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Principal Chief candidates debate on scholarships, economic development, water rights, food sovereignty and diplomacy

Photo Caption: The Osage News held Candidate Debates on Feb. 17 at the Skiatook Osage Casino for Principal Chief and Assistant Principal Chief candidates. BENNY POLACCA/Osage News 

SKIATOOK, Okla. – Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and Osage Congresswoman Maria Whitehorn took the stage for the Osage News Candidate Debates on Feb. 17 at the Osage Casino.

Standing Bear and Whitehorn are the only two candidates running for the top spot of the Osage government. Standing Bear and Whitehorn both served as Osage Congress members from 2012 to 2014. Standing Bear was elected chief in 2014 and Whitehorn became Speaker of the Osage Congress. Standing Bear successfully sued the Osage Congress in 2016with Whitehorn named as the defendant. The Osage Supreme Court ruled in favor of Standing Bear. Whitehorn was re-elected to the Osage Congress in 2016 and is the current chair of the Appropriations Committee.

Standing Bear, 64, is a former attorney with over 30 years of experience. He served as Assistant Principal Chief for the 28th Osage Tribal Council from 1990-1994. He was elected to the Third Osage Nation Congress in 2010, served four years and then was elected as principal chief in 2014. He’s married to Julie Brave Standing Bear and they have four children and 10 grandchildren. They live in Pawhuska.

Whitehorn, 55, helped her husband Randy Powell build their family businesses and homeschooled their two sons in Hominy before running for Osage Congress in 2012, according to her 2012 candidate announcement. She was elected to the Fourth Osage Nation Congress in 2012.  

Moderating the debate was Michael Patton, board member for the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Tulsa and Mary Jane Lindaman, board member for the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma.

Each candidate was given two minutes for opening remarks, three minutes to answer each question, one minute for rebuttal or additional comments and two minutes for a closing statement. The candidates were asked eight questions.

Opening remarks

Standing Bear made his remarks first, listing the accomplishments his administration has made the past four years. “You have elected me to put us back on track. I have done that and more.” He spoke about his priorities for Osages first, Osage families and especially children. He has focused on education and during his tenure has developed the Osage Language Immersion School. Established Bird Creek Farms, community gardens and produced healthy food. His administration led the charge to compact the Wah-Zha-Zhi Health Clinic, putting it under the Nation’s control. The purchase of the Bluestem Ranch, the casino expansion of the Nation’s flagship casino in north Tulsa and noted that under his leadership Osages are in executive positions for the casinos and the Nation’s government employees. “We have gone from only 38 percent of employees being Osage or married to an Osage, to today, 62 percent. We have moved from a minority to majority.”

Whitehorn said as a member of Congress, “I have always put your needs and the thoughts for Osage people first.” She said the Congress has been very good about managing the money for the benefits that are administered and distributed to Osage members. She said that while on Congress she has seen there are things within the Osage government that are inefficient and that there are ways to be better with the money the Nation has. She was elected Speaker of the Congress in 2014 and served as Speaker until 2016. She now chairs the Appropriations Committee. Her job as chair is to make sure the Nation is spending its money in an efficient manner and she said she would bring that expertise to the Executive Branch. She wants to put an end to initiatives being proposed and there is no plan on how the initiative is going to extend into the future.

First question

“In our Constitution it says we have a duty to our children. We currently have Immersion and WELA for our children, what is your vision for the future of our Osage children’s early childhood programs?” – Aleacia Newby, Owasso, OK

Standing Bear said that implementing education initiatives for Osage youth is a priority. The Head Start programs for the Nation are 100 percent federally funded. He said they have improved the teacher to student ration at the WELA facilities and the Immersion School for one teacher for every six students. They provide curriculum that incorporate Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math, as well as the Osage language and Osage culture. “This is the first this has ever happened, and yes, it is extensive, but it is such quality that we have a tremendous waiting list. Here in Skiatook alone, we have had 73 students on the waiting list.”  He said once he took office in 2014 he and his staff began researching other tribe’s immersion schools. He said the WELA and Immersion School need more funding. He plans to work with the Congress for funds, grants and private entities. His hopes are to develop a private school for Osage students, pre-K through 12th grade. “How can we make change today, for the future? The answer was there all the time, our children. Fifty years in the future, right there, that’s how we change our nation.”

