BARNSDALL, Okla.—Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear sent a warning shot across the Osage Minerals Council’s bow last week when he asked the attorney general for a legal opinion on a draft of proposed Minerals Council policies and procedures, a document which lays claim to “all the privileges and immunities of a federally-recognized Indian Tribe” for the OMC.
The attorney general’s office concluded that the 10-page proposal violates the Osage Nation Constitution in a July 22 opinion written by Assistant Attorney General Clint Patterson.
Councilwoman Cynthia Boone says the executive branch is overreacting.
“I just think everybody jumped the gun on all of this,” Boone said. “It’s my opinion that the chief made a mountain out of a mole hill. This is only a draft. I think it’s unfortunate that our attorney general spent her time giving a legal opinion on a draft document.”
Councilman Galen Crum said he was not involved at all in producing the proposal and does not know how it came into being.
“I’m certain the whole Minerals Council wasn’t involved in it,” Crum said. “I certainly wasn’t. And there was no resolution to create it.”
According to him, some on the council were already backpedaling on the proposal before the attorney general’s opinion left the press.
“[A council member] sought me out to tell me that that wa all a mistake, that it was sent to the wrong tribe,” Crum said. “And I of course said, ‘Another tribe that uses the 1906 Act?!’”
The proposal, which is titled “Osage Minerals Council Administrative Policies and Procedures,” makes no reference to the Osage Nation Constitution, saying instead that the OMC is empowered “in accordance with the Act of June 5, 1906” to manage the Osage mineral estate.
It also claims that the OMC is “recognized by the United States as a sovereign entity with legal rights and responsibilities.”
The position that the OMC is an entity distinct from the Osage Nation and not bound by its laws has found little traction with the courts. Last week, a judge ruled that the OMC and its members are indeed bound by tribal ethics laws, and Assistant Attorney General Jeff Jones seconds that opinion.
“Our position is that they fall under the constitution of the Nation, not under the 1906 Act,” Jones said.
Though the OMC is empowered by the Osage Nation Constitution to establish its own policies, it may only do so so long as those policies are not in conflict with the constitution or other laws of the Osage Nation. Assistant Attorney General Clint Patterson writes for the attorney general that the proposal does not meet these criteria.
For example, the proposal allows for the removal of any member of the OMC “with or without cause by a majority vote of headright interest owners at any meeting of the OMC called expressly for that purpose.”
Such a meeting could be called by any three members of the OMC with only 48 hours notice.
Removal from office could also follow if an OMC member is found by the rest of the OMC to have violated the administrative policies and procedures.
According to Patterson, those provisions violate the Osage Nation Constitution, which only allows for the removal of elected officials for cause, and stipulates that all such removals must originate in the Osage Nation Congress. Impeachment proceedings can only go forward with a 2/3 vote of the Congress.
The proposal further violates the constitution by establishing an independent treasury for the OMC, Patterson argues.
“As an independent entity of the Osage Nation, the Osage Minerals Council cannot operate a separate treasury outside the Constitutional treasury,” Patterson’s opinion reads.
“Nowhere in any Article or Osage Law provides for an independent agency to have their own treasury as their funds are the funds of the Nation and the Treasurer within the Executive Branch has the Constitutional authority to safeguard all tribal funds.”
Finally, the opinion notes but does not elaborate on “several sections of the proposed [policies] that violate Osage Nation law, such as the Open Meetings Act, the Boards and Commission Act, the Treasury law, the Ethics law, and the Election code.”
Questions about other violations remain. Assistant Attorney General Jones said he is concerned that a section on “Inspection of Books and Records” could violate the Nation’s Open Records Act since it limits access to the OMC records to headright owners.
The proposal seems narrowly tailored to fit the view of some on the council that the OMC should be responsible exclusively to headright owners and demands that OMC members toe the line.
In a section on the “Conduct of Individual OMC Members,” the proposal calls for all council members to “support all decisions of the OMC.”
It laters gives an “Oath of Ethical Standards” enjoining all council members to “act solely in the best interest of the headright interest owners … [to] uphold all the Administrative Policies and Procedures and any and all rules and regulations of the OMC and … avoid being a party to any challenge of the same [and to] never take actions that attempt to unilaterally block, hinder, obstruct, impeded or adversely affect resolutions passed or decisions rendered by the OMC.”
These provisions track closely with criticims leveled by some OMC members at Councilmen Andrew Yates and Galen Crum, both of whom have been accused of wielding influence outside the OMC in a manner inconsistent with resolutions passed by the Council.
Still, Councilwoman Cynthia Boone is emphatic that the dust-up between the chief and the OMC has blown the issue out of proportion.
“There’s absolutely nothing to these policies and procedures at this time,” Boone said. “We will look them over, and I think some of us have to give our input on some areas that we’re not happy with.”