DENVER, Colo. – Osage Nation 2022 electoral candidates traveled to Denver for an open forum with the Colorado Osage Association.
On May 21, congressional candidates Paula Stabler, Eli Potts, Whitney RedCorn, Ericca Unap Dennis and Principal Chief candidates Geoffrey Standing Bear and Joe Tillman joined the forum which took place at the Osage-owned Midtown Montessori Academy. After a Tocabe meal blessed by Osage elder Jan Jacobs, the forum commenced with questions by Rebekah HorseChief that covered financial affairs and the future of the nation.
“A fellow legislator wants to increase the health benefit card to $5,000 per Osage. How do you vote and why?” HorseChief asked.
Stabler stated that an increase would be wonderful but that it’s not probable if there’s not the money to spend, but her hope is that the new Osage Casinos in Bartlesville and Pawhuska will provide a significant stipend.
“The more money we have the more opportunity we have to do things, so right now the problem we’ve had is a flatline in revenue with an increase in obligations, so the economics have been off kilter,” Stabler said. “With this new money, it is an opportunity to do what we need to do, it’s an opportunity to do what the U.S. government hasn’t done for our own people.”
The forum went on, and HorseChief asked the candidates how they would respond to the request to limit Osage scholarship funds to only those within the reservation. Across the board all of the candidates present agreed that Osage scholarship funds are a fundamental right for all tribal members.
HorseChief then asked the congressional candidates what they would do if the executive branch asked congress to make an emergency appropriation for $75 million to buy 43,000 acres in Osage County.
RedCorn inquired why an emergency appropriation of funds would be needed for land? She explained that she would put on her brakes to ask many more questions before agreeing to spend the hypothetical funds.
Stabler and Unap-Dennis came to the same agreement that Osage Nation remains sovereign because of the land, culture and language and therefore acquiring more land is important.
“When we bought our ranch, we have that now, that’s ours, that’s going nowhere. All those injustices we’ve faced before, we are wiser now, we know what we need to do as a people,” Unap-Dennis said. “I know it sounds scary, but what it comes down to is the land that doesn’t go away, land that stays with us and our people, land that will be here when we are gone, that’s what keeps us here as a tribe.”
HorseChief went on to ask the congressional candidates if diversifying the economic ventures of the nation means tapping into reserve funding.
Potts answered first that he did not think tapping into reserve funding would be necessary to diversify the economic ventures. RedCorn also agreed that the reserve should stay reserved.
“At the cost of some of the other programs like scholarships and health care benefits? No, I wouldn’t be in favor if that would mean taking things away from other people,” RedCorn said.
HorseChief then transitioned to ask the Principal Chief candidates a series of questions, including a direct question to Tillman, asking him if he would reveal his cabinet members. Tillman declined to do so stating he would like to keep that information “confidential.”
Regarding language and culture, HorseChief asked the candidates what their vision was for the nation. Standing Bear shared the plan he created during his tenure of work as Chief, and how his work with language doesn’t plan to stop.
“If you listen to anything we’ve said today, go to OsageLanguage.com,” he said. “So much of our culture is embedded in our language.” Standing Bear went on to explain that right now he’s working with NASA to establish virtual reality that will allow Osages to virtually travel throughout the country to engage in cultural commonalities like Indian Dice and drumming.
Tillman did not share his vision for language and culture but brought up questions about funding. “We need to do more than gaming so we can continue to promote this ever so important language that we have,” he said.
In their final statements, Tillman thanked Denver for hosting him and Standing Bear urged young people to get out and vote.
All absentee ballots are due before June 6. More information on the Osage Nation Elections is available here. To view the full-length Colorado Osage Association Candidate Forum, click here.