Whitehorn said the Nation currently funds three programs for pre-school and she agrees that the Immersion school “is top notch, it absolutely is.” She said a missing component the Nation needs to work on is nurturing Osage families. “Our children can come to great schools, but unless we have a really strong family component to help build families, to say how important it is for families to sit down and read to their children and be there for their children, we need to get better in that area.” However, she said the lack of funding the Nation has for these initiatives is troublesome. The Immersion facility is at capacity she said and maybe one more grade can squeeze into it but half of the budget runs on a grant fund that’s not going to be renewable. “We don’t have tribal dollars right now to extend further, to build a bigger building, we need to see the plan, we need to have this talk within our government about how we’re going to carry this out into the future.” She said she has asked for a feasibility study, for the plan and there isn’t one. “We’re not communicating about these issues. We’ve had to cash in CDs to make our budget this year. These are the things you don’t hear, things that I see that we need to work on to move the nation forward.”

Standing Bear said, “there are plans, there are good plans and they are being pursued every day by good Osage people that have the future in their minds.” Two examples he said are the Immersion team and the Grants and Compliance team are applying for more grants, this is normal administration activities, he said. We have a teacher development plan being developed by Osages where Osage language teachers will interact with Osage students, a team planning curriculum, healthy food initiatives, preparing those initiatives for private grant foundations.

Whitehorn answered she is aware the Immersion staff is presently working on a teacher development grant, “which is depended on whether we get awarded that money or not.” The people that work at the Immersion school are the “work horses” of the program, they are educated, and they believe in the school, she said. Where we’re failing is the plans that Chief Standing Bear has told you there are no one has seen those plans. If Congress could see those plans and we could have a discussion about where we’re moving this in the future, then we could do some financial planning to be able to carry this out and we won’t have the stress of appropriations of how we’re going to accomplish this for our people.”

Second question

“How would you address the need for the development of policies that define and protect our traditional food ways as a sovereign nation?” – Keir Johnson-Reyes, Placerville, CA

Whitehorn said she has come to know Keir Johnson-Reyes through his dedication to seed preservation and his work with Braiding the Sacred. Food sovereignty is important to her, “A Nation that cannot feed itself is going to fail, through time immemorial.” She said she is in favor of an Osage Nation Agricultural Cooperative, where Native seeds can be preserved and stored, Osage farmers can buy in to the cooperative. She said it’s just an idea at this time, but it would be something all Osages could participate in. She knows Bird Creek Farms currently provides food, but she doesn’t see the farm as a government program or hiring a person to provide food. She sees it as a project and initiative that interested Osages who want to do that can tap into. She said the cooperative could develop into a store.

Standing Bear said they have a government program called Bird Creek Farms. After he was elected in 2014 they took an inventory of lands. In his career he has had to read many legal descriptions of lands and he noticed the Nation owned land along Bird Creek. An Osage farmer had been farming the land for 20 years prior to the discovery. “We put together a wonderful program and it’s only been three and a half years since we put this together,” he said. There are four employees, he’s met with them twice and other staff just in the past two weeks and they are looking at how to take the next step forward to become self-sustaining. There are community gardens Osages can grow their produce in, there is a pumpkin patch for kids in the fall, a monarch butterfly habitat, bee hives and the children from the Osage WELA programs and Immersion school have planted flowers and vegetables at the farm. He’s reached out to the University of Arkansas and they have a large grant to assist tribes in developing food codes, so the Nation can sell its own food.

Whitehorn said she is fully aware of Bird Creek Farms and has funded it and supported it. She said she supports food sovereignty but also supports those Osage not in the Osage government system to aid them in supporting themselves also. “I think our policy should extend to all Osage members who want to be a part of food programs, I think a cooperative is a good way to go with that.” She supports that the food grown at Bird Creek Farms goes to Title VI, the head start programs, but she wants to develop policy to extend it out to all Osages, so they can benefit as well.

