Osage Congress passes self-governance resolution
PAWHUSKA — The Fourth Osage Congress voted unanimously last week in support of a resolution for a self-governance compact between the Osage Nation and the U.S. Government that has been developing since 2012. This means the Osage Nation will move forward with steps to fully manage Indian Health Services funding and responsibilities for the Osage service area.
After Congress voted unanimously to pass the resolution members of Congress and the audience broke out into applause. The resolution was sponsored by Osage Congressman Ron Shaw and co-sponsored by Congressman Jim Norris. Several members of Congress, including the sponsors, spoke in favor of Compacting IHS, or Title V Self-Governance Compacting, according to the federal health program for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The resolution was brought before Congress for approval by the Osage Nation Executive Office. Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear requested the Seventh Special Session to seek approval of the historic resolution and approval of critical funding for healthcare, education, and other service related needs of the Osage people.
The Chief spoke about the IHS transition in his Executive Message to the Nation which he delivered the first day of the Special Session. He said, “…to build our health system we have finally overcome the many obstacles to achieving self-governance of our federal health system…Our Osage Nation Health Board, with the help of the best consultants in Oklahoma, worked with Members of this Congress, our treasurer, our [Human Resources] department, [Information Technology] department and many more, to come this far. Now the task of implementation is right here, right now.”
Lesa Shaw, a self-governance consultant for the Osage Nation’s Health Authority Board, said that compacting Osage Indian Health Services would not have been possible without the strong support from leadership, “[Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear] has been both responsive and strongly supportive of this initiative.”
What does self-governance mean?
Shaw said self-governance for the Osage Nation is important for providing quality healthcare. “It means that service levels can be expanded for tribal citizens and new opportunities for health systems can be considered and advanced. Third party revenue generated from provided services can be used to enhance existing service levels and develop new programs based on the needs determined by the Nation. Interest generated by these new funds can be used by the Nation to help build and/or meet increased population and service needs. This provides a way that he Nation can redesign programs, expand services, and address concerns and issues more readily.”
Melanie Fourkiller, an Advocates for Native Issues consultant working on the transition, presented during the Osage Congress Health and Social Services Committee meeting preceding the vote. She said that compacting, “is an overall agreement with an effective date and no termination date.” The Nation can elect to revert back to full control by IHS at any time.
A funding agreement included in the compact will change more frequently, Fourkiller said. Also, there will still be federal funding, federal sources of supply, and federal personal whose malpractice insurance, if needed, will be paid for by the federal government.
The best part about self-governance is the Nation’s ability to be directly accountable to its citizens’ healthcare needs. Manon Tillman, Osage Nation Health and Wellness Division Lead said, “It’s important to mention that the concerns of the Osage people expressed during our community meetings are taken into great consideration for this process.”
A long time coming
Health Authority Board Member Cecilia TallChief said the change was a long time coming. She said full support from the Nation was possible because the goals of self-governance fall in line with the Chief Standing Bear’s goals for the health the Nation.
Congressman Shaw agrees the transition is overdue and stated that it took three Osage administrations to get this far. He said getting the resolution approved by Executive and Congress was met with overwhelming support. He added that self-governance efforts started as early as 2008 and that many of the large Native American nations in Oklahoma have successfully compacted. “It has been close to twelve years since the last tribe compacted their IHS here in Oklahoma,” he said.
Congresswoman Shannon Edwards spoke in favor of the resolution during the committee meeting. She said the people who had previously worked on this initiative and those who are working on it now should be remembered and she wanted her statement entered into record.
The next steps to complete the transition include several measures that have been meticulously prepared by consultants, the Health Authority Board, Human Resources, the Health and Wellness Division and current Indian Health Services staff. The transition is scheduled for completion by Oct. 1, 2015. A ribbon-cutting will be announced.
Go to ihs.gov/selfgovernance for more information about Title V Self-Governance Compacting.
To listen or watch the Fourth Osage Congress in session or view previously recorded sessions go to osagenation-nsn.gov.