Ethics complaint filed against OMC

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

An ethics complaint has been filed in Osage Nation Trial Court alleging that members of the Osage Minerals Council have failed to submit sworn affidavits listing gifts they received during past fiscal years.

The tribal action was brought Jan. 20 on behalf of the Osage Nation. It seeks a declaratory judgment ordering Minerals Council members to abide by the tribe’s ethics law and to provide the annual reports that are being requested. Osage Nation Attorney General Jeff Jones brought the tribal actions “to determine whether Osage Nation law, specifically the Osage Nation Ethics law, applies to the Osage Minerals Council,” court documents state.

Formerly known as the Osage Tribal Council, the Minerals Council (or OMC) is described by the Constitution of the Osage Nation as being “an independent management agency entrusted with administering and developing the Osage Mineral Estate,” in accordance with the Osage Allotment Act of 1906, as amended.

Eight OMC members are elected by the tribe’s royalty interest shareholders — also referred to as Osage headrights shareholders. The Minerals Council is comprised of “members of the Osage Nation who are entitled to receive mineral royalty income from the Osage Mineral Estate, as provided by federal law,” according to ON Consitution.

The Osage Constitution further states that the Minerals Council “shall have the power to consider and approve leases and to propose other forms of development of the Osage Mineral Estate.” Included in the Osage Mineral Estate are all tribally-owned oil and gas found in Osage County, which was created by pre-Oklahoma statehood agreements to be contiguous with the former Osage Reservation.

Current members of the Minerals Council are Everett Waller, Talee Redcorn, Stephanie Erwin, Joseph Cheshewalla, Cynthia Boone, Kathryn Red Corn, Galen Crum and Andrew Yates.

On the same day the ethics complaint was made, Jones filed his official Attorney General Opinion in response to a question brought by Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear. The Chief requested the AG’s opinion on a matter related to leases and other development activity approved by the Minerals Council.

“You ask whether a lease or other development document approved and executed by the Minerals Council is valid if it was never sent to the Office of the Principal Chief to exercise your Constitutional prerogative to determine if the lease or development activity violates Osage law or regulation?,” the Attorney General filing states. “You ask if the existence of this language places a duty on the Minerals Council to transmit a lease or other development activity document to the Office of the Principal Chief to trigger the five (5) day rule.”

Jones’ answer is that, according to the ON Constitution, any such lease or development document “shall be deemed approved” unless the principal chief objects within five working days.

“The five day deadline begins to toll after the Minerals Council executes a document, whether or not the document is ever sent to the office of the Principal Chief,” the Attorney General states in his so-called “short answer.”

Jones notes that framers of the Osage Constitution chose different language to describe how bills are sent from the Osage Congress to be approved by the chief. Whereas the section of the constitution dealing with ON Congress states that every bill “shall be presented to the Principal Chief.” The AG opinion furth states: “The same duty on the Minerals Council to present the lease or development activity document to the Principal Chief for his approval cannot be inferred by absence of that same language” in the Article of the Constitution that deals with the approval of leases by the Minerals Council’s automatic approval of these leases under the five-day rule “when the framers clearly knew how to create this duty with plain language.”

“Therefore, the Minerals Council is not constitutionally mandated to present the lease or development activity document to the Principal Chief in order for the lease to be valid.”

In conclusion, the AG’s opinion is that all leases approved and executed by the Minerals Council are deemed approved after five working days, unless the Minerals Council receives an objection from the Principal Chief stating that the lease or development activity violates Osage law or regulation.” It adds that the Constitutional language places “no affirmative duty on the Minerals Council to present the lease or development activity document to the Office of the Principal Chief in order to toll the five working day deadline.”