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Campaign Trail: Standing Bear visits with Jenks voters


Louise Red Corn

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear met with constituents at the Oklahoma Aquarium on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022. LOUISE RED CORN/Osage News

JENKS, Okla. – Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear took his campaign on the road Sunday when he met with a group of 15 at the Oklahoma Aquarium.

He spoke for more than an hour, fielding a few questions but mostly updating those assembled on his administration’s accomplishments and the challenges he sees looming.

The Nation’s work to establish its water rights, to develop a casino in Missouri, and to thwart state efforts to erode tribal sovereignty are all complex issues that require an experienced leader to navigate, he said.

“I truly believe I’m qualified to handle these issues,” Standing Bear, an attorney, told the gathering. “I don’t believe my opponents are. They’re not.

“I believe that if we don’t get this done right, we’re going to end up set back a long, long way.”

Regarding a casino in Missouri, Standing Bear said that he has been in that state trying to soothe some nerves after a local kerfuffle in Osage Beach over the names of the school, its teams, and its branding: The School of the Osage, the Indians, and a logo that’s a caricature of a Plains Indian headdress.

“Some of our people have expressed themselves on that, as is their right,” Standing Bear said. “I’m trying to get everybody to calm down.”

The Nation, acting through a real estate company, used casino profits to buy 28 acres in Osage Beach for a future casino. Standing Bear said he has asked the Gaming Board to deed the land to the Nation so the tribe can start putting the land into federal trust.

He said he has also been meeting about other casino opportunities.

“We’ve been working there to get those doors open for almost six years,” he said. “We have worked out relationships with Hannibal in the north, and they want us there for gaming, gaming, gaming.

“I keep emphasizing that our Nation should not be defined as a casino. We need to be defined as a people.

“In mid-Missouri, we have Cuba … They get it. They know gaming takes years. They want to engage with us.”

As the longtime general counsel for the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association who twice won its “Warrior Award,” Standing Bear said: “I know how it’s supposed to work. I know how you can mess it up. And I know how many people want to get in there and rip us off. I guarantee it. This is gaming, with a lot of slick operators.”

Water rights

The battle lines over water rights have also been drawn with the State of Oklahoma, Standing Bear said. The tribe tested the issue by drilling a well on trust land at the Skiatook casino. The well was permitted by the Osage Nation’s Department of Natural Resources but incurred the immediate wrath of the state, which declared the permit unlawful.

Since then, the Nation hammered out a deal with former state Attorney General Mike Hunter and the city of Enid, Standing Bear said: Enid built a water line from Kaw Lake across the Arkansas River (whose riverbed the Osage Nation claims it owns), and spent $1 million building two stub-outs and water vaults that the Nation can use.

“We can take as much water as we want,” Standing Bear said. “And we can build our own water system within the Osage.”

That would involve buying and connecting the hodgepodge of rural water systems that currently serve Osage County.

“Here’s another one,” Standing Bear said. “The Corps of Engineers since the 1960s have made a lot of money selling water out of Keystone and hydro-electrical power out of Keystone dam.”

He intends to prove that the Osage own a certain percentage of that water, establish that ownership with the approval of the U.S. Senate, then bill the Corps for its use of the water since Keystone dam was finished in 1965.

“That’s big money. That’s what we’re working on right now,” Standing Bear said. “And there’s no statute of limitations because we’re a tribe. But we’ve got to keep plowing through.”

More legal battles

Standing Bear also alluded to the McGirt decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, the legal case that declared the reservations of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the four other Civilized Tribes have never been dissolved.

He expressed great disdain for Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt. “Speaking of stupid politics: Gov. Stitt,” he said, as attendees guffawed. “We all thought Stitt was going to be good for us. He talked a good game. It turns out he’s just a liar.

“But the battle is no longer with Stitt. It’s with the legal system.”

Tribes, he added, are between a rock and a hard place with the current choice for Oklahoma Attorney General. The current Attorney General, John O’Connor (who was appointed by Stitt after Hunter resigned) and candidate Gentner Drummond have both asked for the tribe’s support.

Standing Bear said he cannot support either.

“O’Connor has filed some very scary papers in the court system saying that all 4 million Oklahomans should be treated the same and Indian tribes should not be able to exist separately…

“I told him, ‘How can you ask for support when you’re filing papers asking for us to be eliminated as a governmental entity?’”

Drummond is also bad for Osages, Standing Bear said: Drummond has led some legal cases centered on the environment and to protect surface owners from oil and gas pollutants. Those cases, at one point, almost shut down oil well drilling in Osage County.

“I told him, ‘You need to sit down with the Minerals Council and explain why you keep suing us,’” Standing Bear said. “He refused. He has no remorse for it.”

In addition to future hurdles and potential legal battles, Standing Bear mentioned his administration is building 50 new senior housing units, is expanding the tribal museum, and is starting to create its own banking system with a low-interest consumer loan program, to be followed by a mortgage loan program.

He also spent about 20 minutes complimenting the language and culture departments for invigorating Osage ways, modernizing learning with holographic games, podcasts, and more. He said that more than 800 Osages in 37 states and nine countries have listened to “Wahzhazhe: The Official Language and Culture Podcast of Osage Nation,” and noted that the language program has produced at least 20 Osage language speakers.

During the filming of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” he said, the language program took an active role in making sure the movie got it right: “I met Robert De Niro one day and the first thing he said was, ‘Do you know Chris Cote? He’s my language coach.’”

Editor’s Note: In December, Sonny Abbott sponsored a candidate announcement dinner for Standing Bear that was attended by more than 200 people. At the time, the Osage News editorial board had a policy barring coverage of such individual events. The board changed that policy on Jan. 19. Candidate dinners will be covered henceforth.

Original Publish Date: 2022-02-01 00:00:00


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Louise Red Corn
Louise Red Corn has suffered from wanderlust for decades: She has lived and worked as a journalist and photographer in Rome, Italy, New York City, Detroit, Kentucky, Mississippi and Oklahoma, where she published The Bigheart Times for 12 years. She loves diving in-depth into just about any topic but is especially fond of covering legal issues, perhaps because her parents were both lawyers. She is married to Assistant Principal Chief Raymond Red Corn, who enticed her to move to the Osage Reservation in 2004. She and her husband live south of Pawhuska with one extremely large dog named Max, one extremely energetic dog named Pepper, and, if he bothers to make an appearance, a surly cat named Stinky.

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