CARLSBAD, Calif. – Candidates running for Osage Nation elected offices in the 2022 General Election ventured west to meet fellow voters here at the United Osages of Southern California Spring Gathering on April 23.
The day-long event is the first UOSC in-person gathering since fall 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. More than 60 individuals attended the event’s candidate forum in the Carlsbad Senior Center to hear from 15 Osages running for Principal Chief, Congress and Osage Minerals Council who traveled from Oklahoma.
UOSC Chairman Greg Clavier welcomed the attendees back to the annual gathering, a 60-plus-year regional tradition for California regional Osages and their families to network, share fellowship, as well as hear from Osage officials and candidates during election season. Principal Chief candidates Joe Tillman and incumbent Geoffrey Standing Bear spoke first followed by candidates for ON Congress and Osage Minerals Council.
Clavier said the candidate forum rules are: “Each candidate will have an allotted amount of time to introduce themselves and discuss their individual positions on topical tribal issues.”
Principal Chief candidates
Seeking a third term as Principal Chief, Standing Bear introduced himself as a Pawhuska District Inlonshka Committeeman and a licensed attorney of almost 42 years who practiced before he was first elected to the Executive Branch office in 2014. Before that, he also won election to a four-year term on the Second ON Congress.
Standing Bear also recalled his first UOSC visit in 1989 when he was running for Assistant Chief under the Osage Tribal Council form of government and after winning the 1990 election, he recalled his oath of office was the same one federal employees take for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “During that four years, I learned we could not do anything on our own without the control of the federal government and at that time, there was not a lot of interest in change from that system … so I decided not to run again and stayed away from our Osage political system because there was nothing outside being a headright owner, as I am, except our oil and gas and royalties and BIA … After our (2006) Constitution was put in, I watched it for the first four years and then found we could do a lot,” he said.
As an attorney, Standing Bear worked for the Muscogee Creek Nation, noting he filed the first gaming-related lawsuit in Oklahoma in 1984 and worked with other tribes including the Seneca-Cayuga and the Navajo Nation. “I’ve spent years watching what other tribes can do, so I come back to the Osage and we aren’t doing anything … I assessed what the other tribes were doing and it all seems to boil down to land and our culture and our language and I told you (four and eight years ago) that’s the three pillars I’m going to build on and I have,” he said.
Standing Bear mentioned other recent developments under his administration including the 43,000-acre ranch purchase from media mogul Ted Turner and federal funds from the Cobell Settlement were used to purchase 7,000 more acres. At the ranch, there are now 2,400 head of cattle and the Nation purchased a former hunting lodge in eastern Osage County, he added.
In seeking another term, Standing Bear noted there are several ongoing projects his administration is handling including having more online content to learn about Osage culture and language. Another project on the horizon is a new Heritage Center to house the Cultural Center and Language Department by the ON Museum, he said. Already in the works is an expanded museum with two hired firms working on architecture and planning and the Seventh ON Congress recently approved $600,000 to start engineering and architectural work for a Heritage Center.
Tillman, currently in the middle of his second Congressional term, is challenging Standing Bear for the Principal Chief’s office. He is a former division leader under the John Red Eagle administration and his professional background includes marketing and consulting, as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Oklahoma State University.
He referred to prior statements made on his qualifications and said he is qualified to be Principal Chief per the Osage Constitution. “You gotta be 35 years old, you gotta be a member of the Osage Nation, you gotta have $500 (the candidacy filing fee), no felonies, that’s it, so I’m qualified. You look at some of the best leaders in Indian (government) and Indian revenue in Oklahoma and I go to Creek Nation, I go to the Chickasaw Nation, you don’t have to be an attorney to run a Nation. Gov. (Bill) Anoatubby, leader of (Chickasaw Nation), they do $5-4 billion a year in revenue, they do $600-700 million a year in non-gaming revenue – he’s not an attorney.
During a past visit with Anoatubby, Tillman said “I was having breakfast with him and he says ‘I surround myself with people who have different skill sets and I let them do their job. I let them do their job and they make me look good’… The point is you don’t have to be an attorney to qualify, understand how to run gaming, water rights, McGirt (court) decisions, land acquisitions. You surround yourself with those people as Gov. Anoatubby told us.” During his speaking time, Tillman touched on economic growth because he believes more tribal revenue will increase services and benefits to all constituents.
