Osage Congress concludes 7th Special Session
Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear requested a Special Session from the Fourth Osage Nation Congress to consider appropriation bills for healthcare, education, culture and other critical legislation.
The Seventh Special Session began at 10 a.m. July 13 and concluded on July 17 at 6:30 p.m. According to members of congress, this was an exceptionally long special session with several bills to be considered.
Standing Bear emphasized the importance of funding Osage “entitlement” programs in his executive address to congress and the nation.
“The Health Benefit Fund — which includes the Health Card and the Medicare Plan F Supplement Program — the Higher Education Scholarship Fund, and the Burial Assistance Fund … the funding for these three funds totals $14,450,000 for FY2016. That is $450,000 for the Burial Assistance Fund, $6 million for the Health Benefit Fund and $8 million for the Higher Education Fund.”
Nineteen bills and one resolution were submitted by the chief to congress for the special session.
Other critical appropriations included: funding for Osage language immersion costs and a complete overhaul of Osage early childhood programs, a broadband study, a study for projected costs to repair the Hominy Indian Village Round House, and litigation costs to seek court action against former Osage Limited Liability Corporation employees and some of the businesses in which they invested.
Standing Bear also spoke about the mismanagement of Osage money during his address.
“When we use money in one area or waste money in a senseless nature, we leave less money for our people’s education, health and cultural growth,” he said.
3 Osage education appropriations passed
According to the Chief, an increased and balanced budget for education was achieved by cutting spending throughout the government that was, “identified through meticulous review of over 125 budgets.”
Three Osage education appropriations passed during the Special Session. Osage Nation Congressional Act 15-73, sponsored by Congresswoman Alice Buffalohead, an Act to amend ONCA 14-72 will provide an amended supplemental appropriation for the Division of Education and Early Childhood Services in the amount of $195,896. ONCA 15-58, sponsored by Congressman Archie Mason, is an act to authorize and appropriate $8 million to the Osage Nation Higher Education Scholarship Fund from FY 2016 revenue. ONCA 15-67, also sponsored by Buffalohead, provides $10,214 the Division of Cultural Preservation, Arts, Heritage, and Language for FY2015.
The Osage Nation will begin the first ever Osage language immersion school with the appropriations presented to congress during the Special Session. Preservation of Osage language, specifically through language immersion has been a concentrated focus for this administration.
“As for our Osage language, it is on the verge of being lost forever,” said Standing Bear.
Details about efforts and plans for Osage educational goals and initiatives were discussed in further detail during committee meetings. Those meetings are available on the Nation’s website, osagenation-nsn.gov.
Self-governance and health gets unanimous approval
Standing Bear said the health of Osage people is the second top priority of the Nation.
“This priority is equal in rank to education and they go forward hand-in-hand,” he said. “For example, the same experts that we have listened to on education for our youth have stressed the absolute necessity of being aggressive in making sure our youth receive healthy and nutritious food and drink at school and in the home, that the children receive the best medical care possible, and the children are in a safe and loving environment.”
ONCR 15-18, a resolution to approve and authorize the execution of a self-governance compact and funding agreement between the Osage Nation and the federal government, is one of the final steps for IHS compacting. After several stalled attempts at compacting, the Nation will finally take over operation of the Pawhuska IHS clinic on Oct. 1.
After congress voted unanimously to pass the historic 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.
Funding for the Osage Health Benefit Plan Fund was included in proposed legislation. ONCA 15-56 and ONCA 15-59, combined, total almost $2 million for the fund that goes toward the Osage Health Benefit Card and Osage Medicare Plan F, a new health benefit (for eligible Osage elders) that covers costs not covered by Medicare.
Minimum wage bill fails to pass
A minimum wage bill, ONCA 15-55, “an Act to amend the Osage Fair Minimum Wage Act to remove the exemption of Osage Nation Gaming Enterprise,” received a lot of debate by congress members. The bill failed by a 7-4 vote. If it had passed, Osage Casino workers earning the Oklahoma State minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would have seen an immediate pay increase of $10 per hour. Within a year they would be earning the Osage Nation minimum wage of $11.50 per hour. Congressman John Maker was the sponsor.
Osage LLC litigation funding granted
The Osage Nation Executive Branch requested $100,000 for Osage, LLC, litigation with ONCA 15-64 sponsored by Congresswoman Alice Buffalohead. The bill passed unanimously.
Burial assistance passes with 11-1 vote
ONCA 15-56 to provide $450,000 for the Burial Assistance fund for the remainder of the 2015 fiscal year passed 11-1 with only Congressman Shaw voting “no.”
After the five long days of the Special Session concluded the Assistant Principal Chief expressed his appreciation for the time and efforts of the Osage Nation Congress.