Osage Nation leader remains resolute in face of controversy

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital
Osage Nation leader remains resolute in face of controversy

John D. Red Eagle says he is less concerned about the personal attacks that are being made on him than over the lack of respect he is seeing exhibited toward the position of Principal Chief of the Osage Nation.

Red Eagle, the current Osage principal chief, has been under investigation for at least two months on 15 charges of wrongdoing — most stemming from abuse-of-power complaints and alleged ethics violations. He has denied the charges, calling them totally “unfounded.”

On Oct. 21, a five-member committee from the Osage Nation Congress will meet to continue its two-month probe of the charges. This Select Committee of Inquiry is expected to complete the investigation and report its findings to Congress as part of a process that could ultimately lead to calling for a trial on removal of Red Eagle from office.

Some tribal members have questioned apparent conflicts of responsibilities in the removal process. They point to the fact that William “Kugee” Supernaw, who presented the charges that initiated the investigation, would be one of the congressional members rendering a verdict at a removal trial. The five congresspersons on the special committee also would be among the 12 jurors.

The removal procedures outlined by the seven-year-old Osage Constitution are patterned after those for impeachment of a U.S. president. However, while the U.S. Congress is comprised of 435 representatives and 100 senators, the unicameral Osage Congress has only a dozen total members. A judgment for removal from office requires a five-sixth’s majority, which would be 10 votes.

Additionally, the tribal Constitution calls for the trial to be presided over by a justice from the Osage Supreme Court. And, the Osage chief justice is who appointed the members of the investigating committee. The limited number of Osage congressmen and Supreme Court justices create conflicting roles in the removal process, the critics contend.

Red Eagle, who recently turned 65, is in the final nine months of his first term — to which he was elected in a 2010 runoff. He has not yet announced whether he will seek re-election for another four years in next year’s Osage elections.

Filing periods for candidates in the 2014 races for principal chief and assistant principal chief were recently moved forward in conjunction with the passage of a law setting a March 10 primary election. Previously, initial voting for principal chief and assistant principal chief was in the June general election.

The ON Congress recently approved adding the primaries for the executive office races, partly to keep the election campaigns from extending into the Osage tribal dance season.

Citing concerns about the apparent lack of respect being shown for the office of principal chief, Red Eagle and his staff described two recent episodes involving members of the Osage Nation Congress.

In August, on the only day Red Eagle was allowed to speak with the select investigating committee, air conditioning was turned off in the meeting room — presumably to facilitate hearing.

According to a member of his staff, the chief — clad in a heavy suit and tie — testified for three hours.

During a Sept. 6 appearance before Congress’ government operations committee, a recess was abruptly called by the chairman — who, coincidentally, also is a member of the Select Committee of Inquiry. After waiting an hour for the meeting to reconvene, Red Eagle said the congressional clerk came to the lobby to announce that the chief was free to leave.

“Osage people have always respected one another,” Red Eagle said following the incident. “It appears the members of congress are not willing to extend that respect to the office of the principal chief.”

Red Eagle, who served an earlier term as assistant chief, said it is time “for the finger-pointing and combativeness to end” and called for the two branches (legislative and executive) to “go to higher ground.”

“There is an old Ojibwa saying: ‘No tree has branches so foolish as to fight amongst themselves,’” Red Eagle added. “The Osage Nation government would be wise to heed these words.”