Congresswoman Jodie Revard knew a lot of landowners were falling behind on repairs. She would hear from people who were hit hard by inflation and needed assistance with fencing or spraying for noxious weeds on their land. Revard knew there was a program to help homeowners with controlling weeds on their property, but thought it wasn’t enough money.
That’s when she decided to author her own bill.
“It usually comes from constituents reaching out saying, you know, hey, I really need help with this or that type of direct assistance,” Revard said.
The bill she authored is called the “Restricted Property Improvement Act” and it’s aimed at the more than 1,000 Osage landowners who have restricted property held in trust by the U.S. government. This is where, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs website, “the process where the Department of the Interior acquires the title to a land and holds it for the benefit of a tribe or individual tribal members.”
The bill was unanimously approved by Congress in September and allocates nearly $2 million for landowners who need help maintaining roads on their land, repairing and maintaining fencing, getting rid of weeds and controlled burns on their property.
“I’ve been looking at this bill for about two plus years,” Revard said.
Since she was elected in 2020, she started hearing from many constituents who needed help with money for fencing.
One of those constituents was Angela Toineeta and her brother Silas Satepauhoodle.
Her land has been in the family for more than a generation. Her mother, Genevieve “Jewell” Oberly Satepauhoodle leased the land to some of the Drummonds.
They have been affected by fencing issues, the lack of property surveys and damage to their lands from saltwater. Property survey and pond retention are other services covered under this bill.
Toineeta said the BIA lets lessees graze cattle and use salt licks on her land, which leached into the ground, damaging some of the grass. There was also some fencing that was down and damaged. The former lessee offered to pay for half of the fencing, but Toineeta said she needs help with the other half.
“The Osage Agency did not uphold their part of their fiduciary responsibility to us as Osage landowners, and that’s the problem,” Toineeta said. When she heard about Congresswoman Revard’s bill, she said it would be a big help.
The effective date to start applying is Jan. 2, 2024, for Osages affected by these issues. A total of $1,920,920 was appropriated during this legislative session – this amount was based on a nine-month period (January – September). The program will be available to landowners every fiscal year.
“It takes a lot of money to maintain property,” said Justin Carr, who works for the Osage Nation’s Roads Department.
Carr is also a restricted landowner and said making sure property owners have clearly maintained driveways so emergency vehicles can pass and are not subject to being washed out when heavy rains occur in Osage County would be a huge help. The average cost, he said, for gravel and culvert pipes is about $3,000 per landowner. It may not seem like a lot, but for those on a fixed income and those who are elderly, those costs can add up.
And if a property is not well maintained, he said, it can decrease in value.
“We get multiple calls all the time about people asking for assistance and needing help that up until now we couldn’t help. So now it’s great to finally be able to assist these people,” he said.
The total breakdown of funds for these services will be:
- $668,888 for land fencing, noxious weed removal, boundary surveys and ponds
- $121,614 for critical access road maintenance
- $1,130,418 for hazardous fuel reduction and prescribed burns.
Carr said the initial money set aside for road maintenance will have to be looked at as this is just a drop in the bucket for the type of funding he thinks is needed.
Revard agreed and said, “We don’t know what the need is out there with our landowners.”
Where Osage landowners can apply for these funds will be up to the Executive Branch but Revard thinks it will be up to the Real Estate Services Department. They have the capability to determine which land is restricted.
Revard says she sees many positive aspects to this including maintaining cemeteries so that Osages can visit loved ones.
“I’ve been to a few family cemeteries and one in Hominy, and it’s just really overgrown. It’s really hard to maintain. And when it’s like that, you know, it’s hard to go pay respect to your loved one, you know?”
It’s not clear whether or not landowners can apply multiple times within one funding cycle; that’s something to be worked out as the need arises. Applications for these funds will be open in January of 2024.