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Osage Congress votes to proceed with chief removal trial

John D. Red Eagle
John D. Red Eagle

The Osage Nation Congress voted unanimously Friday to approve a motion calling for removal from office of Osage Principal Chief John D. Red Eagle.

Conducting of a trial is the next step in the removal process. Rules would have allowed for those proceedings to begin 21 days after approval of the motion. Following the vote, tribal officials indicated that additional time will likely be required due to the unprecedented nature of the proceedings against an Osage Chief. They said a trial for Red Eagle is not expected to get underway until early 2014.

Speaker of the ON Congress Raymond Red Corn called a Wednesday meeting of the Congressional Affairs committee for consideration of matters related to a removal trial. The meeting is expected to take place in executive session due to issues related to attorney-client privelege, he said.

Chief Red Eagle is accused of malfeasance in office, disregard of constitutional duties and oath of office, arrogation of power abuse of the government process and undermining the integrity of the office. The charges stem from six separate allegations involving abuse of power and ethics violations that are claimed to have been committed by Red Eagle since he became Principal Chief in June 2010.

On Thursday, the six allegations were formally presented to the 12-member Congress in a motion for removal made by Congressman Archie Mason, who is generally acknowledged as a tribal elder of the Osages.

“I stand here at this very strenuous time in our history…with malice to no one and dedicated service to all,” Mason told the Congress prior to making the motion. “I stand here knowing that my personal feelings and intense emotions cannot stand in the way of my duty and obligation to the Osage people and the oath of office which I took.”

The motion was seconded by Congressman John Maker. As required by the rules for removal, the motion was voted not voted on until the following day. Eight votes were needed to approve the motion, which was passed Friday by a margin of 12-0.

Red Eagle was not present for either day of the special congressional sessions. He and Assistant Principal Chief Scott BigHorse were reported to be attending meetings in Washington D.C., for the United Indian Nations in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, a recently-formed inter-tribal organization.

However, the Principal Chief released the following statement in response to the removal action:

“While the Osage Nation has existed since time immemorial, our present form of government is relatively young,” Red Eagle stated in the release. “Our Constitution reflects the fundamental values Osage People hold sacred: Justice, Fairness, Compassion, Respect for and Protection of Child, Elder, All Fellow Beings, and Self.

“As Ki-he-kah, or Principal Chief, those values have guided my actions in striving for proper governance. My concern at this point is that Congress, even though equally well-intentioned, has drafted flawed removal rules that allow it to act not only as the police, prosecutor, and grand jury of what is “ethical” conduct, but that also allow it to sit as the trial jury in judging my conduct. All other well-principled democracies completely separate the police, prosecutor, grand jury, and trial jury functions in order to promote justice and fairness,” the Red Eagle statement continued.

“We all want ethics in government, but the current means for achieving that goal is ripe for abuse. The rules created and implemented by the Congress provide little due process and no appellate review of the verdict for errors or abuse of discretion. I refute the unwarranted allegations and deserve a process that adheres to those fundamental principles of fairness and justice. That is why, in a Petition for Declaratory Judgment filed November 7th, I have asked our Supreme Court to consider these important issues,” the release from the Principal Chief said.

Prior to Thursday’s start of the ON Congress special session, the Osage Supreme Court dismissed Red Eagle’s request for a temporary restraining order that was filed last week on behalf of the chief. The request was part of a motion for a declaratory judgment, which would have delayed the start of the special session until a ruling could be made regarding the constitutionality of the tribe’s removal process. No ruling has been made on the Chief’s motion.

The six allegations in the motion for removal of Red Eagle were put forward to the Congress by a Select Committee of Inquiry that conducted a two-month investigation into 15 total claims made during another special session earlier this summer.

It is claimed in the allegations that, while serving as principal chief, Red Eagle: 1) interfered with an investigation of the Office of Attorney General of the Osage Nation, 2) attempted to have an investigation of the Attorney General’s office terminated to give preferential treatment to an employee, 3) refused to uphold an Osage Nation law delegating full and sole control over all Mineral Estate Accounts to the Osage Minerals Council. (Congress passed the law over the Chief’s veto.)

Also, Chief Red Eagle is alleged to have, 4) improperly influenced the administration of the Osage Nation Election Board by forbidding disciplinary action against an Election Board employee, 5) withheld one or more contracts properly requested under the Osage Nation’s Open Records Act, and 6) misused public money of the Osage Nation by authorizing payment of $73,334 for personal services contracts in which no work was done to earn the fees.

In conclusion, the motion for removal stated: “The foregoing allegations, if true, constitute grounds for removal from office for malfeasance in office, undermining the integrity of the office, disregard of constitutional duties and oath of office, arrogation of powers and abuse of the government process. If any of the allegations set forth herein are sustained by five-sixths of the members of the Osage Nation Congress, Principal Chief Red Eagle will be removed from office and will be further subject to disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit in the Osage Nation.”

The removal trial is to be presided over by a justice of the Osage Nation Supreme Court. Chief Justice Meredith Drent has been ruled ineligible for the role because she was assigned the task of appointing the five members of the Select Committee of Inquiry.

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