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Group two of OMC candidates debate well plugging, Office of the Chiefs and transparency

The Osage News Editorial Board held candidate debates on April 30. The live stream of the event is archived on the Osage Nation's YouTube account.

The second group of Osage Minerals Council candidates took the stage for the Osage News Candidate Debates on April 30.

Fifteen candidates are running for eight seats on the 5th Osage Minerals Council. The debate was held at the Osage County Fairgrounds Ag Building.

The candidates were divided into three groups of five; however, candidates Jeff Patten and Stephanie Erwin were unable to attend due to health issues. The second group only had three candidates, Justin Patterson, Dana Maker Murrell and Margo Gray.

The debate was moderated by Sterling Cosper (Muscogee Creek Nation), who is acting director for the Native American Journalists Association and former News correspondent Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton (Cherokee Nation) who is now a Tulsa World education reporter.

Each group received three questions submitted from the Osage public. However, only one person submitted a question for the Minerals Council candidates. The Editorial Board made up the difference, as well as pulling questions from other submissions for Congressional candidates.

Each candidate received two minutes for opening statements and question responses, one-minute rebuttals and two-minute closing statements.

Minerals Council Candidate Justin Patterson speaks on his experience working the oil plugging industry at the Osage News Candidate Debates. STEPHANIE IVISON/Osage News

First question

Why are we exposing shareholders to liabilities and litigation of oil field workplace injuries and worse? i.e., well plugging. This work is necessary, but shouldn’t an LLC formed as an entity outside of the minerals council be doing the work? – Joe Ben Mashunkashey, Pawhuska

Gray: “We’ve really been successful in our well-plugging program. I think we’ve done 60 plus wells at this point, and we did have some issues with an individual getting hurt and unfortunately, we also know this is the risk of being in this industry. It’s high risk, we do every precaution to be safe. Our contractors, we have nine on our staff and like 54 different companies. Now, the companies themselves have to have their bonding in place. So that’s why it’s important that they’re going to be protected. The well plugging has been a success … and we’ve advocated through U.S. Congress and also the BIA, advocating for more money and we’re estimating we need about $150 million to almost $200 million to really take care of the environmental mess we have here.”

Maker Murrell: “The well-plugging program. I believe that all that is necessary, it is a necessary effort to take care of our environmental disarray that we are in. We look to the BIA because they are supposed to take care of us and take care of our lands, there are policies and procedures to take care of and protocol, but I don’t think those are being seen through. We need to stand together; I’ve heard lots of good things from the previous candidates. There’s good energy in this room, and I believe we can all come together and find these answers for the needs of our people and the needs of our lands.”

Patterson: “Joe Ben’s question is about having other companies come in and do the plugging for us. We’re set up to do the plugging. The only thing we don’t have is if somebody gets hurt on the job, that falls back on the Osage Minerals Council. I think that needs to be addressed, that we have something covering the people that are working in the field. I work for the well plugging, and we’ve plugged a lot of wells already and I’m not bragging, but I think I’ve plugged them way cheaper than anybody else has or worked on. I don’t think we need anybody else doing our business, I don’t believe in that. I think we need to take care of our own … and most importantly take care of the shareholders and cover our workers.”

Minerals Council Candidate Margo Gray speaks on the importance of ethical governance within the Osage Oil and Mineral Estate. STEPHANIE IVISON/Osage News

Second question

How should the Osage Minerals Council work with the Office of the Chiefs? – Marsha Harlan, Hominy

Maker Murrell: “I think that the Minerals Council needs to work with the executive branch. We need to know what the Executive Branch, their vision for us to be able to have our vision. I know they’re two separate bodies but that doesn’t mean we can’t work together. I do see division, I see a lot of division and that’s unfortunate. I believe the branches of government are all working for the same thing, which is the betterment of our people.”

Patterson: “My understanding is that the Osage Minerals is by itself, it does not have to use the chief, staff or him, the minerals council needs to take it on their own, which they have done since 2013 or 2014. I have an understanding from a lawyer in Washington, D.C., that’s in gas and oil and has been telling me some things. The Osage Minerals Council is for the shareholders. Sure we can use advice and information the chief gives us, but the Minerals Council needs to take care of the shareholders it’s elected for.”

Gray: “When I first got on council, one of the things we talked about was bridging the gap. People said we want you all to communicate, that way we’re all on the same page. I was glad that through my efforts, we were able to have four joint meetings between the Office of the Chiefs, Osage Congress and the Osage Minerals Council … there’s times when we’ve gone directly over there and we’ve talked directly with chief. In fact, he just signed off on four grants just this past week, that was like $5.5 million. He signed off on them, we can’t sign off on them. We’re an independent agency underneath the Nation. His relationship with the federal government, they look at him as the head of the tribe.”

Minerals Council Candidate Dana Maker Murrell delivers her closing remarks at the Osage News Candidate Debates. STEPHANIE IVISON/Osage News

Third question

What would you do differently to improve the transparency of the Minerals Council? Dawn Bennett, Dallas, Texas

Patterson: “First thing I would do is make sure the rules are all followed. I think from what I’ve seen, there’s a lot of things … show up for work instead of on Zoom. I know Zoom was because of Covid and everything else, but show up for every meeting, and every day and work. That’s just how I was brought up. But if you can take off and go wherever you want to, I don’t think you should do that. You’re hired to work; you’re hired to do something and that’s what you should do.”

Gray: “Ethical governance, that’s what’s needed across the board. We are accountable to our shareholders. We want to show everything, people want to know how we’re spending our budget, believe me, it’s only a $1 million budget. There’s not much there to see, that’s why we have to go out and advocate for more money. We are running a multi-billion-dollar mineral estate with a million dollars. It doesn’t go far.”

Maker Murrell: “Transparency, that’s a funny word. To bring transparency what I would do different, I would make myself available. I don’t believe that, well I didn’t find it inviting to call my council people up to ask questions. I didn’t get that feeling, I haven’t gotten that feeling. For some reason, I don’t know why. But transparency is huge when you’re putting together your meetings, your agendas, those need to be seen by your people and follow how the council is moving forward. Those documents are important to be seen, those documents are important to be dispersed and read. I’m a policies and procedures girl, that’s all I know. I know how to scrutinize, I know how to look, I know how to dig, I know how to read and I know how to apply those things. I think that following the rules and allowing people to see where you’re headed on a regular basis, is very important.”

To watch the second group of the Osage Minerals Council candidates debate, visit the Osage Nation’s YouTube page at https://youtu.be/IrxYsb9vWQo

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Shannon Shaw Dutyhttps://osagenews.org
Shannon Shaw Duty is the editor of the Osage News. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor's degree in Journalism and a master's degree in Legal Studies, Indigenous Peoples Law from the OU College of Law. She served on the Board of Directors for the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) from 2013-2016 and served as a board member and Chairwoman for the Pawhuska Johnson O’Malley Parent Committee from 2017-2020. She is a Chips Quinn Scholar, a former instructor for the Freedom Forum’s Native American Journalism Career Conference and the Freedom Forum’s American Indian Journalism Institute. She is a former reporter for The Santa Fe New Mexican. She is a 2012 recipient of the Native American 40 Under 40 from the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED). In 2014 she helped lead the Osage News to receive the Elias Boudinot Free Press Award, NAJA’s highest honor. An Osage tribal member, she and her family are from the Grayhorse District. She currently resides in Pawhuska, Okla., with her husband and six children.
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