Osage Tribe Voting Rights Upheld

Eight Osage Nation members who objected to greater latitude in tribal voting and tribal office were unsuccessful June 19 when they brought their concerns before the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The eight have inheritable headrights, or ownership, in the Osage Mineral Estate (Estate) and are shareholders in mineral revenue distributions that are based on headright interests.

Under the Osage Allotment Act of 1906, only shareholders were allowed to cast votes by weighted ballot according to headright interest and only shareholders could be tribal officials. Under a later tribal constitution, however, all adult members could vote in tribal elections or hold tribal office.

Concerned shareholders demanded that the Bureau of Indian Affairs conduct an election in 2006 for the governing body of the Estate under the older, more restrictive rules, but the BIA refused, although the shareholders asserted their headright interests were threatened if non-headright owners had authority over the Estate.

The elections were for Principal Chief, Assistant Principal Chief, and Tribal Council of the Mineral Estate of the Osage Tribe.

A magistrate judge in District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma recommended dismissal of their claims because they had failed to exhaust administrative remedies. They appealed to the 10th Circuit, which upheld the lower court.

Exhaustion of remedies is generally required to avoid “premature interference with agency processes” to promote efficient agency functioning, to compile a record adequate for judicial review and for other benefits, the court said.

The case is that of Cora Jean Jech; Charles Tillman; Dudley Whitehorn; Joe Hall; Joanna Barbara; R.E. Yarbrough; Cody Tucker, John Johnson v. Department of Interior; Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior; Bureau of Indian Affairs; Larry Echohawk, assistant secretary, Indian Affairs; the United States of America.

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Osage Tribe Voting Rights Upheld

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