Approximately 200 people turned out Sunday evening for Joe Tillman’s dinner at which he formally announced his candidacy for principal chief.
In his address to the crowd, Tillman touched on his Osage heritage, those who had been his role models, professed his desire to help all tribal members in need and lobbed a few self-deprecating jokes. He also took a few shots at the administration of current Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, whom, along with Congressional Speaker Angela Pratt, he is facing in the April 4 primary.
Tillman, who currently is on the Osage Nation Congress, held the dinner at the Grayhorse Community Building because he grew up in Fairfax, where he graduated from high school in 1978 before heading on to Oklahoma State University.
“I went to Oklahoma State on an athletic scholarship,” he told the crowd. “I’m not going to say what sport it was because it would lower my IQ. But it was football.”
From the 5th through 12th grades, he said, he lived with his grandmother Josephine Goode Tillman, a full-blood who instructed him in traditional Osage ways.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “I’m telling you we were poor, but we had clean clothes, three meals a day, and a clean house.”
He recalled his grandmother sitting with other Osage women, sewing and chatting in Osage, drinking coffee or tea and smoking cigarettes, into the wee hours as he and his brother, Chuck, listened. She also introduced him to country and western music, which she cranked up on the radio every morning during live broadcasts from “the oil capital of the world, Tulsa, Oklahoma.”
He also noted that his father, former Principal Chief Charles Tillman, served on the tribal council and that his maternal grandfather, Frank Mahan, was an Oklahoma state senator from Fairfax. His great-grandfather was Hall Goode, an original allottee and World War I veteran.
“I stand here knowing that my story is part of a larger Osage story and that I owe a debt to all Osages who came before me,” Tillman said.
“I believe that we are connected as one people,” he added later. “If there’s an Osage child who lives in Oklahoma City, San Francisco, Calif, or Wichita, Kan., that can’t read – that matters to me. If there’s an Osage senior citizen who lives in Wherever, America, who is having trouble paying for their prescription pills and are having to make decisions between ‘Do I pay for my medicine or do I pay for my food or do I pay my mortgage?’ – that matters to me.”
He then quoted legendary Chief James Bigheart: “I care nothing for personal glory, and I want to help others secure whatever they desire for the security of their own children.”
Tillman said that in days of yore, Osage chiefs would ensure that no tribal member “would go without, whether it was food, shelter, clothing, whatever. That leader, that chief, took him his food, his clothing, his shelter, his support. He made sure that individual in that clan did not go without.”
If elected, Tillman said he would “Surround himself with brilliant minds” that would lead the way to “returning the greatness of the Osage Nation. “
He singled out Dr. Mogri Lookout, a master teacher of the Nation’s language program, as a leader to emulate, a man who had revitalized the Osage language and culture. The crowd gave Lookout, who was present, a loud round of applause.
Tillman recalled that when he worked under former Principal Chief John D. Red Eagle, he went to Washington, D.C., and Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii had sage advice: “Never lose your language, never lose your culture. Because some day they’re going to come to you and say show the proof. If you can’t prove it, they’re going to quit recognizing you.”
Tillman also reiterated his complaints that the Standing Bear administration had failed to issue a nationwide government audit since 2019 and that the Osage Congress hasn’t received monthly or quarterly financial reports in more than a year.
“We’re making decisions based on what we hope is correct,” Tillman said.
“I’m upset. Think about it. Let that sink in. The people who were elected Osage Nation leaders have not had a government-wide audit since 2019.
Tillman also lamented that the Nation has gone through three treasurers and has been without one for nearly 10 months, while also churning through four controllers and several human resource directors.
The WahZhaZhe Health Clinic, he said, has also been bleeding employees.
“Our clinic has lost close to 30 employees since July,” he said. “Maybe more.
“There’s a reason that happens. It’s leadership. Whose responsibility ultimately is that? It’s the Chief of the Osage Nation’s.”
Tillman also touched on the need for the Nation to diversify its economic base beyond casino gambling. Attempts have been made, he said, but most were “pie-in-the-sky” dreams. “We’ve heard horrible stories about Osage LLC,” he said. “Upwards of $20 million that we have lost. Lost. Gone. Poof.
He said he would advocate for more tempered investments, noting that the Chickasaw Nation now has $600 million annually in non-gaming revenue and the Cherokees some $400 million, while 99 percent of Osage revenue comes from its casinos.
He also said he’d like to see the Nation offer free legal advice to Osages on such matters as estate planning, and that he’d like to see a chief’s council on elders formed: “Elders feel like no one ever listens to them,” he said. “They feel like they’ve been forgotten. We’ve got to change that.
“We can do better.”
Tillman then complained that employees of the Nation feel intimidated, a charge that is repeated during many elections.
“There’s employees who were going to come tonight but were afraid of being seen,” he said. “It’s a shame. If the shoe was on the other foot, when it’s election time, I want employees to go to every campaign dinner that they can to listen to the issues.”
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to note that Joe Tillman’s great-grandfather is Hall Goode and Chief Standing Bear did not state the audit would be out later this month.
Louise Red Corn
Original Publish Date: 2022-01-25 00:00:00