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Second Congressional debate group discusses ideas for legislation, dual enrollment and priority of benefits

A second group of six Osage Nation Congressional candidates took their places at the podiums in the Osage County Fairgrounds Ag Building to answer questions during the 2022 Osage News Candidate Debates on April 30.

The News Candidate Debates returned in an in-person format after being sidelined in the 2020 election year and this year’s Primary Election season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and those debates were held virtually instead. Each candidate received two minutes for opening statements, responses to questions, one-minute rebuttals and two-minute closing statements.

The second group of debate candidates running for the Eighth ON Congress were Otto Hamilton, Amanda Proctor, Whitney Red Corn, Paula Stabler, Drew Tiger and Ericca Unap-Dennis.

Candidate Amanda Proctor delivers her opening statement at the Osage News Candidate debates on April 30 at the Osage County Fairgrounds. From left: Whitney Red Corn, Amanda Proctor, Otto Hamilton. STEPHANIE IVISON/Osage News

Opening statements

Hamilton, Pawhuska District, is seeking his second Congressional term after serving from 2014 to 2018 and currently works for the Nation’s Grants department, which he’s working for in two stints. “My parents are Otto and Sandra Hamilton, I come from the Hamilton, Pryor and Strike Axe families. I attended Pawhuska schools from (ON) Head Start on to graduate high school, I went to the University of Oklahoma where I received my bachelor’s degree… I started off in the (ON) Education Department worked there until 2006 then I went to Planning and Grants… I learned about the federal programs that we currently have, doing research for grants, project management, narrative writing… I worked for the National Indian Education Association, I was there for two years until COVID hit then I moved back home to Oklahoma and I took a job with Tulsa Public Schools in Indian Education. Since last July, I came back to work for the Nation, I currently work for the Grants office as a grants management specialist. I’m running for Congress again, I feel I left some things on the table and I like to get things done, I have a better understanding of the government, so I’m here to ask for your vote,” he said.

Proctor is an attorney who grew up in Wichita Kans., works in Osage County and the surrounding areas, which includes other Oklahoma tribal nations. “I went to college at Harvard, graduated (with a bachelor’s degree), I went to the University of Tulsa Law School and received a number of awards there… Quite simply, I have more education and more expertise than anyone else in this race and probably any one else in any race other than Chief (Geoffrey) Standing Bear and that’s just the truth. I own a law firm, I have a private practice in Osage County… My practice includes probate, divorce, criminal defense, adoption, guardianship cases, the entire gamut. I also represent seven Indian tribes as a general counsel or as a special projects counsel. I can look down the Highway 177 corridor and see all sorts of projects in Indian Country that I was lucky enough to have a hand in. Those projects include casinos, convenience stores, hotels, and many housing projects.”

Red Corn, Pawhuska District, lives in the Tulsa area and introduced herself as the daughter of Wakon Red Corn Jr. and a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa. “I have a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership, a master’s degree in leadership. Currently I am a pre-school director, so I’m going to try to pair those things together and be on Congress. I’m excited to run in this race because the time felt right, I’ve prayed about this opportunity and the need to do this for a couple of years now and the opportunity came up, the conversation kept happening… It is my desire to be on Congress to serve you so I can watch our children grow up with a stronger foundation and we can dig deeper and build deeper roots and make sure our children have a place to come back to and have a sovereign nation that is here for them and they are connected to for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Stabler, a former chairwoman of the Pawhuska Village (five-person) Committee, is seeking a second Congressional term and has worked in various sectors in business and government. “I’ve been serving the Osage Nation since 1999, I have over 50 years of work experience in manufacturing, federal health, five years with the (Bureau of Indian Affairs). I’ve brought all that experience forward to work and focus on those projects I’ve been behind all of these years and of course the first and foremost are the villages and the work that we did there and onto the healthcare, minerals, it’s been a real ride for me and I enjoyed every minute of it… I’m also proud of the Osage Nation and what it’s become and how much it’s grown in the last 16 years. I was the first Communications Officer (during the Principal Chief Jim Gray Administration), I was there when the only benefits that we offered was a monthly newspaper and to bury you, so I think we’ve come a long ways since then and I hope to be able to work for you more and increase those types of projects here,” she said.

