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HomeGovernmentOsage Congress approves $7.3 million bill for land purchases in special session

Osage Congress approves $7.3 million bill for land purchases in special session

By

Benny Polacca

Photo caption: Lost Creek Ranch is a high fence hunting area located in the rolling hills of eastern Osage County. Situated on 2,017 contiguous acres. Courtesy Photo/greatplainslandcompany.com

During the first of two scheduled July special sessions, the Seventh Osage Nation Congress appropriated $7.3 million to use toward proposed real property purchases including a 2,000-acre ranch.

The Congress voted 8-4 on appropriation bill ONCA 21-60 (sponsored by Congressional Speaker Angela Pratt) on July 12 for properties disclosed in confidential documents sent by the Executive Branch requesting the $7.3 million in tribal funds for the land purchases. Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear briefly discussed his administration’s proposal to purchase back lands once part of the Osage Reservation before those acres fell into the hands of non-Osage ownership.

“The owner of that ranch has taken his financial situation to the federal bankruptcy court and the court is trying to decide what debts will be paid and how they’ll be paid and there’s an opportunity for us to come in and acquire the property at a very good price,” Standing Bear said in his executive message. “The Congress needs to know timing is critical and also everything daily is subject to change. The other properties will be discussed as well, but I want to emphasize that none of the funds we are requesting are coming from the American Rescue Plan funds or the CARES Act (funds).”

“Today’s presentations and requests do not involve any borrowing, these are existing (tribal) funds, we’re asking the Congress to access to accomplish more land purchases,” Standing Bear said.

Also, at the session’s start on July 8, Pratt said the Congress members received copies of documents containing land and purchase information and did not elaborate on details at the time. Pratt said she believed the contents contained sensitive information and were stamped “confidential.” The Congress then adjourned until July 12 to further consider ONCA 21-60.

When the session resumed, Congress motioned to enter into a committee of the whole discussion, which included an executive session to discuss the land purchase information. 

The Congress met virtually on both special session days via Zoom due to the “Killers of the Flower Moon” film cast and crew using the ON Capitol Building in Pawhuska where the Legislative Branch offices and meeting space is located. Filming for the movie adaption of the David Grann best-selling book focusing on the 1920s Osage Reign of Terror is taking place in various locations in Pawhuska, Fairfax and other regional places through September.

Afterward and before the bill vote, several Congress members voiced support and opposition to ONCA 21-60 and during his debate time, Congressman Joe Tillman disclosed the ranch property at issue is Lost Creek Ranch and he is opposing the bill.

Tillman said he had lots of questions about the proposed land purchase including the maintenance costs, insurance and liability costs, the number of employees to work at the ranch and what amenities would be offered to guests. “I’ve been out there many times, I’ve fished on it, I’ve stayed on it, it is a beautiful property, and we have a hard time taking care of what we have now. This thing is going to be an expensive place to maintain and that’s coming from the previous owner,” he said.

According to an online description of the ranch property, “Lost Creek Ranch is a high fence hunting mecca located in the rolling hills of eastern Osage County. Situated on 2,017 contiguous acres, this property has been well managed for trophy whitetail deer and elk … As a working game ranch, Lost Creek Ranch offers a custom-built log home, guest lodge, storage barns and a deer breeding facility.”

Congressman Eli Potts said he opposed the bill first stating he supports the Nation’s land buyback efforts but did not agree with the ranch land purchase details being kept confidential. “It’s in good shape, it’s pretty, it’s got potential, that’s a good thing, it’s a good price, but nobody’s really been able to tell me how this property’s going to benefit all of the Osage people, which should’ve been one of our only considerations. The fact is we’re buying a large piece of real estate without a plan,” he said, adding there are other proposed land purchases in the confidential information he supports, which has plans for use.

Congresswoman Paula Stabler said she visited some of the lands proposed for purchasing in the bill but is opposing the bill stating she felt there was not enough information given for her to support the purchases.

Congressman RJ Walker said he supports the bill, noting the discussion reminded him of a phrase former Principal Chief Jim Gray and late Osage government policy analyst Leonard Maker used to say: “’Osages never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity’ … This is a time-sensitive situation, and we need to act. We’ve been called into special session to act and make a decision that benefits the Nation. This is an opportunity for us to gain a very valuable piece of property among others.”

Congresswoman Alice Goodfox said the bill is time-sensitive because one of the land parcels proposed for purchase is up for auction and she too supports the bill.

Congresswoman Brandy Lemon said she believes buying land is part of strengthening the Nation because “that’s something they don’t make anymore; I’ve heard my ancestors say it I don’t know how many times. To have the opportunity to bring in some more acreage that is our last home and the ability to bring it back under our umbrella, that’s a priority in a different bucket than a priority or opportunity for people to get on a platform here for direct assistance and that’s not what we’re talking about today… and that’s where my focus is going to stay today.”

Second Congressional Speaker Jodie Revard said she agreed the land purchase information should be held confidential “because of what was just stated when I purchase property, I don’t want it to be public – that affects the bid for other folks who may be wanting the same piece of property, that’s just good business.”

In her debate time, Pratt countered she did not hear a lot of questions when the bill’s confidential information was discussed in executive session and during the public legislative process before the vote. “We’ve got to keep moving, there’s a lot of things outside of our government that are coming at us all the time and it happens even in our own community … People have different agendas going on and my agenda is to continue to sit in my seat and serve to the best of my ability and a lot of this is disheartening and information to cause confusion … How does this land benefit every Osage? Because we’ve got to hold it down here in Osage Reservation, we must continue, we are trying to continue to get our own land back and because we are sitting in the middle of our own community highlighting how it was taken from us, the awful things that happened to us, how we lost it in the first place … For us to continue to have a land base, a language, be a people, tradition, culture … for me, that is continuing for all Osages.”

ONCA 21-60 passed with “yes” votes from Congress members Walker, Scott BigHorse, Goodfox, Billy Keene, Lemon, Revard, Pam Shaw and Pratt. “No” votes came from Tillman, Potts, Stabler and John Maker. Standing Bear signed the bill into law after the session adjourned that day.


Original Publish Date: 2021-08-05 00:00:00

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Benny Polaccahttps://osagenews.org
Benny Polacca started at the Osage News in 2009 as a reporter and has covered various stories and events impacting the Osage Nation and Osage people. Polacca is part of the News team awarded the Native American Journalist Association’s Elias Boudinot Free Press Award in 2014 and other NAJA Media Awards and SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter awards for news coverage and photography. Polacca is an Arizona State University graduate and participated in the former American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. He previously worked at The Forum newspaper covering the Fargo, N.D. region as the weeknight reporter.
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