Osage Nation ends COVID-19 emergency


Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear of the Osage Nation last week issued a proclamation, ending as of June 2 the public health state of emergency that he declared on March 19, 2020, in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Standing Bear said that safety measures taken by the Osage people had been effective in reducing the spread of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

"Safety efforts by the Osage people and our neighbors have greatly reduced the spread of the coronavirus disease," Standing Bear said in a news release regarding his decision to lift the state of emergency. "We must maintain a state of alert and diligence, but an emergency is no longer the right description."

Standing Bear urged the Osage people and others to continue to carefully monitor any spread of COVID-19. He emphasized that the "danger has not fully passed."

The Osage Nation's Wahzhazhe Health Center, 615 Grandview Ave. in Pawhuska, continues to make COVID-19 vaccinations available to all people 18 or older, regardless of whether they are Native American or non-native. For more information, interested persons may telephone the health center's COVID Vaccine Hotline at 918-287-0076.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt formally ended the state's COVID-19 emergency on May 4, but he had already lifted legal restrictions related to the pandemic in March.

Osage County commissioners on April 26 voted to remove special COVID-19 guidelines for entry into the county courthouse and other county-owned buildings as of May 3.

As the Osage Nation's state of emergency ends, its political leadership is taking steps to make the best possible use of resources that have become available in context of the COVID-19 crisis.

The leadership of the Osage Nation is preparing to use federal funding made available to the Nation through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to finance improvements. The Osage Nation Congress voted in a special session that ended last week to adopt a measure put forward by Speaker Angela Pratt to mandate that non-tribal funds (such as the $108 million the Nation is to receive through the Rescue Plan Act) shall be spent only based on Congressional appropriation.

Pratt explained she had spoken with legal counsel about language that would effectively address the desire to create a legal framework that would both allow the Osage Nation's executive plan to move ahead with its planning, and bring the Osage Nation's legislative branch into the process of formally accounting for the expenditure of federal funds.

"This money needs to be spent diligently, and I'm behind anything the chief wants to do that's within those guidelines," Congressman Scott BigHorse said as he spoke in favor of the bill.

He indicated both an aversion to "micromanagement" and a need "to be kept abreast of what's going on."

The bill passed without dissent.