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UOSC virtual gathering hears updates on Osage Nation projects and endeavors

Osage Casinos CEO Byron Bighorse discusses the new larger casino/ hotels under construction at Pawhuska and Bartlesville during the United Osages of Southern California virtual gathering on Nov. 13, 2021. Screenshot of Zoom event meeting 

The United Osages of Southern California hosted its second virtual gathering of the year on Nov. 13 with Osage Nation officials providing presentations to Osages living on the West Coast.

UOSC Chairman Greg Clavier and fellow California Osage and host Aimee Inglis welcomed the attendees and guest speakers to the Zoom meeting held on a Saturday afternoon like the in-person UOSC gatherings usually held in Carlsbad.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the virtual gathering took place like the previous one held in February. Clavier said a Spring 2022 in-person UOSC gathering is planned for Saturday, April 23 at the Carlsbad Senior Center where the Osage fellowship and informational gatherings were held in recent years.

Clavier welcomed the attendees and ON officials to the virtual meeting. He also acknowledged his father Galen Clavier, a former UOSC Chairman for more than 20 years, and wished him a Happy Birthday after turning 92 years old in early November.

ON Language Department Director Vann Bighorse delivered the meeting’s opening prayer and shared some highlights and noted the department is hosting virtual language classes to reach Osages who live outside the reservation boundaries.

Bighorse also mentioned Osage language Master Teacher Herman “Mogri” Lookout will receive an honorary doctorate degree in education from Kansas State University on Dec. 10. The KSU Graduate School Commencement will take place at 1 p.m. at the campus in Manhattan, Kans.

Scott Manzer of the Nation’s Investment Oversight Committee spoke and gave an update on the committee’s work, which included selecting a new investment company to oversee the Nation’s $32 million permanent fund to grow the rainy-day fund. He said more than 50 firms responded to the request for proposals. In 2020, Congress accepted the proposal from USI Advisors to become the investment management firm for the Nation for the permanent fund.

Manzer, who has lived in Bakersfield, Calif., said the transfer of the investment duties took time and was finalized in April and May 2021. “The numbers as expected are nice, and the numbers are going to go up and down because $32 million is invested in something other than a savings account, it’s going to have fluctuations. I’d like to report that the October increase in the (permanent) fund was $789,000. That’s in a month, that’s way more than we had got in a year before. Now not all months are going to be that way, but just for the 5-6 months that USI has had the total capabilities in investing the monies, we are up over $700,000, so that $32 million fund is now over $33.6 million … The investment committee meets on a monthly basis with USI Investments, we talk about strategies, suggestions, they’re the professionals, they know what they’re doing, they ask our opinions … They do this for a lot of major companies in the (U.S.).”

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear provided updates including mention of the recent Missouri land purchase for possible gaming expansion near Lake of the Ozarks. Before gaming can take place, the Nation must apply to put the land into federal trust for gaming purposes, which is “a complicated process, which a lot of tribes have done successfully, but you have to be very meticulous in following the federal law and federal regulations and that involves the state governor and the legislature on the gaming compact side,” he said.

Standing Bear said several individuals, including attorneys, are working on this endeavor, as well as a former Missouri legislative speaker who now works as a lobbyist. “We plan on submitting the (land into trust) application within the year after the environmental (studies) are well on their way and other activity including tearing down existing structures that are on the property – and trying to get this completed while Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland is in office.”

Standing Bear noted it was difficult but the Nation made progress to get trust applications approved during the President Trump administration for the new Bartlesville and Pawhuska Osage Casinos now under construction. “Now we have a very friendly pro-Native American administration with Secretary Haaland being a member of (Pueblo of Laguna in New Mexico) and Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Bryan Newland who is shown to be pro-Native American, of course, so once we clear all the technical standards, we will have that application submitted and get that to the secretary before they leave office and that’s the race we’re on there.”

In the Nation, Standing Bear said construction is ongoing on the new larger Pawhuska Village chapel with completion scheduled by May 2022. Following next year’s Inlonshka dances, Standing Bear said the current Wakon Iron Community Building is slated for demolition and construction will start on a larger building. He noted the Nation recently broke ground on senior housing in Fairfax and efforts are still underway to locate and purchase land in Hominy for its respective senior housing units as well.

Osage Casinos CEO Byron Bighorse shared some highlights on the gaming enterprise, which is the largest revenue generator for the Nation.  He said $90 million is being invested in the Pawhuska and Bartlesville Osage Casino Hotel projects under construction. “If you split it up, it’s 60/ 30, Bartlesville is about $60 million and Pawhuska’s about $30 million. Pawhuska’s a little bit smaller scale with 47 (hotel) rooms total, medium banquet space, on-site venue, we’ll have a bar there, 250 electronic games.”

Plans for the Bartlesville casino hotel include 86 guest rooms and 15 suites, meeting/ banquet space, three dining venues and a 500-machine gaming floor according to Bighorse’s presentation.

As far as casino business goes, Bighorse said “we are doing spectacular financially. Through these great results, we’ve been able to retire all of the debt for the Nation and the casinos … I’m looking forward to the future for this organization, especially if we can pull off Missouri, that could be transformative for all of us.”

For the Missouri gaming endeavors, Bighorse said “we’re going to go home so-to-speak, a very, very exciting venture, we have purchased land … It is in Miller County, Mo., it’s right near the (Lake of the Ozarks). Now everything you see as far as coming soon is pure speculation because I can tell everyone emphatically this is going to be a very long process and we feel pretty good about our position, however there are major hurdles to get over and it’s by no means a done deal. Ideally, we’d like to put in a $10 million first phase (casino) to test the market and see what happens … and then we’ll expand on it further should we see the results we expect … Create jobs there, create opportunity to work with the people of Missouri because frankly they have never worked with the Osage or any Indian tribes, so we’re looking forward to having those discussions and working together to find common ground so we can really move this thing forward.”  

For the UOSC in 2022, Clavier said: “Since 2022 will be an Osage Nation Election year, the Spring 2022 gathering will focus on a Candidates Forum. The date is Saturday, April 23, 2022.”


Benny Polacca

Original Publish Date: 2021-12-21 00:00:00


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Benny Polacca
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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