Standing Bear said after his team develops the food codes and puts the policies and procedures in place, they want to use federally money to eventually have their own store, where they can sell the produce coming out of Bird Creek Farms. The store will be in Pawhuska and they will sell food to the public, but in order to do that the food codes have to be in place. “We’re building that system now and once it’s complete we’ll take it to the Congress and we hope for their full support. These kinds of projects have to be carried forward with a vision, and a plan and with people who know how to execute. Ideas are great, but to do it you have to show up for work, and you have to work all the time for the people, and that’s what we’ve done. The proof is right there, go see it, it’s at Bird Creek Farms.”

Third question

“How important is it to bring her Higher Education Scholarship recipients back to Osage Nation following graduation? What is the plan of action to get these graduates working within the tribe?” – Rachel Blackwell, Skiatook, OK

Standing Bear said his administration has been talking about that for the last four months. The Nation spends over $8 million a year on the Higher Education Scholarship program, which is currently administered by Scholarship America. “We need to make it go further, we need professionals to be funded and we don’t have the money to do it. What we’ve been looking at is a program similar to Cherokee Nation, and other programs, where there is a commitment from the recipients, either to come back or if they live in California or some other place, to provide community service to show some payback to the money that has been received.” They are still studying other tribes to see how their scholarship programs work and he knows the discussion is going on in the Osage Congress as well. “We’ve got to find a way to transition into it, we don’t just want to implement it overnight.” He said the Nation needs to do something about sending money to Osages in another state, who have never had anything to do with the Osage, take the money and never have anything to do with Osage again. We have to develop some way to connect this scholarship money with the Nation. Because if people are just going to take this money and this is just a money thing for them, when others are here and they want to be a nurse and they want to come back and work in our clinic, they want to be a doctor, an engineer, some profession to help us, we ought to recognize that and give them some incentive to come back.”

Whitehorn said if she is elected chief this is something she has thought about. She said when she goes to the California meetings, parents more overwhelmingly, and sometimes students, thank her for the scholarship money their child has received. “That’s an Osage way. Our old people, when the government schools opened, they wanted our kids to get an education and they backed that and pushed them to do that. We’re an educated people and we should honor that,” she said. Her idea is to start small with what they can do and currently there is a six-month internship program built into the Higher Education Scholarship where students can come back and work for the Nation. She said there has been talk of limiting the scholarships to Osages in some way during the Standing Bear administration, to either make it be competitive or based on someone has to come back and serve, like an Indian Health Service scholarship. Currently, there is no “I am opposed to making it a competitive scholarship. I am proud – as Speaker I got to sign our commendations for our graduates and I didn’t know how that would affect me until I sat down at my desk to sign them: bachelors, juris doctorate degrees, master’s degrees. That’s the one thing I feel like that is one of the most important things the Osage people do to make a difference in people’s lives and I’m not about to pull it away.”

Standing Bear said no one is pulling the scholarships away, they want to enhance it and use it in a smart way. He said $8,100,000 goes to the scholarship program. In 2018, today we have 1,400 Osage students using that money. “We have over $9,000 a year per student. If you go to school and make a 2.0, just being Osage, you get the money. What we need to do is take a look at how we use it, for example: if you go to law school, $9,000 a semester may be great enough, it is for many … for an undergraduate degree. But if you go to law school, medical fields, engineering, they need more help. We need to provide them more funds. Again, you get someone who makes a 2.1, doesn’t care about the Osage and just takes our money, we have to address that.”

Whitehorn said the Osage Constitution dictates what is a member of the Osage Nation. “Whether we agree with that or not, whether we think that Osages who don’t live here in Osage County aren’t caring Osages. I don’t know how to determine that. I don’t know how to determine who is a caring Osage and who is not a caring Osage.”

Fourth question

“On day one of your second term in office or new term, what will be your number one priority concerning the Osage Nation?” – Billy Keene, Skiatook, OK

Whitehorn said her number one priority on day one is to get with the Osage Nation workforce. “We have so many smart, independent thinking Osage and I want to nurture what we have up on the hill. I see them in the audience, who have come back to work for us, because they care about how their government serves you.” She wants the employees to know they can approach her with ideas and she will listen to them and work on solutions. She wants to put people in a job where their skill set benefits the Osage people the most. “We need to learn how to work together, we need to learn how to communicate and we need to learn how to cooperate.” She said she has heard time and time again that under the Standing Bear administration ideas are not welcome. “It makes me sad for my Osage people, sad for the ones that work there that spend their time for the Osage.” She said there would be a planning period with employees, enter into a planning phase, and move forward together to build a better nation.

