Government

Seventh ON Congress members take oaths of office

Photo caption: The six new Congress members were seated in the Minerals Council chambers building lobby and staggered, as per the health recommendations from the Wah-Zha-Zhi Health Center due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ceremony was moved inside on July 11 due to morning rain. CODY HAMMER/Osage News

In a brief July 11 inauguration ceremony held in the Minerals Council Chambers building lobby due to the morning rain, six Osages took their oaths of office to serve on the Seventh Osage Nation Congress.

The six new Congress members individually appeared before ON Supreme Court Chief Justice Meredith Drent who administered their oaths to serve the Osage people during the next four years.

Jodie Revard, Pam Shaw and Billy Keene are now serving their first terms after winning the June 1 General Election. Incumbents Joe Tillman, RJ Walker and John Maker were also re-elected that day.

All six will now serve with the other six current Congress members who are Paula Stabler, Alice Goodfox, Brandy Lemon, Angela Pratt, Scott BigHorse and Eli Potts.

The newly-seated Congress meets for its first special session at 3 p.m. today to elect its Speaker, Second Speaker and to form its nine Congressional committees. The session will take place by videoconference as part of social distancing precautions, which started with the 2020 Hun-Kah Session as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened in the United States.

With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, inauguration day plans were scaled back from initial ideas for an open ceremony at the Tulsa Osage Casino Hotel to a smaller closed event on the Nation’s campus.

A limited number of people, including the six incoming Congress members who were seated in chairs placed a few feet apart, were allowed to attend. The 41-minute event included address remarks from Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and Tillman, the current Congressional Speaker.

Maker, a former ON Language Department instructor, delivered the opening prayer. A small drum group, including BigHorse, Scott George and John Shaw (husband of incoming Congresswoman Pam Shaw), provided the event’s opening and closing songs. ON Princess Leigha Easley performed The Lord’s Prayer in sign language.      

Tillman applauded the inauguration planning efforts by Stabler, Second Speaker and chairwoman of the Congressional Affairs Committee, and Congressional Clerk Shana Robedeaux who finalized the last-minute event changes amid the pandemic and weather obstacles.

Elected to his second term, Tillman encouraged the incoming members to embrace the special occasion, adding: “What a day and what an honor – You are now leaders of the Osage Nation and we will be faced with many challenges, decisions and agendas.”

Citing a passage by author Rick Warren, Tillman said “all leaders are learners, the moment you stop learning, you stop leading.” Tillman then noted the Congress will face difficulties ahead, but emphasized, “working together” with the Executive Branch and with Congressional peers moving forward.

“Always remember we are here to serve the Osage people and please reach out to them as often as you can, many will reach out to you themselves with thoughts that they have, problems that they have and ideas that they have and I urge you to listen,” Tillman told the Congress members. “Moving forward, many of us will have goals, we will have goals for the Nation, we will design a plan to help us reach those goals.”

In closing, Tillman also referenced longtime and outgoing Congressman Archie Mason who proclaimed, “This is our house!” through the years as part of making points during poignant and challenging times the Congress met and faced various legislative decisions since its 2006 launch. “My fellow Osage Congress members, you belong here today, you are where you are supposed to be right now. By the grace of God, it’s time for you and us to shine.”

Standing Bear, also a former Congressman and Assistant Principal Chief under the former Osage Tribal Council, welcomed the new Congress members as well, noting they will be working “to uphold what is in our Constitution.” For example, Standing Bear referenced Article XVII Osage Health, Education and Welfare, which states: “The Osage Nation shall provide for the protection and advancement of a health care system for the Osage people by the ongoing development of services for the treatment, management and prevention of illnesses and chronic diseases, and of services that promote mental and physical well-being.”

Standing Bear added that the same article notes the Nation shall provide for care and safety of Osage children and elders, as well as education. “This is what you are going to swear to in a few minutes. No longer are we just an instrument of the federal government, we are a Nation with a capital ‘N’,” he said.

With planning and advisement on precautionary COVID-19 measures from Dr. Ron Shaw, CEO and Chief Medical Officer at the Wah-Zha-Zhi Health Center, the revised inauguration ceremony was restricted. All were mandated to wear masks; handshaking was prohibited during the event and those officials were also tested for COVID-19 prior to inauguration.

Outside the Chambers Building, family members of the incoming Congress members watched the ceremony through the windows under the portico as each family member was called to take their oath.

Wearing a clear face shield with Osage ribbonwork across the top and her black judge’s robe, Drent administered the oath of office to each of the six Congress members who stood a few feet away at a separate standing microphone.

Keene, Maker, Revard, Shaw, Tillman and Walker individually stood at the microphone when their names were called for oaths. Afterward, each member was presented with an embroidered Pendleton blanket, plaque and signed their oath documents, as well as their first special session proclamation to meet that day and a second special session proclamation to consider funding for Osage Nation Head Start.

Per the 2006 Osage Constitution, the Congress “shall convene twice annually in regular session, so that six months shall not intervene between the last sitting of the Congress and its first sitting in the next session.” The next regular convening of Congress is the Tzi-Zho Session starting Sept. 8 and the Hun-Kah Session is held in late March with each regular session’s duration at 24 days.

Congress may also meet in the interim by committees to study particular subjects and may be called into special sessions – called by either legislative or executive proclamations – at any other time with those sessions limited to 10 days, according to the Constitution. Regular and special sessions may be extended up to three additional days if granted by the Congressional Speaker at the written request of two-thirds of the Congress.