Government , Legal

Allegations arise after report of Congresswoman’s tribal judgeship are published

Photo caption: Yavapai-Apache Nation council members swore in Osage Nation Congresswoman Shannon L. Edwards in their council chambers on Aug. 6, 2019, to the position of Associate Appellate Justice. Chairperson Jane Russell-Winiecki (center) administered the Oath of Office to Justice Edwards. Courtesy Photo/Yavapai-Apache Nation News

The Congressional Rules and Ethics Committee will meet on Feb. 25 and Feb. 27 to discuss Congresswoman Shannon Edwards’ appointment as an appellate justice for the Arizona-based Yavapai-Apache Nation.

After the Osage News published an article in its February 2020 edition, written by the Yavapai-Apache Nation News about the swearing-in of Edwards as their new appellate justice, allegations began to arise on social media that she disqualified herself to serve as a member of the Osage Nation Congress by taking the judgeship. The News obtained the article about her swearing-in after Edwards sent a copy of it to the Osage News’ Editorial Board on Jan. 24.

According to the Clerk of Court for the Yavapai-Apache, Edwards took her oath of office on Aug. 6 of last year and had a signed contract with the tribal nation for her work. The clerk also verified that Edwards has not performed prior legal work for Yavapai-Apache and is still working as the appellate justice as of Feb. 21. The Yavapai-Apache Tribal Secretary denied an Osage News request for a copy of the signed contract and denied a copy of the oath Edwards took at her swearing-in.

Under Article VI of the Osage constitution, under Section 5 under Disqualifications, it states “… No member of the Osage Nation Congress shall hold any other tribal office under another Indian nation during his/her term of office …”

Under Article VI of the Yavapai-Apache Nation constitution, Section 6 under Term of Office, it states “… The Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals shall hold office for three (3) years. The remaining two (2) Appellate Judges shall hold office for two (2) years …”

ON Attorney General Clint Patterson responded to a request for comment about the allegations.

“It’s not for me to say whether she conclusively violated her Constitutional oath of office. I know she took an oath, I know the oath says to uphold and defend the Constitution, I know the Constitution says no member of the Osage Nation Congress shall hold any other tribal office under another Indian nation during his or her term of office, and I know she accepted an office with another Indian tribe,” he wrote in a Feb. 21 email. “But I also know the Constitution says the removal of Osage Nation Officers shall originate in the Osage Nation Congress – not with the Attorney General. I’m sure other members of Congress are aware of this situation and, by the same oath in question, they are charged with making that determination as to any violation.”

The News also asked Patterson if Edwards had made mention of her Yavapai-Apache judgeship with his office prior to taking it? He said no, he learned about it when he read the article in the Osage News.

Edwards responded to a request for comment via email on Feb. 21 and said she sent a letter to the ON Speaker of the Congress that shows she has asked to be removed from the Yavapai-Apache Appeals panel and is no longer acting in that capacity.

“I did no substantive work and received no compensation. I was chosen based on my qualifications and unique ability to strengthen Indian Country judicial systems. If that service was in conflict with the Osage Nation’s constitution, was is not clear, it was unintentional. That information should be part of any article that has a deadline today,” she wrote in the email. “My commitment to public serve [sic] remains, even as social media misinformation and bias makes people reluctant to lend their talents in that arena. I have legislation slated for the Hun-kah Session which demonstrates my dedication to the Osage People. I hope that effort receives the reporting it deserves.”

Edwards has been a member of Congress since its formation in 2006.

Executive memorandum

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear submitted four questions to the AG on Feb. 21 requesting an opinion on a “Congress Member Disqualification for Holding Other Tribal Office Under Another Indian Nation During his/her Term of Office and Related Issues.”

The four questions are:

-       If a Member of the Osage Congress takes an oath of office to hold another tribal office which is described under another Indian Nation constitution during his/her term of Osage Congress office, is that Osage Congress Member disqualified from being a Member of the Osage Congress by the terms of the Osage Constitution, Article VI, Section 5?

-       If it is determined that the Member of the Osage Congress did in fact, at any time, hold another tribal office under another Indian nation during his/her term of office, does the Osage Constitution, Article VI, Section 5 make that violator automatically disqualified or is there a necessity of a Removal proceeding?

-       If it is discovered that a Member of the Osage Congress did in fact hold another tribal office under another Indian nation at any time, does resignation from that other tribal office exonerate the violation by the offending Member of the Osage Congress? If so, would that not allow any violator of the Osage Constitution to cure their violation by after the fact actions?

-       If it is determined that a Member of the Osage Congress is disqualified under Article VI, Section 5 of the Osage Constitution, should the Treasurer withhold salary and other financial compensation and benefits from the offending Member of Congress?

Live broadcasts will be streamed on the Osage Nation’s website of the Congressional Rules and Ethics Committee meeting on Feb. 25 at 8:30 a.m. CST and Feb. 27 at 10 a.m., visit https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/multimedia/live-media.