Community , Government , Business , Health

Osage Congress passes sovereign immunity waiver with BOK for WHC financial services

The Osage Nation is partnering with Bank of Oklahoma to provide accounting and financial services at the Wah-Zha-Zhi Health Center.

During the Sept. 27 ON Congressional Tzi-Zho Session, the Congress passed a resolution (ONCR 17-38 sponsored by Congressman Ron Shaw) authorizing a limited waiver of sovereign immunity in an agreement with BOK to provide the financial services at the Pawhuska-based WHC. The Nation entered into a compact with Indian Health Service in 2015 to assume control of the clinic operations and its funding starting with the 2016 fiscal year.

Shaw said he is sponsoring the resolution at the request of the ON Health and Wellness officials which requested a new vendor for clinic accounting services to replace the previous vendor, that was a local bank not able to provide all needed services. He called the resolution “an attempt to improve efficiency” at the clinic, which is a nearly $7 million operation.

According to the 2006 Osage Constitution, the Nation and its offices and instrumentalities “shall be immune from suit or process in any forum except to the extent that the Osage Nation Congress expressly waives its sovereign immunity.” With regard to ONCR 17-38, the resolution states that as a condition of the agreement with BOK, the Nation will be required to provide a limited waiver of sovereign immunity in the contract consenting to jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court of Northern Oklahoma and Oklahoma State District Court in Osage and Tulsa counties in case of litigation arising out of a contract dispute.

This is the second time the resolution for the sovereign immunity waiver with BOK was considered by the Congress. A similar resolution was considered during an August special session but was withdrawn after a committee meeting discussion touched on concerns the agreement contract was not entirely vetted by the Attorney General’s Office before that session. Shaw said the ON AG’s office worked with BOK’s attorney on redrafting another agreement with some necessary language changes.

Congressman RJ Walker said he supports the resolution because, through the agreement, the WHC will receive needed financial services that will improve administrative quality of the clinic.

Congresswoman Shannon Edwards said she would be voting “no” for the resolution because she did not believe “or hear that this service that’s being provided to the Nation was shopped around and that Indian-owned (banking) institutions, Native American institutions were considered. I know that there are several tribal nations that own banking institutions that can provide the same services that are being requested here. I’m not of the belief that you put all your eggs in one basket and I’ve never believed that,” referring to BOK, which is already the provider of the 401K plan for the Nation’s government employees and Osage Casino employees.

The resolution passed with 10 “yes” votes, one “no” vote from Edwards and one absence that day from Congressman James Norris. Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear signed off on the resolution for the agreement with BOK to take effect.