Standing Bear said his administration just completed a review of where the Nation is in the 25-year Strategic Plan. “I can tell you the report is that this administration has completed, or substantially completed, 90 percent of it. The 10 percent that has not been completed is in our Minerals Council and our Minerals Estate,” he said. On day one if he is re-elected, his staff will take a look at where the Nation is “and we can do that because we are organized. It wasn’t organized when I took office (in 2014). We can quickly assess where we are now and the directions we want to go.” He said the 25-year Strategic Plan and goals are guides that move his administration forward. “We want to continue where we are today on education, taking care of our children, making sure the health fund is fully funded, and the education fund is fully funded and how can we use these monies better.” He said 11,000 Osages take part in the Health Benefit Plan, which costs the Nation roughly $9.3 million each year. What if all 21,000 Osages want to start taking part in the program? He said they have to sit down and think about how they are going to ensure each Osage is guaranteed that money. He said the Nation’s permanent fund, which currently has $30 million in it to guarantee benefits needs to be tripled, the Nation needs to buy more land and put it into trust “even though we have opposition everywhere,” and the Nation needs to defend its water rights “and how we can win those and take on those challenges. I believe I am the right person to take on those challenges. I don’t believe there is a better person in the country to lead the Osage Nation on those challenges.”

Whitehorn said she has not seen anything on paper that suggests the Standing Bear administration has completed 90 percent of the Strategic Plan. How the Executive Branch approaches completion of the 25-year Strategic Plan is not done from a base of planning, she said. A priority in the plan is economic development and gaming is the Nation’s number one revenue. She said Standing Bear has said the economic arm of the Osage Nation would be put under a super board and it hasn’t happened. She said they talked about it during a Congressional Special Session in January but “discussions fell apart.”

Standing Bear said an Osage Nation delegation went to the Chickasaw Nation, including Whitehorn and Speaker of the Congress Angela Pratt, and they saw for themselves various models of business and policy the Nation could develop for economic development. He said on the Osage Nation’s website, front page, is a snap shot of the 25-year Strategic Plan. He said the Nation needs to build on its land, language and history. The Osage Nation Museum needs to be doubled in size.

Fifth question

“Recently the Osage County Commissioners voted to appeal the Nation’s fee-to-trust application for 75 acres in north Tulsa. If you are elected Chief, how would you handle this situation moving forward?” – Osage News

Standing Bear said he spent nearly four decades prosecuting civil crimes, civil actions, “and any other civil matter you can expect.” He has been in many negotiations, he was general legal counsel for the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, “I was the first person to file a case in gaming on 1984 on behalf of an Indian tribe. I know all about conflict on these things and I’ve proven I can win on these things, and I have.” He said the recent actions by the county commissioners was short sighted and “it’s about property taxes when we could replace those property taxes with economic development and there has been a threat to block us on Bluestem Ranch for putting it back into trust.” He said his administration has hired the best attorney in the country for fee-to-trust issues and that he has cleared up a lot of misunderstandings and put together a negotiating team. When it came to the issue of water rights, his relationship with Oklahoma AG Mike Hunter allowed the Nation to enter into negotiations and they have put together a team to work specifically on water rights.

Whitehorn said that the Nation is now in a situation that is going to take legal defense. She referenced when the Nation began suing wind energy companies and that she was behind the chief taking legal action. But she said moving forward the Nation needs to engage with the local, county and state politicians “with diplomacy.” She said she didn’t know who the person in the Standing Bear administration that was fielding those types of Public Relations issues, but “I can talk to people.” She said she can surround herself with lawyers and that when Chief Standing Bear drilled the water well on trust land in Skiatook, she said that was a calculated move to invite the Osage News to the photo op and that she was invited to the photo op and did not go. “He knew we weren’t ready to drill that well and put that out there in public. And here we are, we did not exercise diplomacy.”

