ON, state open water talks

Chris Day

Water rights talks between the Osage Nation and Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office are underway.

The first of what is anticipated to be many meetings between the tribe and state occurred Oct. 17 at the Osage Nation headquarters in Pawhuska. Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey M. Standing Bear hosted Attorney General Mike Hunter and his team for a working lunch. After the group toured the Osage Museum.

The Osage Nation contingent included its Attorney General Holli Wells and Osage Nation Washington D.C. legal counsel David Mullon. The state’s team included Hunter, legal counsel Maria O’Briend and Oklahoma Solicitor General Mithun Mansinghani.

“We had a cordial meeting, knowing that we are far apart on water issues, but both sides are committed to working on solutions,” Standing Bear said. “We agree the Choctaw and Chickasaw settlements with Oklahoma are good examples of cooperation with the state. However, the Osage Nation history and law is very different from any other tribe in Oklahoma.”

Earlier this year, the state of Oklahoma and the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nation reached a water-rights agreement, which preserved and protected the waters of southeastern Oklahoma in a way that benefited the tribes and unified state permitting and administrative authority over the water.

Members of the Osage Nation, Osage Nation Environmental and Natural Resources department on Sept. 18 issued the first water well permit to the Osage Nation Gaming Enterprise. Issuing this permit is part of the Osage Nation’s position that its long-held mineral rights include water usage.

The Osage Nation maintains a federally-recognized sovereign authority over its lands and resources. The Osage Nation long predates the state of Oklahoma and is not controlled by the State or its Attorney General.

According to Standing Bear, the Osage believe the United States Congress protected the Osage mineral estate by federal law in 1906, and no amendments ever changed this status. The Osage believe water is also protected because it is often essential to the production of oil.

In a letter to the Osage Nation from New Mexico Law firm Modrall Sperling, which negotiated the settlement with the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes, the state maintained the Osage Nation Water Regulations are unlawful because they claim jurisdiction over all the water in Osage County based on the establishment of the Osage Reservation. The letter says Osage Nation vs. Irby disestablished the Osage Reservation in 2010.