Tiger, Pawhuska District, introduced himself as the son of Olivia St. John Lookout and Dr. John Tiger and graduated from Cascia Hall Preparatory School in Tulsa and attended the University of California – Los Angeles. “I’ve lived in L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, Albuquerque (N.M.), all while working for Fortune 500 companies, I’m a results-oriented professional with nearly 30 years of (Information Technology) experience, I have demonstrated strengths in productivity, profitability… I have significant results implemented as a project manager, systems analyst, business analyst. I worked in various (fields) that included aviation, healthcare, oil & gas, banking, gaming and telecommunications. I bring to the table extensive knowledge in managing anything and everything that has to do with legislature in terms of being able to understand, comprehend, become a problem solver and critical thinker.”

Unap-Dennis, Hominy District, introduced herself as the daughter of Doris and Terry Unap and grew up in Skiatook and has professional experience as a graphic artist and senior living facility manager. “I am here today running for a seat on Congress because I have an interest and a will and opportunity to be a servant to my people. It’s been a goal of mine that I would be able to have this opportunity where I could use my expertise and experience to advocate for our people, most specifically our elders. I am also a new shareholder and restricted Indian landowner as well… I am currently the executive director of a 150-residence community in Tulsa where I reside with my husband… My focus and where I’d like to contribute my skills would be for our elders, I believe there is a lack of programming that currently does not exist and I believe the focus could be centralized better to where all of our Osages who are facing retirement have options that are available to them… we have a foundation but there’s a lot of work to do.”

Candidate Ericca Unap-Dennis discusses the need for building an Osage elder program at the Osage News Candidate Debates on April 30. From left: Ericca Unap-Dennis, Drew Tiger. STEPHANIE IVISON/Osage News

First question

What do you plan to file first, if elected? – Addie McLain, Houston

Hamilton said a lot of planning needs to happen first “before running to the podium… I have a few ideas I’d like to see done, but before we get to that point, I would like to get on the same page as my other Congress people, let’s get on the page and make an impact. Plus let’s get on the same page as the Executive Branch, let’s get it signed, let’s make an impact… For specific legislation to be filed, one of the things I want to do is protect our sovereignty from outside entities, let’s stand together against these outside entities, if we see it coming, let’s be prepared for them because right now it’s a different time from when it was 20 years ago. Sovereignty attacks are still coming to this day,” he said.

Proctor, who has sought Congressional office in previous elections, said the first project she would pursue would be a Nation-owned dialysis center. “As I stated earlier, I worked for many tribes and I’ve had the opportunity to be part of many different projects and one of the projects I am most proud to have assisted with is a dialysis clinic for a neighboring tribe. It was our understanding that people who are on dialysis have to be shipped to places like Wichita, Enid, Stillwater, or Bartlesville because there are no outlets for them to receive those services at home and the tribe (that I worked for) had been told that there were Indian people who said ‘I would rather die at home than be shipped off for dialysis three times a week’ into a foreign place. There’s no reason not to do it. People who are sick enough to be on dialysis qualify for Medicare/ Medicaid, those entities would reimburse the tribe for any expenses associated with those service. It’s not only a service needed for the community, but it’s a moneymaker and it’s a no-brainer,” she said.

Red Corn said “one of the first things I would really like to look into and write legislation for – it would take a little bit of research of course on the financial end of it – I know we have a very large need for expanded early learning for our youngest Osages for our community. I also know there’s a pretty good waiting list to get into those programs and that’s one of the areas that’s my expertise and also I think it’s vital for our youngest among us to be cared for, to have them educated by our people in our communities.”

Stabler said the reason she is seeking another term is because there is “still some continued work I’d like to keep going with and of course, that’s the development of (a new expanded) clinic, we have water infrastructure problems everywhere and there’s lots of money out there right now and we need to keep those projects going. We’ve got some small projects, but I think they’re going to grow into much bigger projects… I’ve also been talking for quite a while with my colleagues over revamping the (human resources) law and this goes for all of our laws, that’s what happened with the sexual assault laws that I just completed, the Crimes Against Persons Act… The other thing that is really first and foremost in my mind, which has failed before, is a nursing home. It’s something I promised a long time ago, it’s part of the strategic plan, but it’s going to take a lot of education to get everyone on the same page for it.”

Tiger said he would like to work on legislation establishing an office to serve at-large Osages, especially those living outside Oklahoma. “They need to have a liaison that is particularly there for their services, health, education. I would also like to have that also tie into Grayhorse and Hominy (districts) and how we can better serve them through health, how do we allow some of their elders to tap into the resources we have primarily in Pawhuska. So if there’s a way to create some sort of an office that would be (focused on at-large Osages), I would like to see that adopted.”