Standing Bear said he has a good relationship with the Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, who is negotiating the water rights issue with ON Attorney General Holli Wells. He said the Nation has been waiting for years to claim its water rights and it’s something that should have been done a long time ago. “We are not in any lawsuits with the state of Oklahoma. I don’t know where that came from? It doesn’t exist. The Minerals Estate has a case on the wind farms and they’re doing a good job. We’re not in a lawsuit on gaming, we’re not in a lawsuit on water, and we’re not in a lawsuit on this action on them blocking us on fee to trust.” He said he is in communication with Osage County District Attorney Rex Duncan. He said he knows these lawyers and their capabilities, if you have someone in office who doesn’t then a lot of money is going to be spent on attorneys. “We have a great team and we’re negotiating. We are negotiating on every aspect. I lead the negotiating team on gaming, for the Osage Nation. I’m using all my experience … we’re going to expand gaming in the Osage, more games and make more money.”

Whitehorn said she didn’t say the Nation was in a lawsuit. She said the Nation was in a situation where they were having to engage attorneys when matters could have been solved on the front end with diplomacy instead of on the back end with attorneys. The water rights issue is near and dear to her heart, she said. She served on the Water Rights Task Force, along with Standing Bear who was chair. She said there were comprehensive plans to engage the water rights in Osage County, but those plans have not happened.

Sixth question

“As some people may know, our oil wells will not last forever, and may run dry in the very near future. My question for the candidates is that what other sources of income and revenue have you looked into for our people to benefit from?” – Noah Shadlow, Hominy, OK

Whitehorn said the Nation has “failed miserably” at economic development and that Standing Bear said in 2014 that he was going to organize and move forward. “We haven’t done that, all we’ve done is eaten ourselves into a bigger whole.” She supports economic development and she sees other tribes moving ahead. She said it takes communication, cooperation, a plan and a vision and that hasn’t happened yet. She said the first step is salvaging the Nation’s 8(a) contracting. The Nation has people employed to “nurture” the companies owned by the Nation but “this administration” hasn’t done anything with those companies and the Nation is in danger of losing them. “This is a struggle that we’re going to face.” She said there is also tribal economic development and “we haven’t done that either.” She said the ON Historic Preservation office has a “great” workflow model that can be applied to many other ON departments and provides contract work to other entities and that money comes back to the Nation. She said if elected she would have an Economic Develop Specialist in her cabinet that will help the Nation succeed.

Standing Bear said he has not put more money into the Osage LLC or the Tallgrass Economic Development LLC. He said more than $20 million has gone into both entities combined without a $1 in return. “I’ve appointed new board members, who are Osages, and are very strong and capable. To this day we do not have a financial statement where those entities are. This new board is hard at work getting that done for the first time.” He said he approved $3.5 million going to Bluestem Ranch at the request of the Congress. He said he wouldn’t put more money into Osage LLC or TED LLC until the Congress agrees to go along with modeling the economic business arm of the Nation after the Chickasaw Nation. He said they make $2.4 billion a year on their businesses. “I think that’s a pretty good model to follow.” He said good people have tried to make the LLC’s work, but they didn’t have a chance because the Congress “controls and approves” the Articles of Organization and the Articles of Operation for both entities. “We’ve got to free up these businesses from Congress control. You can’t run a business and say they’re independent when you’re approving their Articles of Operation. When they want to amend something, what do they have to do? Go to the Congress. That is not the way Chickasaw Nation runs it.”

Whitehorn said the Chickasaw Nation does not have an LLC Act, the Nation does, and she believes the Chickasaw form their companies under Oklahoma state laws. She said they start their subsidiary companies out with $50,000. She said she has never approved “one cent” to Osage LLC or TED LLC. “Because they haven’t shown me they were doing business. I have never been able to see their business, their overhead’s too high, and I’ve never seen them doing business.” If the 8(a) businesses fail “that will be a black mark on the Osage that will follow us around for 10 years. We won’t be able to tap into that resource again.”

Standing Bear said a lot of money can be made with the mineral estate. He said they met with top international managers and analysts and they said “the Osage is leaving a lot of money on the table in so many different ways. We can take our oil in kind. We can take our oil and get the value of it as it is refined down the road instead of where we’re taking it now.” He said the Nation could model after the Southern Ute, where they have taken their natural gas fields and turned it into a $4.5 billion asset.

