The Osage Nation is defending its sovereign authority over its land and resources after receiving a letter objecting to the issuance of the nation's first water permit.
The Osage Nation Environmental and Natural Resources [ENR] Department issued the water well permit last month.
The permit, the first of its kind, allows the Osage Skiatook Casino — on Osage Nation federal trust land — to drill and use the nation's water resources.
However, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter hired a New Mexico law firm to send Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear a letter arguing the permit's legality.
The letter, dated Sept. 29, 2017, states "The Osage Nation Water Regulations under which the permit is allegedly issued are unlawful as those regulations purport to claim ownership and jurisdiction over all of the water in Osage County."
The letter also states that the Osage Nation Reservation in north-central Oklahoma, which was established by treaty in 1870, was disestablished.
The Osage Nation has legally battled that for years.
The letter suggests the Osage Nation follow in the steps of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations in their settlements of ownership and control of water.
"The State's settlement with the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations should be a model for collaborative approaches to address competing claims to the water resources within the State of Oklahoma," it states.
The letter ends with a request to meet with the Osage Nation to discuss the issues.
On Friday, Chief Standing Bear published a letter in response to Hunter.
"The Osage Nation maintains a robust and federally-recognized sovereign authority over its lands and resources. The Osage Nation long pre-dates the State of Oklahoma and is not controlled by the State or its Attorney General," Standing Bear said in the letter.
Oklahoma was established in 1907.
"Of course, we completely disagree with the opinion in this letter about our water regulations, but it is of no consequence to us," Standing Bear said. "The Osage Nation has issued a valid permit to the Osage Nation Gaming Enterprise, which is located on the Nation’s land, and the water that it is authorized to take will be used pursuant to that permit."
Standing Bear expressed his confusion over Hunter's methods.
“What really puzzles me about the letter is Attorney General Hunter’s decision to communicate with me through an out-of-state law firm. He should feel free to pick up the telephone and give me a call. I’m not hard to reach," Standing Bear said.
The United States Congress protected the Osage mineral estate by federal law in 1906, and no amendments ever changed this status, Standing Bear said.
The Osage believe water is also protected because it is often essential to the production of oil.
"We believe that this is our water, and we will defend our property," Standing Bear said.
Standing Bear encouraged discussions between Oklahoma and the Osage Nation.
“We are willing to speak with Oklahoma on a government-to-government basis. Attorney letters like the one we received are unnecessary and unhelpful," he said.
Although the Osage Nation possesses water and mineral rights, its goal is to seek collaborative solutions with its neighbors, the letter states.
Both letters can be found below.