues to negotiate, lobby, and work with individual members of Congress to maintain “ownership” of the mineral estate, which was originally intended to last 25 years. There have always been, and still are, non-Osages who covet Osage land, minerals, and other resources. Schemes are afoot, peddling political prestige to influence BIA policies and procedures. OMC members are our bulwark against such moves and lobbyists. 

During the past four years, the OMC has initiated and won three major lawsuits in the protection of the Osage Mineral Estate. The OMC has competed for and won Federal Grants to expand and increase production. One such grant is to digitize geophysical well logs, production data, and lease records. This project connects with producers nationally and brings us into the present century. Another program involves work with abandoned and orphaned wells. The goal is to plug or produce these wells which otherwise are a liability, and can become environmentally hazardous. The WAH-TIAH-KAH Scholarship Program, sponsored by the OMC, provides higher education assistance to Osage youth in the petroleum-related field of studies. In addition to financial assistance, Osage youth are given mentors, experience hands-on work in the oil and gas industry, and are acculturated to the industry and to the tribe.  

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has had no professional petroleum staff for the past four years or more. The OMC, recognizing this critical void, employed a geologist experienced in the oil fields of the Osage. He is, by the way, himself Osage. The OMC has sponsored 16 yearly Oil and Gas Summits. The summits are well attended. Participants include producers, professors from the University of Tulsa, and other universities known for their educational offerings in petroleum-related fields. Petroleum company representatives and those engaged in purchasing, transportation, and research are also invited.

The above is by no means a complete discussion of the OMCs activities. Through the years, the Osage Mineral Council has been fought for and refined by generations of Osage Tribal leaders. By now, it is a well-working entity. Although there do remain problems with the capricious nature of the Bureau’s regulatory practices, there has always been some friction between the United States Government and the various indigenous Tribal Governments.

The point here is that as long as the Osage Nation continues to live under the 2006 Constitution, non-shareholders will have a tribal-constitutional right to vote on matters of the mineral estate, vis a vis constitutional amendments. Tribal members who disagree with this can (1) amend the 2006 Constitution using the 1994 Constitution. (ARTICLE II: PROTECTION OF THE MINERAL ESTATE) as a model, or (2) bring a court challenge to the 2006 Constitution for being in conflict with the Osage Allotment Act of 1906.