Osage Congress acts to avert government shutdown

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The Osage Nation Congress on Saturday, July 24, unanimously passed an executive branch appropriations bill in the face of a tribal government shutdown July 26 if the measure had not been approved.

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear approved the bill, the enacted version of which calls for more than $161 million of expenditures.

The Osage Nation Congress met Saturday in the first day of a special session that was expected to continue this week. Standing Bear called the session to address more than 20 pieces of legislation, most of them dealing with proposed expenditures of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money the tribe has been allocated by the U.S. government.

The special session call also included some proposed expenditures of tribal funds, and it included the budget bill that the Congress adopted to avert a shutdown.

An Osage Nation press release July 15 said the following: "If the Fiscal Year 2021 Federal budgets and grants are not approved by Osage Nation Congress during the Special Session, the Osage Nation government will shutdown on Monday, July 26, 2021."

In a separate press release July 19, Osage Congressmen Eli Potts and Joe Tillman took issue with the notion that there should be any discussion of a potential shutdown of the Osage Nation government.

Tillman said the Standing Bear Administration had enough time to prepare Fiscal Year 2021 executive branch budget information and submit it to the Congress without any talk of a shutdown.

"Now he calls an 11th hour special session and threatens to shut the Nation down if we don't pass the budgets, he's given us only a day to discuss -- that's irresponsible and unjustly weaponizes the employees of the Nation. It's just wrong," Tillman said in the release.

Abigail Mashunkashey, senior communications coordinator for the Osage Nation, told the Journal-Capital last week that the executive branch did not expect a fight of any sort over the FY 2021 appropriations bill. She said the executive branch had faith that the Osage Nation Congress understood the importance of the bill.

"We just wanted to make sure that we are transparent," Mashunkashey said regarding discussion of a potential shutdown. The executive branch had been doing its due diligence by publicizing the full range of possibilities, depending on how the tribal Congress proceeded, she explained.

Congressman Eli Potts told the Journal-Capital he intended to vote in favor of the appropriations measure because he wanted Osage Nation employees to be able to report to work Monday, July 26.

"The fountains still aren't flowing on the hill, the Christmas lights are still up from last year, employees are concerned about coming to work on Monday," Potts said in an email message. "I'll be casting a vote to make sure the employees have a place to work on Monday, despite some major concerns about how this session was handled."

Potts also said commented on Standing Bear's ability to switch gears from talking about new building projects to talking about a possible shutdown.

"I've got to hand it to the Chief, I wouldn't be able to talk about passing out golden shovels to break ground on new buildings while simultaneously talking about handing out pink slips to employees," Potts said.

As the Osage Congress prepared to continue discussion this week on items in Chief Standing Bear's special session call, particular attention was likely to be paid how the legislative and executive branches dealt with the subject of using ARPA funds for individual assistance payments for Osage citizens.

Both Chief Standing Bear and his critics in the Osage Nation Congress have voiced an interest in the issue of individual assistance. Congressman Tillman has submitted a bill on the subject that called for using more than $46 million of the Osage Nation's $108 million of ARPA funds on individual payments. A fiscal analysis of Tillman's bill was released July 21. The bill proposes $2,000 individual payments to Osage Nation citizens.