Seventh question

“The responsibilities of being a tribal chief is similar to the position of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. It’s important to be knowledgeable on many levels, both internally and externally. Having established, long-term relationships on the local, state and national level for promoting initiatives, and the protection of our sovereignty is key. Can you please give some examples of relationships that you have developed that have assisted the nation?” – Jeff Bailey, Tulsa, OK

Standing Bear said he has formed relationships with Oklahoma AG Mike Hunter, that when Hunter learned of the Nation’s plans for their water rights, they spoke on the phone and agreed to meet and talk about the issues. He has a “deep personal relationship” with the Tinker Airforce Base. Lt. Gen. Lee Levy and their staff, “we are opening doors for our LLCs” after they are reorganized, he said. Chris Benge, who is the Chief of Staff for Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, we have a good working relationship and I speak with him on gaming. He also has relationships with the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, plus businesses and attorneys he has met and worked with throughout his 40-year career in law. “We have recently hired Vince Logan as our financial advisor. Logan just left the administration of the former president as the Special Trustee for Indian Affairs. We have relationships through Vince that none of us here have.” He said Margo Gray, who has relationships throughout the business world in Indian Country, has gotten the Osage meetings with the Chickasaw Nation.

Whitehorn said she has developed relationships and that she’s “not going to throw out a bunch of names.” She said she has the ability to talk to people, she has the skills of diplomacy, she knows how to surround herself with the right people. She knows how to research and take information in to make good decisions. She accompanied Chief Standing Bear on a trip to Washington during the legislative session of the National Congress of American Indians a few years agowhen she was Speaker. They met with legislators, including Sen. Ted Barrasso, who was the chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and engaged in a very long conversation about NEPA and I told him I wanted our Minerals Council to follow up on these issues.“I’m not intimidated by those doors in Washington, D.C., and when need-be I’ll be knocking on those doors, I’ll be putting those issues out in front of the people where they need to be because you hire people to help you with that. I’ll represent you when someone is needed to represent us on a government-to-government dealing. I’m very confident I can step through the door for the Osage people that will make you proud,” she said.

Standing Bear said after he was elected he sought out a longtime friend, attorney David Mullon, he spent 11 years as counsel for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, he worked for Wilma Mankiller, the Creek Nation,and sought him out at the NCAI where he was general legal counsel. I told him the Osage did not want to spend a ton of money in Washington on attorneys and because he’s my friend, he informed him that he was leaving NCAI and he wanted to be the Nation’s attorney and that he would do it “at minimal cost.” Standing Bear said he is also a longtime friend of John Tahsuda, who is currently the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Interior.

Whitehorn said she knows Mullon and has a relationship with him and trusts him. She said Mullon would work for any chief that hired him. She said relationships are developed and then nurtured through good communication. “All of my life I’ve been able to engage people when I need help. Some of you sitting out here have helped me when I needed to engage you. It’s all about planning, it’s all about knowing the needs of your people and how to best serve them and I feel very confident in my ability to do so.”

Eighth question

“President Donald Trump is proposing serious cuts to federal programs in his 2019 budget that will directly affect Indian Country. Programs like the Johnson O’Malley program, Indian Community Development Block Grant, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program could be eliminated. If President Donald Trump’s budget cuts come to fruition, how will you handle the loss of these programs for the Osage people?” – Osage News

Whitehorn said federal budget cuts by the Trump administration is something they’ve discussed for a long time since they saw him take office. “All the Congress (Osage) can do is plan appropriations and choose not to appropriate money. If we don’t have it or if we think the appropriation is too high. In my opinion, it’s the Executive office that casts those budgets and the responsibility to be looking at what’s going to happen three years down the road.” She said, “There is no new money coming in to us,” and the debt incurred by purchasing the Bluestem Ranch and the Tulsa Osage Casino expansion. “If I am chief, that is one of the things I want to do, is plan. Where are we going to be three years from now? What are we looking at in the federal realm for our funding? We’re not doing that. Or if we are doing that it’s not being shared with the body that appropriates the dollars to serve you. Because that communication doesn’t happen. I promise you, that communication will happen. Congress will have a plan of where I want to go in three years.”   

