ON approves lease deal

Mike Erwin |

Following months of bickering between the tribe’s executive and legislative branches, the Osage Nation has entrusted a five-member board with full management responsibilities over its Bluestem Ranch property.

A lease agreement signed earlier this month by ON Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear puts Bluestem Ranch LLC in charge of the entire 43,200 acres of the ranch, which the Osages purchased in 2016 from media mogul/conservationist Ted Turner.

Located between Pawhuska and Fairfax, the tract covers a central part of the former Osage Reservation.The tribe paid approximately $74 million for the historic property.

The lease agreement will allow the board to implement a plan it formulated nearly a year ago — before disagreements arose between the Osage Nation Chiefs’ Office and the ON Congress regarding the scope of Bluestem Ranch LLC’s management duties.

Members of the ranch board include chairman Faren Anderson, Jim Perrier, Teresa Meade, Jackie Badley and Francis Murphy. (Murphy’s one-year term recently expired.) The board’s next regularly-scheduled meeting is May 9.

Tribal officials said some short-term goals of the Bluestem Ranch LLC management plan are:

• to establish an ON-owned herd of cattle and/or bison);

• to identify activities that will enable tribal members — especially Osage youth — to make use of the ranch property;

• to create a self-sustaining business that will generate income for the Nation, and,

• to identify profitable opportunities that can be used to sustain ranch operations.

The Office of the Chiefs had previously been looking to make separate lease agreements for several different areas on the property.

Bluestem Ranch LLC owns 799 cows, 665 calves, 50 bulls and seven bison.”

“The history of ranching has proven that it is a business that can grow in time, but doesn’t usually happen overnight,” the chairman said, adding that board members “look forward to using their combined years of experience and knowledge in ranching, managing, and business ownership to help create a profitable Osage Nation business that members will have something to be proud of.”

Standing Bear said he will continue working with the Bluestem Ranch board, which is a subsidiary of the Nation’s Tallgrass Economic Development LLC.

“A lot of people forget we did not take possession of the Bluestem Ranch until Nov. 1, 2016, and there were existing leases on the ranch that we have had to terminate,” the Principal Chief said.

Standing Bear said his office is planning public education activities and will seek to open the property for hunting and fishing by tribal members. He expressed an interest in establishing an American Burying Beetle refuge to assist oil producers with Environmental Assessments they need for drilling operations. The Chief also called for creation of a WahZhaZhe Nature Preserve to restore the site’s original grasslands, and the establishment of an Osage Language Immersion Center in one of the property’s vacant buildings.

The 25-year lease (which is to begin May 1 and end April 30, 2042) calls for an annual payment to the Osage Nation of $42,300 (at $1 per acre). Revenue generated by the ranch will stay with the ranch board, which is to work with other tribal departments for the betterment of the property. The board has the right to sublease the ranch land, but it is prohibited from interfering with oil and gas operations.

Members of the Osage Nation Congress voted 11-1 to approve the lease. Monday was the final day of the 2017 Hun-Kah (meaning Earth) Session for the Fifth ON Congress. According to the tribal constitution, the year’s second congressional session is called Tzi-zho (or Sky) to remind Osages of their responsibility to bring balance and harmony to their Nation.