A question as to who is in charge while Osage Nation Principal Chief Jim Gray is in France for nine days has caused discussion among tribal officials and tribal members.
“There was no briefing before he left, he didn’t say anything as to his plans of how he was going to run the Nation while he was out of the country,” said Osage Nation Assistant Principal Chief John Red Eagle. “In my opinion, I was elected by the Osage people, the Chief of Staff [Hepsi Barnett] was not elected by the people nor was [Gray’s] staff.”
The question came to a head when two congressional bills were delivered for Gray to sign into law Oct. 8. Since Gray won’t be returning until Oct. 15 the two bills are subject to pocket veto if not signed within five days upon delivery.
Red Eagle, who said he should be acting Chief while Gray is out of the country, requested of staff attorney Tosha Ballard that she show him the bills. Ballard denied the request. The two bills are ONCA 09-44 the Osage Nation Time Calculations Act and ONCA 09-50 an act to amend the Anti-Alienation Act.
“I didn’t ask [Ballard] to bring them to me to sign them into law, I asked her to bring them to me to look at them,” Red Eagle said. “She disobeyed a direct order.”
Ballard could not be reached before this story was published.
After Red Eagle was denied the request, a memorandum was sent Oct. 9 to all Osage Nation employees, the Osage Nation Congress, all boards and commissions and Executive Branch staff that said while Gray is out of the country he is still the Principal Chief and he would run the Nation from France.
“Temporary absence means temporary absence from his position, not temporary absence from Pawhuska,” said Hepsi Barnett, Chief of Staff. “If he were to be in the hospital and was unable to perform his duties than that qualifies as a temporary absence . . . If President [Barack] Obama leaves the country he doesn’t cease to be the president, does he?”
Gray is leading a delegation in France to represent the Nation at commemorative events in Montauban that celebrates the French-Osage relationship that began in 1829 when the people of Montauban helped stranded Osages return home, wrote Gray in his Daily Message Oct. 3. Twenty years ago the people of Montauban reached out to the Osage to help them revive their culture since the Osage was doing it so successfully, he said. Osage dancers, singers and the Osage princesses are apart of the delegation in France as well as some of Gray’s staff.
“Our government team is on an exploratory mission to expand opportunities for economic development, tourism, and possibly education–which has many special nuances in France,” Gray wrote in his Oct. 3 message. “We have arranged meeting with French companies with global reach in the field of energy and aerospace, who are seeking to expand in the United States.”
According to the Osage Nation constitution in Article VII, section seven, the Assistant Chief shall serve in the “temporary absence” of the Chief as Acting Chief and will have all the privileges, duties and powers of the Chief. The constitution does not define what qualifies as a “temporary absence.”
“There appears to be some confusion,” Gray wrote in the memo. “In the very unlikely event that I deem it necessary to be temporarily absent and thereby unable to perform my official duties and responsibilities, I shall expressly delegate, in writing and for a designated period of time, my power and authority as Principal Chief to the Assistant Principal Chief.”
“If anyone should need to contact me on government business while I am away from Pawhuska, I am available and in regular daily contact with my staff by e-mail, fax and phone,” Gray said.
Gray issued two veto messages from France on Oct. 7 and Oct. 8 for the act that would require a Primary Election and the Open Records Act.
Red Eagle is not satisfied with the memorandum Gray issued and doesn’t know what course he is going to take. Red Eagle said if something was to go wrong or a disaster were to happen within the Nation’s boundaries while Gray is away someone has to deal with it and he believes it should be the Assistant Chief and not one of Gray’s staff.
“We’re supposed to work together to run this Nation,” Red Eagle said. “If I’m not in charge in his absence then we need to define absence because my definition of absence is obviously different from his.”
Congressman Raymond Red Corn wrote in his e-mail message to tribal members on Oct. 9 that he believes a delegation of authority is not done with a memo and that Congress will have to define “temporary absence.”
“With no disrespect, I believe [Gray] ‘deemed it necessary to be temporarily absent’ when he boarded the plane for a 9-day trip across the Atlantic,” Red Corn wrote. “That is not an ‘unlikely event,’ that is a current event . . . In this instance the constitutional powers of the Assistant Principal Chief have been diminished not by constitutional amendment, but by a one page memo.”