Osage American Indian tribe gives full democracy a try

May 23, 2007

Hepsi-Barnett.jpgA century after the land on the Osage American Indian reservation was divided up among tribal members, this nation is trying something new: full democracy.

As of March 11, 2006, when the new Osage constitution was ratified, the nation became a fully participatory democracy.

Prior to that, the decision-making process for this nation of some 16,000 was controlled by the holders of the 2,229 plots of land that have made up the Osage reservation in northern Oklahoma since 1907 the Osage call these individual land allotments shares.

Those shares are controlled by heads of families and over the years have been eagerly sought because they control land and mineral rights on the reservation. This part of the country saw an oil boom in the early 20th century and oil is still a big source of income on the reservation.

Those members of the tribe who were not heads of families felt disenfranchised as they were unable to participate in the decision-making process, said Hepsi Barnett (right), chief of staff at the Osage nations executive branch.

She added that since the creation of the Indian reservations, power on most of them has too often been concentrated in too few hands. This has lead to corruption and a refusal by many tribal leaders to enact change.

 It has often not been in the interest of their Indian leaders to change the status quo, Barnett added. Listen to her discuss the lack of reforms on Indian reservations.

But the last Osage tribal council under the old system which was selected in 2002 chose to break with the practice of nearly a century open up government to all members of the tribe.

The new chief, Jim Gray, elected in March 2006 is now working with his government on a 25-year plan to develop the reservations economy. Much of the tribes jobs and the governments currently revenue comes from casinos the government expects a roughly $30 million from its five casinos this year.

The money from the casinos has made this government possible almost all the oil revenue goes to the individual shareholders.

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(Next to last paragraph correction) Principal Chief Gray was elected June 5, 2006. Very well written story, Mr. Carey. It was nice meeting you, and sorry I had to leave.

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