ON faces lively race for principal chief

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Geoffrey Standing Bear is seeking a third term as Osage Nation principal chief in elections this year, but he is being challenged for the position by two other senior members of the ON political class.

Congress Speaker Angela Pratt and Congressman Joe Tillman are also making bids for the job of principal chief.

Standing Bear highlighted a vision of a financially independent Osage Nation in making his campaign announcement. He said the ON is debt-free, and he argued that his administration has put in place programs designed to strengthen the tribe's sovereignty.

"Standing Bear has long stated his belief of Osages returning to the Osage Nation to live as a tribal people depends on the acquisition of land, affordable housing, a revived Osage language, protecting the Osage culture and building a new broadband Internet network," according to a campaign statement issued on his behalf.

The chief's campaign cited middle school accreditation for the Osage Nation's school, Daposka Ahnkodapi, as an objective if he is re-elected.

The campaign also said that Standing Bear "seeks to build up tribal enterprises to overcome difficulties encountered before his election."

"Ventures in aerospace, military and other federal contracts, and the establishment of the first Osage financial institution are at the forefront of the work of his next term," the campaign added.

Standing Bear argued that U.S. federal government regulations continue to exert an unhealthy restrictive influence on the ability of the Osage Nation to use its property in its own interests.

The primary election is scheduled for April 4. The general election is to be June 6.

Angela Pratt, speaker of the Osage Nation Congress, is one of two challengers.

In announcing her campaign, Pratt highlighted her commitment to hard work, her faithfulness in keeping her commitments to the Osage people and her past involvement in key decisions affecting the growth and development of Osage Nation programs.

"I have been a strong voice in Congress and have spoken up for my people in many facets. For four of eight years, my peers elected me as Speaker of the Congress, and I have provided caring yet robust leadership," Pratt said in a campaign statement.

She also said that she understands, as a former ON employee, the need of Osage Nation employees for "organization, guidance, and autonomy to share their education and abilities with us."

"I have made big decisions for us. I have said yes many times and no many times. I educate myself on the matter at hand and hold a vast knowledge of what has transpired over the years," Pratt said in her statement.

She focused her remarks on her own record and desire to lead, and did not specify any shortcomings of the Standing Bear administration.

Congressman Tillman, however, has built his campaign in part on a sharp critique of Chief Standing Bear's leadership style.

Rather than focusing on Osage Nation government programs, Tillman has voiced an interest in using the power of the tribal government to make sure that every Osage citizen, regardless of where they live, is cared for in times of need.

In remarks at an announcement dinner Jan. 23 in Grayhorse, Tillman voiced a concept of servant leadership that calls for ON leaders to be willing to give their food and other goods to the needy.

Tillman extended that personal flavor of his campaign to an observation that he did not mail out printed invitations to his announcement dinner. Instead, he made personal telephone calls to some 300 people and asked them to attend. He lamented that some ON employees might not attend for fear of being seen at his dinner and becoming targets of political reprisals.

Tillman also disputed Standing Bear's claim to credit for enhancing the financial security of the Osage Nation. He said, both in a campaign statement and in oral remarks at his dinner, that members of the Osage Congress have not been receiving timely financial reports from the executive branch.

"Sadly, the Osage people and your elected leaders have not seen a government-wide annual audit since 2019. Unacceptable," Tillman said in a written statement.

"Fiscal irresponsibility has replaced sound management," Tillman added. "The Osage Nation continues to operate without a treasurer."