Shannon Shaw Duty
Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, Congressional Speaker Maria Whitehorn and ON Chief of Staff Jason Zaun attended the 2015 Executive Council Winter Session of the National Congress of American Indians Feb. 23-26 in Washington, D.C.
Tribal representatives from across the country, 566 of them, attended the conference. Sessions on the Affordable Care Act, the status of the law and implementation of the Violence Against Women Act, and others were conducted. The most crowded seminar was Exploring Tribal Marijuana Policy, Standing Bear said.
“The Asst. U.S. Attorney for the Office of Tribal Justice told us all … they set priorities such as anti-terrorism, drug trafficking, child slavery trafficking – they have priorities,” Standing Bear said. “They said this is just not in their minds, local use of marijuana on federal lands is not to … if tribes engage in selling, growing, they should be extremely cautious about even thinking about it and they should consult with their attorneys, so that was interesting.”
Other sessions listed for the conference on the NCAI website include Bureau of Indian Education Transformation Update, services provided by the Department of Interior, Indian Health Service and the USDA.
The Nation’s lobbyist, attorney David Mullen, Chief Standing Bear replaced Wilson Pipestem earlier this year, introduced them to the staff of the House Committee on Natural Resources that works on Indian Affairs. Later that day they were invited to have lunch with Sen. John McCain.
“I sat next to him and Speaker Whitehorn sat across from him. We were not about to take selfies, but I can tell you, both of us though about it,” Standing Bear said laughing. “But Jason Zaun, he also sat across from Sen. McCain and Jason was in the U.S. Navy, and McCain is a legend, war hero, so Jason was star struck.”
McCain is the former chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and still sits on the committee. Standing Bear said they were able to speak to him for an hour on issues affecting Indian Country, “It was great.” Also joining them was Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree.
“I’ve been trying to get Todd Hembree and Speaker Whitehorn together since I was in D.C. last time and Todd has not been able to reach out to her and this is about our Water Task Force,” Standing Bear said. “Todd and one of his assistants in his office coordinate the efforts in the Cherokee Nation and we thought we should be talking to each other about what the other is doing. We’ve been trying to get to them and he has pledged mutual cooperation against the State of Oklahoma, who we’re trying to get involved in both of our water rights. So that was a very, very positive meeting.”
Standing Bear said former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, spoke at the conference and the highlight of the trip was being introduced to Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, who is now the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
“We quickly moved into the problems we’re having in the Osage, on the BIA holding up our permitting on our drilling and reworks and permit applications that have been halted since August of last year. So we talked at length and the Speaker and myself told him that history and how it works, apparently the Osage Producers Association has been working on Capitol Hill as well and he was already well versed in the problems,” Standing Bear said. “The State of Oklahoma, through Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, said at an OPA meeting that perhaps the solution is for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to take over the production, and I opposed that publicly. It is the problem of the BIA, Bureau of Land Management and the EPA not working together and creating an unnecessary shutdown, and Barrasso agreed completely.”
Next they met with Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, who asked to sit on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and he said the OPA has been to speak with him.
“[Lankford] told us he directly asked Asst. Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn and BIA Director Mike Black, if the 1979 EA had actually expired to cause this problem, and both of them said no it had not,” Standing Bear said. “Then the senator said that he was perplexed, why have they held up all the permits, which were shut down even when oil was a hundred dollars a barrel. So he said he and his staff are on the issue. But we told him from our Osage Nation perspective, we have an Osage Minerals Council which he had not heard from, so we felt it was our duty to let him know that the BIA was not helping.”
Original Publish Date: 2015-03-12 00:00:00