Tillman, Standing Bear debate issues

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

In a debate characterized by numerous sharp exchanges, incumbent Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and Congressman Joe Tillman competed the night of April 30 to define each other and their electoral battle.

Standing Bear is running for a third four-year term. He argues that he needs additional time in office to complete projects his administration has embarked upon, and says he fears those initiatives would suffer if Tillman were elected.

Tillman argues that Standing Bear’s government, while very active, has failed to provide the leadership that the Osage Nation needs to thrive.

The debate of principal chief candidates was the featured attraction at the end of a full program Saturday of Osage Nation political discussion and debate. The Osage News sponsored an event at the Ag Building at the county Fairgrounds that also included candidates for Osage Nation Congress and for Osage Minerals Council.

The operation and future of the tribal health service was an important point of difference between Tillman and Standing Bear.

The incumbent chief noted that the Osage Congress has approved a legal framework that will soon allow the financing of a new health center. Standing Bear said there are problems at the existing health center, and he cited institutional stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as a cause.

Standing Bear also said there are disgruntled former health center employees, who have been sharing their views on the Internet. He encouraged Osage citizens to talk with members of the health board and find out what is really going on.

”But we also have disgruntled patients,” Tillman countered, adding that “we have lost a lot of good Osage doctors.”

Tillman named several physicians that he said no longer practice medicine at the Osage health center due to a lack of vision and leadership by Standing Bear’s government.

Standing Bear disputed Tillman’s claim, encouraging a direct exploration of the actual reasons why some doctors no longer provide services at the Osage Nation’s clinic.

”These stated views are not the views that were expressed to me,” Standing Bear said.

Another subject on which the chief candidates exchanged barbs was the management of employee misconduct. While neither Tillman nor Standing Bear said the words “sexual harassment,” they clearly appeared to have reference to recent public revelations about a sexual harassment complaint concerning behavior alleged to have occurred within the executive branch of the Osage Nation government.

Tillman said he would, if elected, refuse to tolerate misconduct.

”These folks will be held the highest standard and there will be no exceptions at all,” Tillman said of his potential appointees. “Nothing is going to slip through the cracks.”

Standing Bear accused Tillman of drawing conclusions prematurely, rather than waiting on the results of an investigation.

“I know that you should wait for the investigation before you jump to conclusions,” Standing Bear said, reflecting on what his more than three decades of work as an attorney taught him. “We have policies, procedures and they are clear.”

”I know what you’re talking about, but I’m not going to talk about it,” Standing Bear added.

”So there was a victim. There was a perpetrator. And from what I know, that perpetrator still works there,” Tillman said.

”We have policies,” Standing Bear replied. “People follow them. If they don’t, they’re disciplined.”

Standing Bear said the size of the Osage government workforce has remained stable during his eight years in office, at about 500 people. Meanwhile, the amount of work has grown significantly. He said that building and maintaining employee trust is a daily challenge.

“You have to prove it constantly,” he said.

Tillman said that Osage Nation employee morale is low, and that he had been approached by employees who said they were afraid to be seen in public with him for fear of repercussions.

”What kind of leadership is that? Tell me,” Tillman said.

Standing Bear was having none of it.

”Once again, more made-up stuff to try to disrupt this administration,” he said.

Standing Bear was the top vote-getter in the April 4 primary, taking about 52.6 percent of the total. Tillman finished second with about 37 percent. Congress Speaker Angela Pratt finished third. The general election is June 6.