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Osage law amended to allow notarized death affidavits to update Osage membership roll


Benny Polacca

A change in the Osage Nation’s membership law aims to provide more up-to-date numbers for living tribal members after the Seventh ON Congress unanimously approved an amendment bill during the Tzi-Zho Session.

On Sept. 22, Congress passed bill ONCA 21-113 (sponsored by Congressman John Maker), which changes language in the law so the Membership Office can now accept notarized death affidavits in addition to death certificates for updating the membership roll.

Maker, who is chair of the Congressional Membership Committee sponsored the bill on behalf of the department and its director Lauren Malone, who met with the committee on Sept. 15 to discuss the bill. He said the bill “is going to help our Membership Department keep up with their data more accurately.”

Malone said the law as previously written only allowed her office to accept death certificates for staff to change a tribal member’s status in the database from living to deceased when reported by surviving family members. “That makes it a little more difficult for people who aren’t from around here and aren’t aware of the burial assistance because a lot of the death certificates received are from people who utilized that assistance … it would help our database and our membership roll stay more current if we had another option for people,” she told the committee.

Malone also noted: “A person who is deceased is not removed from the membership roll; all we’re doing is changing their status from living to deceased. So, when I pull a report to tell you how many living members we have, the people who are deceased will not be pulled into that report. If we don’t know they have passed, there’s no way for us to know and mark them and then if someone calls in and says, ‘I need to let you know that my husband passed away…,’ I still can’t mark him deceased without seeing the original death certificate.”

In her research, Malone said she reached out to other tribes asking about their respective membership processes and learned some tribes “accept a notarized death affidavit from close family members to let the tribe know (a person) is no longer living and it has dates and data on there.”

According to, an affidavit of death is “a sworn statement that legally states someone has passed away. This death form can allow a family member or beneficiary to receive their benefits sooner, take ownership of inherited property, or close the deceased’s accounts.”

Congressman RJ Walker said the law change was straightforward, adding “trying to obtain certified death certificates from people all over the world basically seems to be pretty unrealistic to me.” Walker then motioned to report ONCA 21-113 to Congress with a “do pass” recommendation. The bill passed 12-0 and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear signed the law to take effect on Sept. 23.

Original Publish Date: 2021-10-14 00:00:00

Benny Polacca

Title: Senior Reporter


Instagram: @bpolacca

Topic Expertise: Government, Tribal Government, Community

Languages spoken: English, basic knowledge of Spanish and French

Benny Polacca (Hopi/ Havasupai/ Pima/ Tohono O’odham) started working at the Osage News in 2009 as a reporter in Pawhuska, Okla., where he’s covered various stories and events that impact the Osage Nation and Osage people. Those newspaper contributions cover a broad spectrum of topics and issues from tribal government matters to features. As a result, Polacca has gained an immeasurable amount of experience in covering Native American affairs, government issues and features so the Osage readership can be better informed about the tribal current affairs the newspaper covers.

Polacca is part of the Osage News team that was awarded the Native American Journalists Association's Elias Boudinet Free Press Award in 2014 and has won numerous NAJA media awards, as well as awards from the Oklahoma Press Association and SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter, for storytelling coverage and photography.

Polacca earned his bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University and also participated in the former American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota where he was introduced to the basics of journalism and worked with seasoned journalists there and later at The Forum daily newspaper covering the Fargo, N.D. area where he worked as the weeknight reporter.


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