Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear gave his opening remarks to the 8th Osage Nation Congress to begin the Tzi-Zho Session on Sept. 6. Within his speech he said the Executive Branch and the Osage Minerals Council have been meeting with BIA officials for the past several months.
The Nation is looking to take over BIA Osage Agency functions that are minerals related but are not trust functions, he said, such as contracting for field operations and the BIA’s probate department.
He said that funding requests to Congress will most likely be made after the Tzi-Zho Session adjourns.
“The Osage Minerals Council has in recent years requested tribal funding in addition to their federal authorized use from the Osage Minerals Estate. The Executive Branch also administers the well-plugging program through our office of strategic planning and self-governance, working in conjunction with our Minerals Council,” Standing Bear said.
“This office within the executive is working to add to our annual multi-year funding agreement of BIA programs … The BIA has identified field operations as not an inherently federal function and as available for contracting. Those are 15 positions, plus part or all of the deputy superintendent position. However, six of the field positions are not funded,” he said.
The multi-year funding agreement, or MIFA, is the federal funding appropriated for the OMC’s successful well-plugging program. The program initially received approximately $3 million and this year it received an additional $1.1 million. Candy Thomas, Office of Self Governance and Strategic Planning director, said her office performs the paperwork for the OMC for its well-plugging program, such as the grant reporting and reconciliation of funds.
The Deputy Superintendent of the BIA, which is currently Cammi Canady, Osage, has oversight duties from overseeing field inspectors to being a support to the Superintendent. Robin Phillips, who was the BIA Osage Agency’s controversial Superintendent since 2013, resigned her position this year. Richard Winlock is now the acting superintendent.
The Minerals Council operates on an annual $1 million appropriation from its shareholders. Any additional funds received are federal funds or Osage Nation appropriated tribal funds.
Standing Bear said he, and OMC Chairman Everett Waller, continue to meet with the BIA and the Washington, D.C. office of self-governance to conduct a seamless transition as they have with other BIA programs for many years. He said they have discovered the BIA could also shift duties from one or more positions to free up positions eligible for contracting. “This will be worked on during the next fiscal year,” he said.
In the meantime, they are not going to press matters until they have a greater degree of certainty, he said. To accomplish this, he is recommending the Nation and OMC listen to the BIA and the Department of Interior on whether to contract any Osage Agency positions or compact positions under a Department of the Interior compact. He said they will present what they find to Congress and the OMC.
“Until then, the Osage Minerals Council should not be seeking any funding from this Congress for contracting or compacting any programs. This is a good place to mention that the Executive’s negotiations with the BIA and the Department of the Interior Self Governance Office on contracting the BIA probate department has confirmed the necessity of federal legislation. For over 100 years federal law has commanded that after the death of an Osage headright owner our Osage headrights are partially under control of the state of Oklahoma or other states with approvals by BIA and the Interior Department’s Solicitor. Nowhere has there ever been any Osage Nation involvement,” Standing Bear said.
“The situation with revocable trusts illustrates what a disaster this has been. We will make recommendations and explain much more about this in the coming months. I mention it here because I believe in this time for our own Osage courts to take over this process. Our constitution protects our Osage headright owners from the politics of the Osage Nation.
“In the meantime, to move forward on probate reform, the Osage Nation Attorney General will need funding for federal legislative work for his staff and our Washington, D.C. attorneys and lobbyist. This funding was not included in their current request because this is a new issue. We will return to the Congress within the next three months with more information,” Standing Bear said.
Thomas echoed Standing Bear to the ON Congressional Government Operations committee on Sept. 7. She said they have met with their self-governance attorney several times and have requested additional information from Eddie Streater, BIA Eastern Oklahoma Regional Office director. Information such as workload, how many probates have been filed, and other data gathering.
“So, we’ll be analyzing that. When we take over a tribal program, there’s a lot of transitional planning that needs to be done and we’re right at the edge of that information and getting that back,” Thomas said. Congressman Billy Keene asked if Thomas knew of any other tribes that have compacted probate. She said she knows of others, but the Osage’s probate process is different, in that it involves headrights, the mineral estate and restricted property.