Unap-Dennis said one of the first initiatives she want to work on, if elected, is “to do some diligence and understand exactly where our needs are. I’m excited about the census (legislation passed in the 2022 Hun-Kah Session), I fully believe we don’t know what those needs are today. Where are the needs of our elders right now? And my first legislation would be to really evaluate building an elder program that currently doesn’t exist… Do we have an infrastructure in place to make sure those programs are successful? Do we have the right infrastructure to get the funding that we need? I would like to start there and do the diligence to make sure that legislation is sound and has the support from Congress and our Chief’s office as well.”

Candidate Paula Stabler speaks on her support of dual enrollment in the Osage Nation. From left: Drew Tiger, Paula Stabler, Whitney Red Corn. STEPHANIE IVISON/Osage News

Second question

Many tribes do not recognize dual enrollment, however the Osage Nation does. What are your thoughts on dual enrollment, especially in regard to some Osages getting ‘dual benefits’ from multiple tribes? – Scott Manzer, Bakersfield, Calif.

Proctor said she is not against dual enrollment and “enrollment is one of the most sacrosanct functions that a tribe can exercise in its sovereignty. A tribe has the right to choose who constitutes its membership and that right has been upheld by the United States Supreme Court many times. In fact, there was a case in New Mexico where a tribe would disenroll female tribal members who would marry outside of the tribe, but would not disenroll men who married outside the tribe and that case went up to the Supreme Court and that membership schema was upheld by the Supreme Court, so that is something a tribe can very much do no matter how arbitrary those provisions may be… I believe the Osage (Nation) has that ability and I have no reason to change the current system that does not prohibit dual enrollment.”

Red Corn said she also has no issue with dual enrollment, noting she too is Choctaw and other family members come from other nations “and they were raised in both places and they have a connection to both groups of people so I think the idea that we respect that and see the beauty in that is really valuable… There’s a lot of value to that and a lot of connection and a lot of unity that can come from that, so I don’t see a problem with that.”

Stabler said she also comes from the Omaha and Winnebago tribes, which do not allow dual citizenship and also have blood quantum. “For me growing up, me and my brothers and sisters, we have CDIB cards from all of our tribes, which are all recorded here at Osage, but for our children, they’ve been denied because they didn’t reach the blood quantum and that’s been awful for them to have… I am absolutely for dual enrollment, If they can get benefits from both places, good for them.”

Tiger said he is also Euchee Creek, Delaware and Chickasaw and he too supports dual enrollment. “If you can get benefits from others because some tribes are very limited in what they offer, some of them don’t give as much money toward education, so if you can benefit from that to further your education, I’m all for that so I’m in agreement with dual enrollment,” he said.

Unap-Dennis said she also supports dual (tribal) memberships and “I am very thankful that our Nation recognizes that as an opportunity for everyone, especially those of us who do have other nations we’re a part of. I’m very proud to be a part of those other nations, but I’m also very proud of our Nation as well that we recognize that as a need for other people who have that same experience.”

Hamilton said he supports dual enrollment and agreed with the other responses. “It’s never been an issue here at the Osage Nation, I’m very thankful that our tribe decided to have dual enrollment. To me, it just makes sense. Those tribes that do not believe in dual enrollment and have their own reasons? That’s their own beliefs, more power to them, they can choose however they want. If a tribal member can receive more benefits from more than one tribe, more power to them. I can only be worried about myself, my children, we’re Osage, that’s all we know,” he said.

Third question

Do you agree with the argument that, when allocating benefits and assistance, Osage members in Osage County deserve priority? – Nathan Hauth, Oklahoma City

Red Corn said “I believe in order to expand the benefits to people outside of Osage County, we’re going to need more money to be able to do that. So then that’s a question of revenue, income, all of those things. As a whole, just a blanket answer, I think if there’s an Osage in need, regardless of where they live, then we should seek to meet that need. I know that then to do so, we have to do other work behind the scenes, but I do think it’s important to consider Osages outside of Osage County… I do think every Osage has need, every Osage has value regardless of where the chose to live or where life has placed them.”