“For the last 12 years, all of our eggs are in one basket … All we have is gaming, that’s all we have, and when the (COVID-19) pandemic hit, our gaming shut down. We know the numbers in Congress, we had the sustainability to last 6-7 months as a Nation, that’s all we have,” he said and referred to other Oklahoma tribes who have more revenue sustainability thanks to their respective businesses. “Economic development within the Osage Nation, the return on investment from our LLCs for the last eight years? $0. Think about that, where’s the business acumen in that? We can look locally in Pawhuska, everybody heard of Pioneer Woman? She’s done some amazing things. Like her, love her, hate her … $500 million a year empire she has created in Osage County. We have watched hundreds of thousands of tourists come through Pawhuska and we’ve done nothing.”
“That’s priority on my list, tourism has to be a mechanism to involve Grayhorse, Fairfax, Hominy … You have to outsource this tourism department to make it really happen,” Tillman said. “It’s a shame because I felt we lost a lot of revenue sitting there watching this happen. And there’s other opportunities around the world. We have an LLC with six entities underneath it and we ask them ‘are the LLCs making any money?’ How can we return an investment to the Nation when we haven’t made anything?… We have got to up our game in economic development because we do nothing, that needs to change,” Tillman said.
Attending candidates running for six seats on the Eighth ON Congress were: Eli Potts, Berbon Hamilton, Whitney Red Corn, Brandy Lemon, Ericca Unap-Dennis and Otto Hamilton.
Potts, seeking his second Congressional term, said he’s held four town hall meetings during his first term “to make sure it was a priority to hear from you… I’m the only member of the (Congress) that does not reside in Osage County. I think that’s important to have at our table when we’re talking and making decisions for our Nation where only 19% of our people reside in Osage County… In the last four years, I filed 88 bills, that is 42% of the legislation that is being considered just by the five incumbent members of Congress who are filing for reelection and that’s working hard for you.”
Berbon Hamilton works as a project manager for Norman-based Tribal Government Institute PTAC, which helps tribes and small businesses. “I’m involved every day in economic development for tribes in eastern Oklahoma and the Southern Plains region … What we do is help those tribes navigate the contracting job cycle… I’m here to offer what I know about economic development to the other members of Congress (if elected) and we have to support these businesses that we have,” he said. “One thing our Constitution says – we can’t get into the day-to-day businesses, but we have to hold those board members accountable.”
Red Corn (Pawhuska District) said she lives in Bixby, is a married mother of two, and director of a preschool with 85 children and 22 teachers. She said, “if elected, that means you all have asked me to step into that role and I don’t take that lightly … that should come with a huge level of responsibility, sometimes that comes with some fighting, sometimes that comes with good compromises, but it always comes with growth … For me, for Congress, this looks like investing in our people from the beginning of their life to the end of their life, to teach them to lead and to grow and to appreciate their culture, appreciate their language, and to get an incredible education and then have them pour back into our people all the time and as best as they can. They have been resourced well by us, they have grown, they have sustained … in the end, they always have connections back to our people and back to our roots and it’s a beautiful cycle of connection … And I want to ensure that is there for their future, for their children.”
Unap-Dennis comes from the Hominy District and grew up in Skiatook. If elected, she said she brings “a willingness to collaborate and understand each other, to listen and be a voice for every Osage, advocate for as much as I can for good change.” She is an executive director of a 150-unit senior living community in Tulsa where she lives with her family. “I started from the very bottom, I’m a hard-working woman and a self-made woman, I started working (at age 15), I’m a graphic designer by education … I worked (as a certified nursing assistant), case management, marketing, development and then I went into senior living … My focus and what I would like to bring to the table is that experience and helping us move forward for our elders… whether that’s a part of me creating legislation or cooperating with our Chief’s office, I want to be able to understand what do we need for our elders?”
Lemon is seeking a second term and said she’s a nurse by profession and worked at the Wahzhazhe Health Center, as well as other prior posts at health facilities “I learned really quick it’s a totally different beast … I needed to work ‘on the hill’ and see all the inter-workings that do happen and understand how our clinic runs and the healthcare we’re all trying to achieve… This job, it’s hard and it’s OK that it’s hard … it should be challenging and we can support and offer all the legislation we want, but if you do not have the ability to work with your other folks in Congress and lobby for the votes, you can author all the legislation that you want, but it’s not going to pass, and so you have to lobby your colleagues to get behind the initiatives that you feel strongly about.”
Otto Hamilton III, older brother to Berbon Hamilton, said Southern California is significant to their family because their mother, Sandra Murphy-Hamilton, was born there, it’s where their parents met and where he and his siblings were born before they moved back to Oklahoma. Hamilton is seeking a second Congressional term after his 2014-2018 term and he’s worked in two stints in grants management for the Nation. ‘When it comes to election season, get to know your candidates, get to know who they work with or projects they’ve done, how they got it done, don’t just take their word for it. I’m very proud of my track record, work with (ON) Education Department, grants I’ve worked on, I’m available for questions too.”
