As the removal trial for Osage Principal Chief John D. Red Eagle got under way Monday in the chambers of the Osage Nation Congress, attorneys for and against the tribe’s executive leader agreed that the current dispute is rooted in governmental changes made over the past eight years.
The unprecedented impeachment-type proceedings come during an 11th special session of the Third Osage Congress. The tribe’s current form of government was put into effect following voter approval of a new Osage Nation Constitution in 2006.
Osage Nation Congress legal counsel Mark Lyons indicated that the current problems are tied to Red Eagle’s refusal to accept the changes ushered in by that vote — which he contends switched the tribal government from a chief-directed type "to one that will be accountable to Osage citizens."
"His may be the old way, but those old days are out and the new days are in," Lyons said in his preliminary remarks before the start of the trial.
"Anyone who ran for chief had to know that there was a new way of doing things from that day forward," the attorney for the Congress stated. "He had to know: You can’t get away with that anymore."
Attorney Kirke Kickingbird, in his opening remarks on behalf of Red Eagle, said: "I’m not convinced that a new order is in place, but there may be a new power structure.
"What we’ve got is a transition into a new form of government," Kickingbird added. "And, there could be some difficulty in defining how these two worlds will come together."
The attorney for the chief said there are differences in perspective between the tribe’s executive and legislative branches.
"Things don’t always run smoothly," said Kickingbird. "People don’t always see eye-to-eye."
In his summation, Kickingbird asked for a tempering of those relations, saying: "Differences of opinion should not work against the Osage people."
In defense of the principal chief, the attorney added: "He is trying to do what he thinks is best for the Osage people."
Red Eagle faces six removal charges — all supported by recommendations from a congressional Select Committee of Inquiry. The chief is accused of malfeasance in office, disregard of constitutional duties and oath of office, arrogation of power, abuse of the government process and undermining the integrity of the office.
Since his election in 2010, Red Eagle has had several conflicts with the Osage Congress. One of the trial allegations stems from a long-standing dispute regarding the tribe’s valuable Mineral Estate and a law enacted by the congress in 2011 over the chief’s veto. The law, which delegated "full and sole control of the Mineral Estate Accounts" to the Osage Minerals Council, an independent tribal agency. Red Eagle has ignored the law and refused to release the ME accounts from the Osage Nation Treasury, according to the charge.
Another of the allegations claims the principal chief of misusing more than $73,000 in Osage public monies for personal services contracts — including maintenance of a personal website — for which he reportedly admitted that no work was done. Red Eagle also is accused of abusing the power of his elected position by forbidding disciplinary action against a tribal employee, as well as by withholding a contract requested under the Open Records Act.
Two of the charges involve Red Eagle’s alleged interference with investigations being conducted by the Osage Nation Attorney General’s office. Included is a claim that the chief attempted to terminate an investigation to give preferential treatment to a tribal employee.
All six causes of action were among 15 allegations of Red Eagle wrongdoing that had been formally presented last summer by Osage Congressman William "Kugee" Supernaw. ON Congress subsequently voted to initiate formation of the select investigative committee, which was appointed by Osage Supreme Court Chief Justice Meredith Drent.
The five-member congressional panel — comprised of Alice Buffalohead, John Jech, Raymond Red Corn, Maria Whitehorn and Archie Mason — began its probes into the Red Eagle claims in July. The committee put forward a report in October in which it found sufficient evidence to support seven of the charges, including the six deemed serious enough to call for his removal from office.
In November, the 12-member ON Congress unanimously favored holding the trial for Red Eagle. The same nine-man, three-woman delegation will now conduct the removal proceedings against the chief. Osage Nation Supreme Court Justice Jeanine Logan has been named to preside over the trial.
Concurrence of five-sixths of the congressional members is required for a judgment of removal, according to the Osage Constitution, which calls for the accused office-holders to be afforded due process and allowed an opportunity to be heard at their removal trials. Removal would disqualify the accused from holding office or enjoying "any honor, trust or profit in the Osage Nation."
Red Eagle has been unsuccessful in attempts to convince Osage Nation courts to halt the removal proceedings based on legal arguments. The tribal court also denied his request to delay the start of the trial in order to allow him additional time for preparing his defense.
At least two dozen potential witnesses were sworn in Monday. Early Tuesday afternoon, it appeared that Red Eagle was preparing to take the witness stand.