Stabler said her short answer is she believes every Osage should be considered for benefits. “I think the blurry area comes from the fact that a lot of the benefits that we have locally have to do with federal funding and that has a whole different set of rules and regulations that we have to follow. When you push that aside, we only have three main benefits that we offer that are all tribal dollars (burial assistance, education and the health benefit) – those three benefits by themselves take 42-44% of our gaming revenue each year and that’s OK. I think that’s one of the bills I tried to pass at one point was to set that percentage so that (with) every dollar that came in to the tribe, that money was automatically going to those benefits. As our (gaming) dollars grew, our benefits grew, if our dollars shrank, that was the protection for us to be able to reduce those benefits so we’re all in the same boat. I think that’s still an important piece of legislation… When those (two new Bartlesville and Pawhuska) casinos are completed, there should be a big bump in annual revenue. At that point, that could be a huge increase for (those and other) benefits,” she said.

Tiger said all Osages, including those at-large, should be able to benefit from what the Nation offers. “(Indian Health Service) Contract health is only for Osage County and I’m not able to (contract those healthcare) dollars because I live in Jenks… There’s a lot of us that live outside Osage County that could get contract health dollars. So I’d like to see that expanded, but it all goes back to getting strong lobbying for more money for IHS and we need to have these services enhanced.”

Unap-Dennis said she agrees that all Osages deserve benefits and all are a priority. “But specifically how do we do that? How do we prioritize that in each member and where they live and where they live in proximity to Osage Nation and our reservation boundaries? Do a lot of Osages understand how that federal funding works? (Do Osages know) that if we do have these programs that are operating under federal funding, they do have to serve our jurisdictional boundaries, they cannot be outside of this area – And that takes tribal funding. Where does that money come from? That’s what everyone needs to consider when we are offering those programs outside of our boundaries… I believe that everyone has the right to receive that priority, but as a whole, we have to look at where we are able to truly spend those dollars,” she said.

Hamilton said “I believe when we take an oath to the Osage Nation, our oath is to all Osage Nation members regardless of where they live, whether they live out of state or come back home in June or whether we see them at all. We’re elected by these people who live throughout the United States and out of our service area. One of the things that came up in my first term of Congress is the same-sex marriage (ballot question). During that time, I believe I spoke about when a service is created for a certain amount of people that’s not provided for another group of people, we’re creating a second-class citizen. I said it then and I’ll say it now, there’s no need for a second-class citizen with the Osage Nation. They’re tribal members regardless, regardless if they participate in our culture, regardless if they ever come back to Oklahoma. If they vote us in, we do have an obligation to help serve them… If there are services outside (the reservation boundaries) that need to be addressed, we need to hear about those and how can we do it.”

Proctor said her answer is “yes, if there is a person in Osage County who is part of this Osage cultural community that is homeless, who needs to be on dialysis, who needs medicine, who needs nutrition, who needs access to any sort of resource that they may desire, then I think those people need to come first. That’s not to say that all Osages don’t deserve consideration or benefits… But if it comes down to choosing between someone who’s suffering in Hominy and someone who’s suffering in Los Angeles, I’m going to pick that person in Hominy. And I say that despite my background, that’s just what I believe, and that may cost me this election, but that’s where my heart is. I think the Osage culture and the Osage land base, the Osage religion, the Osage language – those are fundamental values that need to be preserved… It’s not rocket science or magic that our federal programs may be limited to certain service areas. There’s a difference between a jurisdictional area and a service area and a jurisdictional area may very well be what it is and that tracts with our original treaty boundaries. A service area can be expanded or contracted universally or for certain programs. If you wanted to expand the service area of the Housing Repair and Rehabilitation Program and go in and fix privately-owned homes, all you have to do is go into your Indian Housing plan and say ‘we want this program to cover (more surrounding) counties, then HUD approves it, Bam! You’re done! It’s that easy.”

The 2022 Osage News Candidate Debates are available for on-demand viewing on the Osage Nation YouTube Channel.

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Benny Polaccahttps://osagenews.org
Benny Polacca started at the Osage News in 2009 as a reporter and has covered various stories and events impacting the Osage Nation and Osage people. Polacca is part of the News team awarded the Native American Journalist Association’s Elias Boudinot Free Press Award in 2014 and other NAJA Media Awards and SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter awards for news coverage and photography. Polacca is an Arizona State University graduate and participated in the former American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. He previously worked at The Forum newspaper covering the Fargo, N.D. region as the weeknight reporter.
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