Government

Inauguration Day ceremony moving to Pawhuska due to COVID-19

Photo caption: The Inauguration will take place under the portico of the Osage Minerals Council chambers on the Osage Nation campus in Pawhuska on July 11. Six members of the 7th Osage Nation Congress will take their oaths of office.

After recent spikes in positive COVID-19 coronavirus cases locally and nationwide, the 2020 Osage Nation Inauguration Day ceremonial plans are being reworked to cut down on potential crowding and will be held July 11 in Pawhuska on the government campus.

On June 4, the ON Congressional Affairs Committee discussed changing the Inauguration Day plans from having an open ceremony in a conference ballroom at the Tulsa Osage Casino Hotel and plans are underway to host smaller individual swearings-in ceremonies for the six incoming Congress members elected or re-elected in the June 1 General Election.

Six Osages elected to the Seventh ON Congress will be sworn in with an ON Supreme Court Justice presiding on Inauguration Day. Joe Tillman, RJ Walker and John Maker won re-election and newly-elected Congress members Jodie Revard, Pam Shaw and Billy Keene will each start serving their inaugural four-year terms after taking their oaths.

After the Inauguration Day activities, those six Congress members will join the other six current members to convene for their first special session (held by electronic means). With the 12 members meeting for their first session, the Seventh ON Congress will consider and elect their Speaker and Second Speaker. The Congress members will also form their select and standing committees and those respective committees will elect their officers as well.

Discussion on changing Inauguration Day plans came after the Nation’s government campus closed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus exposure situation that took place on Election Day. Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear closed the campus through June 15 after learning several individuals (including ON government employees) tested positive for COVID-19 and attended the June 1 election candidate campsites set up in the campus park, as well as a local funeral.

Second Speaker Paula Stabler, also CA committee chairwoman, said she was in contact with Osage Casinos to see what type of variations could work for Inauguration Day activities, as well as the incoming Congress members for their input. Afterward, Stabler said the Congress members-elect expressed interest in a closed ceremony with attendees limited to family to cut down on crowds.

“I guess it’s down to are we going to provide food – that means we’re going to have people sitting next to each other – If we have the ceremony open, then we’ve got different people sitting next to each other, maybe we could keep it small and just let immediate family come for each member, we could spread it out and maybe just eliminate having food, just have the ceremony, what do you all think?” Stabler said to the committee, which met by electronic means.

“In light of the last 48 hours of development with exposure to COVID-19 and everything that’s going on at the Nation, I would be much more comfortable with a more dressed-up electronic swearing-in ceremony,” said Congressman Eli Potts. “I’ve done a little bit of research to see some city councils that have had to do this throughout the Nation. It’s unfortunate, but at this time, I don’t know if I would support making plans to have a maximum exposure event, I don’t think that’s wise or a good idea. I would also be in favor of a much more private ceremony where the members-elect have their family at the home if they choose and they Zoom in and it’s broadcast so that anybody can sign in to be a part of the festivities.”

Walker, who will serve a third term after taking his oath, said he would hate for the newly elected members to not have the same inauguration experience as other Congress members and their families had.

Tillman, currently the Congressional Speaker, asked if the committee consulted with Dr. Ron Shaw, CEO and Chief Medical Officer at the Wah-Zha-Zhi Health Center, for guidance on “what would be the best way possible to accomplish that … I’m trying to be sympathetic to the new members because it’s an exciting time in their life, but unfortunately, it is what it is, but I think there’s a way to do it in a very small, small ceremony… there’s options out there.”

An inauguration ceremony was last held in Pawhuska at the Chambers Building in 2014 for ON government officials elected in the legislative and executive branches, as well as Judicial Branch judges re-elected by retention votes. The 2016 and 2018 inauguration day ceremonies were held at the Skiatook and Ponca City Osage Casino Hotels respectively.

Stabler said she would speak with Shaw and would work out logistics in planning. “I do think if we did it one member at a time and allow them to bring their immediate family, as long as there’s enough space to accommodate that, we could bring them in with a half-hour separation, but I can talk to Dr. Shaw… If we can all just agree today that we will have to have some sort of electronic presentation that we’ll record, take photographs and then maybe provide a reception at a time when we can do that.”

As a suggestion, Maker proposed that the Congress members could take their oaths in a single setting and read the oath out loud together at the same time like in the military while maintaining social distancing measures.

Revard told the committee she had similar thoughts too about the inauguration held during the COVID-19 pandemic and said she would be fine with whatever the committee decided. “I talked to my family and I think we’re in agreement on everybody being safe and whatever you recommend, we’ll follow,” she said.

Congressional Clerk Shana Robedeaux said she and Stabler also discussed the idea of having the inauguration swearings-in take place one at a time outside under the portico in front of the Chambers Building with people waiting in the parking lot. “That would be able to isolate everybody but let everyone still have their moment and if we did that, (ON Communications) does have the equipment to video that … so that is another option that would be available,” she said.

Keene said he is in favor of having the inauguration activities outside as well. “It’s safer to do things outdoors and I know it will be hot,” he told the committee.

Pam Shaw thanked the committee for going through the various options for the inauguration. “I think it’s very prudent at this time to do something other than a large gathering of course, I’m perfectly happy and fine with whatever this committee decides.”

“I think we can arrange something nice so that it will be pleasant, and we can all take precautions,” Stabler said. “For one thing, we can all be tested the day before at the clinic to make sure that we have no one that has any contagion that day … We’ll go ahead and pursue a ceremony on campus for individuals, just the elected six, and set up the protocols necessary to provide safety for them and their immediate families.”