Courtesy Photo/Joel Sartore
Published January 20, 2016
FAIRFAX, OKLAHOMA – The Fourth Osage Nation Congress convened for its 10th Special Session today to discuss six appropriation bills and three resolutions. However, the issue not listed on the agenda filled the gallery. The Congress will decide this week whether it is going to approve a bid to purchase Ted Turner’s 43,000-acre Bluestem Ranch.
Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and Congressional Speaker Maria Whitehorn both made telling speeches on the issue, both withholding details of the purchase.
In his opening remarks, Standing Bear spoke of the work his office and the Congress has performed in the last month, and the time frame the decision needs to be made in. Reportedly, sealed bids for the purchase are due by Jan. 25.
“Some of this work has to be done immediately. Assistant Principal Chief Red Corn has done a very good job … we understand what needs to be done today and tomorrow,” Standing Bear said. “We are in contact with others outside the Nation involved in assisting in your decision. I ask that when you make your decisions I know that each one of you will decide what’s best for the Osage people. I think I’ve made my preferences clear … I want to thank everyone for working together the last month … I’ve enjoyed it. I wish you all the best, good fortune, if there is anything we can provide, day or night, let us know, we are on a very short time schedule.”
Whitehorn said the decision Congress makes will be an emotional one.
“I believe every member of Congress supports acquiring property for our Nation. It’s our property, it’s our reservation, we went through allotment … it has a place in all of our hearts,” Whitehorn said. “I think there is a lot of emotion involved in it, it will benefit our families going forward, forever. But I’m going to draw it back to these seats, [we have to] make a very emotional decision before the financial situation before us. We serve 18,000 members, all of which do not live here, but I want to say their roots started here, they came from here, they started on that 1906 roll.”
“I just want you to know we have serious business here, we are up against a time crunch. I think prayer is going to help us through this, we’re a praying people and I think it will help us make this decision,” Whitehorn said.
The purchase of the Bluestem Ranch would make the Nation one of the biggest landowners in Osage County.
Congresswoman Shannon Edwards took to Facebook over the weekend to discuss the issue. The purchase is under a sealed bid auction and many aspects of the terms and conditions are confidential.
Edwards posted on the Facebook page Osage Community for Responsible Citizenry, that there is no appraisal for the land, no plan for the use of the land other than to raise bison – and the purchase of the bison, rolling stock and equipment currently on site was a purchase under separate negotiation. She said the Nation would have to promise gaming profits for the next 7-10 years, and the purchase would affect the gaming expansions planned for Tulsa, Bartlesville and Pawhuska casinos. She also eluded the land purchase could hurt her upcoming initiatives of funding Osage County broadband, nation-wide homebuyer assistance, the health benefit card and scholarships.
Osages responded to her posts with mixed responses, a few against the purchase but most in favor of the purchase.
Wilson Pipestem: “Absolutely support the reacquisition of surface lands located within the boundaries of the Osage Reservation!”
Berbon R. Hamilton: “I will not vote for any congress members who do not support this purchase.”
Ed Smith: “Yes if nothing else it’s 43,000 acres we wouldn’t have to worry about a windfarm.”
Billy Keene: “It would be a good purchase, it’s vital we increase our land base.”
CAnn Norris: “The issue is not buying back our Land it is should we Borrow the Money, we modeled our Osage Government after the U.S. Government but that doesn’t mean we also should go into debt.”
Melissa Currey: “It is doubtful we will ever have another opportunity to make such a large purchase. Why not raise and eventually process Buffalo, create income and jobs for our people? I have always supported increasing the land base, it strengthens our Tribal Nation. ‘They are not making any more land.’ We would be foolish to pass up this opportunity.”
Media mogul Ted Turner purchased Bluestem Ranch in 2001 and reportedly paid more than $15 million to acquire four adjoining properties owned by the Drummond family – a prominent ranching family in the county. The ranch was purchased to raise 3,000-4,000 thousand bison calves, which are used to stock his ranches around the country. The ranch is situated between Pawhuska and Fairfax, south of Highway 60.
According to a 2011 article on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation website, Bluestem Ranch is one of the most progressive ranches in Oklahoma, using wildlife conservation techniques such as limiting the amounts of herbicides used, reintroducing native plant life and species, increasing pasture size by eliminating fencing and creating food plots to maintain a high diversity of wildlife.
According to the article, Bluestem Ranch won the Landowner of the Year award in 2011. The ranch also has a waterfowl habitat, six ponds stocked with fish, and participates in the Wildlife Department’s Deer Management Assistance Program and holds deer hunting and trapping events for youth.
Turner is the second largest individual landowner in North America and his 17 ranches cover roughly 2 million acres in five states and Argentina. The ranches manage over 51,000 bison, according to Turner Enterprises, Inc. Bluestem Ranch is no longer listed on the website.
The Bluestem Ranch is larger than the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy, which also manages bison.
Check back to osagenews.org for updates on the purchase.