The Osage Nation Congress is reconvening for its 2022 Hun-Kah Session and started with hearing the State of the Nation address delivered by Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear.
In his March 28 prepared remarks, Standing Bear discussed ongoing projects taking place throughout the Nation’s government, including those funded with 2021 American Rescue Plan Act money distributed to the Nation from the federal government.
This is the final 24-day regular Congressional session before the June 6 General Election and there will be an April 4 Primary Election for the two Executive Branch offices, including the Principal Chiefs.
Standing Bear is seeking a third term and is facing two challenges from Congressional Speaker Angela Pratt and Congressman Joe Tillman, who are both running for Principal Chief as well. The two-top vote winners in the primary will appear on the June 6 General Election ballot.
In communications with Pratt before session and considering the close timing of the Primary Election, Standing Bear said he would make the State of the Nation non-political in delivering the updates to Congress, as well as the Osage public.
Standing Bear noted the Fairfax senior housing complex with 10 duplexes as an ARPA-funded example, as well as the recent land purchase in Hominy for its own senior housing complex.
For proposed Hominy senior housing, the week prior to session, Standing Bear met with the City Council to discuss connecting the complex to the water and sewer systems. “In the future, we would like to talk about a Title VI (Senior Nutrition Department) there much like the Fairfax Family Center … We expect that housing addition, which is 20 housing units in 10 duplexes, to at least double its size,” he said.
Standing Bear said a new Primary Residential Treatment facility remains a top priority to him and also falls under the Health Authority Board. He said the HAB recently selected an architectural/ engineer firm after negotiations fell through with a prior selected firm.
“Just last week, we heard a report in a meeting with (Counseling Center Director) Stacy Lookout about how we’re going to manage (the PRT project) … I hope during this session you can have her give that report to you that she gave to the Health Authority Board and it’s very encouraging,” he said, adding a new PRT “is vital, I believe, to our future.”
Another ARPA-funded project is a new courthouse building for the Nation’s Judicial Branch. “The Judicial Branch has been meeting with folks to make a selection on a location, they’ve gone through several places to look at,” Standing Bear said. “I saw the (Supreme Court) Chief Justice (Meredith Drent) at the Sovereignty Day powwow and she gave me her thoughts on that and it’s going forward.”
Standing Bear briefly mentioned other recent ARPA-funded projects including Broadband internet, IT equipment upgrades, natural gas generators for the three Osage villages, and language/ culture distance learning. “I think you will be pleased with the progress that people are making … I want to emphasize it’s not just the Chief or Chief’s office, in every one of these, you’ll see full involvement from all of us with the staff, as you all know, carrying it out,” he said.
Shifting gears, Standing Bear said two people applied recently for the Treasurer’s position, but neither followed through in completing their applications. The Treasurer’s position – appointed by the Principal Chief and subject to a confirmation vote by the 12-member Congress – has remained vacant since former Treasurer Jim Littleton resigned in April 2021.
The most recent Treasurer job advertisement closed in March and drew two qualified applicants with Certified Public Accountant licenses, Standing Bear told Congress. Neither applicant responded to follow-up inquiries from Human Resources as of March 28, he said.
Standing Bear said other important matters to address include those at the WahZhaZhe Health Center following the announced departure of the clinic’s CEO Dr. Amanda Bighorse earlier this year amid complaints on the Pawhuska clinic operations and staff turnover. “When you meet with the Health Authority Board, they have done a really good job of weathering all of the negative chatter and are going forward with, in their minds, the best thing to do is to divide the present head of the clinic into two positions – a Chief Executive Officer and a Chief Medical Officer,” he said.
Standing Bear said the board has been working to create the two job positions before advertising to draw prospective applicants.
As for tribal funding, Standing Bear said the Congress will need to revisit the projected revenue figures, which also comes in wake of a recent $750,000 additional distribution from the Nation’s Gaming Enterprise. He noted the increased trend in recent fiscal years with the projected revenue (mostly from gaming), which is used to fund several government operations and departments. Prior fiscal years include increases from $46 million to $58 million for the current year ending Sept. 30. For the 2023 fiscal year, Standing Bear said gaming officials have said the projected revenue from the Nation’s seven Osage Casinos operations will be $63 million.
Standing Bear said revenue from other government sources and retained revenue is also up and the Congress will see those figures when considering a new total projected revenue figure.
The Nation’s Harvest Land and Butcher House Meats operations are also doing well, which includes updated business hours at the meat processing facility and new point of sale equipment for customer purchases with credit/ debit cards, Standing Bear said. He also said plans are underway to set up an online store for meat and vegetable/ produce purchases.
Speaking of food, Standing Bear shifted to a proposal for 10 percent cost of living allowance for ON full-time employees under the merit employment system in response to recent increased food prices and fuel costs nationwide. “I think we all want to do our part on helping out during this inflation, which is where this cost-of-living allowance idea came about – watching people having to pay $4 per gallon and food prices going up here and availability, so you will hear a report from (Controller and acting Treasurer) Tyler Mcintosh,” he said.
For the proposed cost of living allowance for eligible Nation employees, Standing Bear said he was informed no new money would need to be appropriated to pay those costs, according to Mcintosh. Standing Bear said money budgeted to vacant job positions, as well as their unspent fringe benefits, provide enough funding for the proposed 10 percent cost of living allowance. In speaking with economic professionals, Standing Bear said he believes the inflated costs will remain through 2023 and he’s asked staff to maintain the 10 percent cost of living for the next fiscal year budgets for employee salaries and he asked for the Congressional support on the COLA legislation.
For the session, Congressman Scott BigHorse agreed to sponsor ONCR 22-01 titled “A Resolution to approve a request for a 10 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Osage Nation Merited Employees for Fiscal Year 2022.”
In closing, Standing Bear said he looked forward to working with Congress during session and also praised the March 19 Sovereignty Day Dance, which returned after two years of cancelations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of Osages, their families and fellow tribal community members celebrated the occasion in the Skyline Event Center at the Tulsa Osage Casino & Hotel that Saturday.
“That’s the highlight for me so far in the last few weeks, seeing our people gather,” he said. “That was really good, so that’s the state of our Nation as far as I can tell – We’re coming back together and we’re trying to go forward.”