Osage congressmen challenge Standing Bear administration

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Members of the Osage Nation Congress have publicly raised questions about management of the tribe’s financial assets, and about Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear’s approach to personnel management.

Geoffrey Standing Bear, Principal Chief of the Osage Nation

Congressmen Eli Potts and Joe Tillman made statements in a Feb. 19 information release. Potts, Tillman and Congressman John Maker were signatories on a March 4 release.

In the March 4 release, Potts, Tillman and Maker say they are, “calling attention to the positions of the Standing Bear administration that place employee rights aside, could easily create a hostile work environment, and are negatively impacting employee morale.”

The three members of the Osage Congress provided a copy of an executive memorandum dated Feb. 18 in which the principal chief asserts that any personnel decision coming directly from him “is exempted from any personnel policy or procedure.”

“In that regard, any employee of the Executive Branch is an employee at will of the Principal Chief until further notice,” the executive memorandum says.

Potts, Tillman and Maker say in their release that Standing Bear is “circumventing Osage law.”

The Journal-Capital sent copies of the releases to Standing Bear via email and solicited comments from him.

“This is Osage politics at its worst,” Standing Bear said in a brief March 5 email. “These are personnel matters.”

Standing Bear expanded on his remarks during a telephone conversation later March 5. He noted that he had heard from multiple sources that one of the three congressmen is interested in running for the office of principal chief. Standing Bear characterized the public challenge that the congressmen have presented as a political attack.

“So I take it all in that spirit,” he said.

He also said multiple times, in similar language, that Osage Nation employees will be afforded due process.

“No employee ever has or ever will be denied due process,” Standing Bear said.

He clarified, however, that some employees seem to believe they are beyond disciplinary action.

“Some of these people believe they are untouchable,” Standing Bear said.

Potts, in a telephone conversation March 6, denied that the public discussion he and his colleagues have initiated is primarily political.

“That’s not political, that’s real,” he said, noting that some Osage Nation employees had reached out to members of Congress regarding the principal chief’s assertion of control over personnel decisions.

Potts said that a majority of members of the Osage Nation Congress would have to act together for that body to make any official decision on the issues that he, Tillman and Maker have raised.

In the Feb. 19 release issued by Potts and Tillman, they say the departure from Osage Nation employment in November 2020 of the Nation’s financial controller reduced the Nation’s Investment Oversight Committee from three members to two. While the committee was still able to function, Potts and Tillman said that it appeared progress had stalled in regard to the Osage Nation making the most fruitful possible investments.

Tillman and Potts said in the Feb. 19 release that they reached out to Scott Manzer, the Congressional appointee to the Investment Oversight Committee. The congressmen released a copy of a statement they received from Manzer, which included the assertion that the Osage Nation had missed out on millions of dollars in potential revenues by failing to appropriately invest assets.