Minerals Council candidates
Attending candidates running for the eight open seats on the Minerals Council were: Margo Gray, Joe Cheshewalla, Paul Revard, Stephanie Erwin, Dana Maker Murrell, Cynthia Boone and Jeff Patten.
Gray is seeking her second OMC term and recalled sharing (during her first election campaign) that she has 18 years of law enforcement experience (in addition to business and consulting), which includes special operations, hostage negotiations, and patrol training. “That information and knowledge has really helped me being in this seat because there’s many times you need that, I can only prove in a court of law what is fact-based, not on rumor, not on whatever people think or what someone had said … In seeking another term, Gray said “when we work together (ON government entities), not fight against each other, we can get something done, if the Governor (Kevin Stitt) says we’re done with gaming, we better already have a Plan B and Plan B always been and should’ve been we should’ve already had our Osage oil, gas and energy business … I still have work to do, I’m asking you to put me in four more years.”
Cheshewalla is also seeking a second OMC term after serving a 2014-2018 term. He lives in Pawhuska but comes from the Grayhorse District where he’s served as a Drum Warmer during the Inlonshka. His oil/ gas work experience in Osage County includes gauger field man, technician and working with landowners and lessees. “We should be taking more trips up to (Washington) D.C. and talking to (Department of Interior Secretary) Deb Haaland and tell her what our problems are back home … There’s still a lot out there we can do and that’s what I’d like to see over the next four years for our production,” he said.
Revard, who lives in Bixby, is seeking a second OMC term and his energy experience includes oil and gas exploration and well drilling in Osage County since 1977. “I’ve not drilled a new well since 2013 primarily because of the decline of the industry and all my properties are in Osage County… I’ve been on this (OMC) for four years and I don’t think there’s been half a dozen wells drilled … Our primary resource is oil and gas, for us to maintain and increase your (shareholder) quarterly payment, we need to produce more oil and gas … New wells and working on the wells we have is what we need to do in the immediate future,” he said.
Erwin is seeking a second OMC term after also serving from 2014 to 2018 and she comes from the Drum family in the Grayhorse District. “Right now, I sit on the Osage County Industrial Authority Board … for us to make any more (Minerals Estate) money, just getting more oil, we’re going to have to make it where our oil people have the ability to come in and look at the records… Water rights, we need to be concerned about it and keep our fingers on it to make sure the Osage annuitants get their piece of the pie of water rights. It’s not going to be settled anytime soon, but we need to keep apprised of it… There’s things that need to be taken care of to continue this Minerals Estate and I’m worried about it because I have a daughter and what I have (as a shareholder), I would like to leave to her,” she said.
Maker Murrell, is making her first run for OMC and is a former assistant clerk for the ON Congress and comes from the Hominy District. She has banking work experience and now works as Executive Assistant to the Chief, Tribal Council & Trust Board for the Delaware Tribe of Indians. “As a concerned Osage individual, I’m stepping up and I’m reaching out to ask for your help to elect me to the Fifth Osage Minerals Council so I can ask these questions and ask the Superintendent and ask the questions to the (Bureau of Indian Affairs) … Someone told me if you’re going to run for (OMC), you’ve got to do your homework, so I started looking and researching … the things I did find stated that the BIA isn’t doing their job and they work right next door to us. What I want to know is who’s going to hold them accountable? That’s what we do, the purpose is to protect the Minerals Estate,” she said.
Boone is seeking OMC reelection after she previously served on the OMC for 12 years that ended in 2018. “As a past member, I testified in Washington, D.C. before the U.S. House of Representatives Sub-Committee on Appropriations and the result was the award of $3 million (to the OMC), I was a member of the (Osage) Trust Team that negotiated the Highest Posted Price, I negotiated the attorneys’ fees down, the result was an extra $1,700 per headright share … If elected my primary concern will be to protect the Minerals Trust and its assets as I have in the past,” she said.
Patten is making his first run for OMC office and comes from the Revard family and also grew up around the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma. He holds a University of Oklahoma bachelor’s degree in petroleum land management and worked for other oil and gas entities across Oklahoma, with experience working with leases, drilling permits, and producers. “We need to attract producers, we need a set of rules they can depend on, their economics depend on their business plans, code of regulations to do their compliance, and have procedures that are set and know their timeframes when they can have a return on investment … I hope that I can participate in bringing and attracting, advocating to producers,” he said.
2022 Election Day for both the ON government and OMC take place on Monday, June 6.