Tribal government in turmoil

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The Osage Nation is embroiled in political controversy as its chief executive combats claims of ethics violations and has also been the subject of a tribal court case alleging an Open Records violation — all accusations the chief vigorously denies.

Troubles for the embattled tribal leader surfaced in June when Osage Principal Chief John D. Red Eagle was named in a three-count ethics complaint filed by Osage Nation Attorney General Jeff Jones. It marked the first time that such an action has been taken against an Osage principal chief.

Jones filed a three-count ethics violation compliant against Red Eagle. One involved an allegation of interference with an investigation by the attorney general’s office concerning an Osage Nation employee, and the other concerned travel expenses for an Osage Nation Gaming Enterprise Board member.

Red Eagle refutes the allegations made against him.

“I absolutely deny the allegations that anything unethical has occurred and look forward to defending this vigorously,” the chief said in a statement issued to media at the time.

In another recent statement, Red Eagle indicated he will be replying through his attorneys and argue that the ethics complaint by Jones is “flawed in all respects.” See Red Eagle’s guest column elsewhere in this week’s newspaper.

Red Eagle says he did not threaten to fire AG Office Investigator Brian Herbert. In fact, Red Eagle says he knows that under Osage law he cannot fire Herbert, and it is solely the attorney general who controls or loses control of his investigator.

Red Eagle’s attorneys say they will prove that Gaming Board Chair Stacy Laskey explicitly authorized the travel of Gaming Board member Randy Carnett the day before Red Eagle expressed his support for the travel via e-mail. Red Eagle said he supports attendance of Gaming Board members at conferences, which include matters such as Internet Gaming that could affect tribal gaming revenue.

In anticipation of the Committee of Inquiry’s investigation, which is set to begin Aug. 19, Red Eagle claims the investigation may be conducted in a “one-sided” manner.

“The Osage Nation Congress has rules for such inquiries, which it calls hearings,” said Red Eagle in a written response submitted to the Journal-Capital this week. “However, the hearings can be conducted in a completely one-sided manner because neither I, nor my attorneys, will be given the opportunity to respond in any way to the allegations being presented in these hearings.”

Red Eagle cites rules of the Osage Congress, specifically Section 12:

“Rights of Persons during Select Committee of Inquiry Hearings: Elected and appointed officials who are the subject of a Select Committee of Inquiry hearing shall have the right to receive written notice of hearings and shall be permitted to attend all hearings, including those held in executive session. Elected and appointed officials who are the subject of a Select Committee of Inquiry hearing shall have the right to appear by or with counsel.”

According to Red Eagle, this means that as the person under investigation he will only be allowed to observe, but not to defend himself or offer counter-balancing facts.

“This is especially troubling because on completion of the hearing, the Committee will give a report to the Congress, which will be relied upon by the 12 members of Congress to vote on whether or not a formal trial for my removal should take place,” said Red Eagle. “As a result, all of the information gathered may be only one side of the story.”

The chief has also had a legal run-in with the tribe’s own news publication in court.

The Osage News which is owned and operated by the Osage tribe took legal action earlier this summer against Red Eagle claiming violations of the tribe’s open records law. In a civil lawsuit filed in tribal court, the tribal publication alleged that Red Eagle failed to respond to an open records request related to the terms of employment for a non-tribal pipeline contractor — consultant, Rod Hartness. The pipeline project is expected to employ 200 workers resulting in $200,000 in payroll per week for Osages.

Red Eagle’s office eventually complied with the request, but not before the lawsuit had been filed a hearing scheduled.

In spite of being provided the documents in question, the Osage News is continuing its court fight in an attempt to collect attorney’s fees.