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Osage Nation congressional candidates reflect on the race

Osage News reached out to the candidates to hear what they’ve learned on the campaign trail and what’s next.

It’s been a few months of dinners, candid conversations with voters and reflection on the future of the Osage Nation as the campaigns come to a close.

Osage News reached out to the candidates and asked them what they heard from voters about the issues that matter to them, what they learned from the debates, and what they plan to do going forward. 

It’s a great day for the Osage Nation

Candidates said language and culture were some of the things they heard mattered to voters. 

“As I’ve stated on this campaign trail, I am blessed to grow up here and be immersed in our Osage culture,” candidate and incumbent Billy Keene told Osage News. 

“It’s gratifying to see Osages thousands of miles away who ask about and want to learn more about our culture,” he said.

Access to healthcare and housing were other issues voters told current congress member John Maker about. He said he always hears from people as an elected official, but hearing from people on the campaign trail was different.

“It is always good to see and talk to constituents on the four-month-long campaign trail,” Maker said. He traveled to different Osage communities in Texas and in California. 

“It seems the main issues concerning tribal members are economic development, health care for children and elders, more affordable housing and language and culture,” he said.

Maker said running for office and being able to vote made him proud. If he’s elected, this will be his fourth term in office.

“It’s a great day for the Osage Nation and a great day to be Osage,” he said.

Candidate and incumbent Pam Shaw speaks with voters at the Osage-owned restaurant Saucy Calf on Election Day, June 3, 2024. ECHO REED/Osage News

Economy and Jobs

Christa Fulkerson said she’s heard from voters that there needs to be more consensus among the candidates and that people would like to see people getting along better.

“They are tired of all the infighting and would like elected officials to make decisions together in order to move the needle forward in areas we need help in,” Fulkerson said. She said some of the areas people were concerned about were economic development and jobs. 

She said since the debates she’s heard from people that connection was important from at-large voters. 

“There needs to be more messaging around inclusion,” Fulkerson said.

Inclusion is something candidate Maria Whitehorn also heard from constituents.

“We seem to be separated into on-reservation, off-reservation,” Whitehorn told Osage News at her campsite as she waited for the polls to close. 

“We’re doing forward innovative things with our buildings, but how are we going to maintain the things that we have built and what we’re going to do.”

Whitehorn said if elected she will work hard for the minerals estate and that she felt a lot of support around her work around the minerals estate. 

Tina Allen, an at-large candidate said she wants to get spending under control. She wants more money spent on services. 

Allen said she will continue to raise awareness about what she views as out-of-control spending through her Facebook pages. 

“I want to see these branches of government more separate,” Allen said. 

Candidate and incumbent Jodie Revard speaks to voters at her candidate camp on Election Day, June 3, 2024. ECHO REED/Osage News

Reversing Irby

Incumbent Joe Tillman said he heard people were concerned about the disestablishment of the reservation – one issue he wants to work on.

“Starting with the Irby case, getting that overturned because it’s not a good position to be in when our people look on our reservation as being disestablished,” Tillman said.

Incumbent candidate Jodie Revard and candidate Angela Pratt are hearing about land and water rights as being very big issues.

“I’m hearing good positive feedback about what we’ve been doing,” Revard said. 

Pratt said she heard from people who want the Osage Nation to continue to buy land back and put it into trust. 

Brooklin Sweezy said she’s gotten a lot of support as a young candidate.

“A lot of thank you’s, basically people saying, ‘thank you for putting your name in the hat’ and representing the younger generation that’s going to be coming in,” Sweezy said, as the smell of barbecue wafted through her campsite. 

More transparency, more communication.

Traci Phillips said she’s heard voters want more transparency in their government and better communication.

“There are significant disconnects in communication and overarching goals with timelines and discussion,” Phillips said.

She told Osage News she wants people to know she used her skill set in finance and business to help create change, “and would have regretted not doing so.”

Jacque Jones said it was hard to pinpoint one issue Osages are concerned about because they are diverse, but “a majority of issues have a cost attached to the solution.”

Fourteen candidates participated in the debates in April at the Osage Casino in Pawhuska. 

Candidates Osage News spoke to said they learned a lot.

“I have learned since the debates that every candidate is amazing and deserves to be commended for running their race,” Jones said. 

Keene told Osage News he learned to be a better listener after participating in the debates. 

“I like to inform our Osage people about not just what’s going on with our Osage government, but also what’s going on at the state and federal level. So much of what happens in OKC and Washington, D.C. directly impacts our Osage people,” Keene said.

Candidate Maria Whitehorn speaks with voters at her candidate camp on Election Day, June 3, 2024. ECHO REED/Osage News

What’s next?

If they don’t get elected, candidates told Osage News they would still continue to serve the Osage people in their capacity as business people, lawyers and educators.

“If I don’t get elected, I will continue to focus on Whitehair Consulting LLC, a business I started in 2020: a business that assists tribes diversify their economic development initiatives and Native entrepreneurs build businesses,” Jones said.

“If elected or not elected I will continue to serve the Osage people always in any way possible. I have a master’s degree in education, so I would focus on working for the Nation in the field of education,” Maker said.

If Billy Keene doesn’t get elected, he says he’ll focus on his law career.

“I will continue to help our Osage people and their families as they navigate various legal challenges.” Keene said he would also consider running again if not elected this year.

“If I am not elected, I will continue to support and be engaged in my Osage community along with being CEO of my company,” Phillips said.

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Allison Herrera
Allison Herrerahttps://osagenews.org
Title: Freelance Reporter
Email: aherrera@osagenation-nsn.gov
Languages spoken: English

Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs Desk.

Herrera recently worked on Bloomberg and iHeart Media's In Trust with Rachel Adams-Heard, an investigative podcast about Osage Headrights.

She currently works for KOSU as their Indigenous Affairs Reporter. Herrera’s Native ties are from her Xolon Salinan tribal heritage.

In her free time, she likes buying fancy earrings, running and spending time with her daughter.

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Corrections:

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that all 16 candidates participated in the Osage News Editorial Board Debates in April. Patrick Cullen-Carrol and Tina Allen were unable to attend. It was also incorrectly stated that if elected this would be John Maker's third term in office, it would be his fourth. The Osage News regrets the errors.

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