Standing Bear said the Trump administration budget was just submitted and there were substantial cuts in several key areas. Johnson O’Malley’s been mentioned for a 100 percent cut, he said. “We have already analyzed what this means for the Osage, of course we have plans, of course we have plans for this year, next year, the year after,” he said. He said last year the Nation joined other tribes in Congress to oppose the proposed budget and they were successful. “We plan on doing the very same thing this year,” he said. “We’re on top of it, we’re following a plan. We’re doing what has to be done.” He said the proof is in all the accomplishments his administration has made.

Whitehorn said she didn’t know if she could ask to see Standing Bear’s plan because she would request it be submitted to the Osage Congress to see how the Nation is going to address these funding cuts “instead of crossing our fingers that it doesn’t happen.” She reiterated her stance that she believes the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch have to communicate, cooperate and work together on these budgetary issues.

Standing Bear said the plan is the 25-year Strategic Plan because that is how they are set up and it’s accessible to anybody “including the Congress.” He said the Congress can get a monthly statement from the Treasurer on what the Executive Branch’s expenditures are and each department has a program plan of what they plan to do each year, and both are public record. “There is nothing being hidden here. If the Congress doesn’t know it’s because they haven’t read their mail. It’s right there in front of us. Everything we do is transparent.” He said that everybody can have a plan, but they have to execute on it and make things happen. “All that you’ve seen us do with this administration are good Osages, working together to make something happen. We’ve got a good future ahead of us, let’s keep it up.”

Closing statements

Whitehorn said the message she hopes everyone takes home is “we have to cooperate. We have to develop our economic development base. Because the chief talks about a plan, we’ve been involved in lawsuits because we asked for information and the information was not forthcoming. Either the information does not exist, or he just thinks he doesn’t need to cooperate to propel this Nation forward. That was the crux of the matter for the lawsuits we got into.” She said she will perform her duties as chief for all Osages and communicating with all Osages. Economic Development is key and needs to get going, she said. She said 80 percent of Osages want proper budgeting and they can’t do that without good communication. “The 25-year plan was an idea. We require our enterprises to submit us plans. Bluestem Ranch board has submitted us an excellent plan. They give us their short-term plans, mid-range plans and long-term plans. Every government should have one, every government that spends your dollar … I want to plan, I want to communicate, and I sure hope you can come out and support me as your chief.”

Standing Bear said, “The Osage Supreme Court has supported our position twice (against the Osage Congress).” Under his administration the Nation has stopped the loss of tribal land, and instead is gaining it, he said. When he negotiated and signed for the purchase of the Bluestem Ranch, “it was a turning point for us.” His administration has purchased approximately 6,000 acres of fractionated lands with the help of the federal government. “There is no mortgage or loan on any of this land,” he said. Four years ago, he was told the Osage language was nearing extinction, and today after the development of the Osage Language School, strong support of the Osage language program and the development of the Osage language app, “we can now hear the language spoken, especially with our young.” He said they have issued the Nation’s first water well permit under the Nation’s flag and has initiated negotiations for the Nation’s new gaming compact. “I was the first tribal leader to ask to expand our gaming to include more Las Vegas-style gaming.” He recently met with the Lieutenant Governor of the state of Missouri, next Speaker of the House of the state of Missouri on opportunities for the Osage Nation, “all in a limited amount of time. My team and I ask you for another 48 months to continue on this path. We need more people to work with and we hope you are proud of the work we have done.”

The Osage Nation Election Day is June 4 at the ON Museum on the Osage Campus in Pawhuska. Early Voting will be June 1-2 at the ON Election Office in downtown Pawhuska. The deadline to submit absentee ballot requests to the Election Office is April 20. For more information on the election, visit the Election Office website at

To watch the Osage News Candidate Debates for Principal Chief visit


The Osage News wishes to thank the Osage Nation Communications Team for live streaming the debate on Feb. 17. We would also like to thank the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Tulsa for moderating the event and the Osage Casinos for sponsoring the event.





Shannon Shaw Duty

Original Publish Date: 2018-02-19 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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Benny Polacca
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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