A sign on the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. Photo: Jimmy Emerson
Environment | Law | National

Osage Nation prepared to fight state over water rights on historic reservation

The Osage Nation and the state of Oklahoma are clashing over the tribe's water rights.

According to Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, the tribe can issue permits for water wells in its territory. According to Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, the tribe can't do so because it doesn't own the water in the first place.

“We never gave those water rights up,” Standing Bear told The Oklahoman, which first reported on the dispute. “There's no document I have seen or our lawyers have seen that says the Osage gave its water rights up. The state can't show it because it doesn't exist.”

The Osage Reservation, which encompasses the entirety of present-day Osage County, was established in 1872 when the tribe purchased the land for it. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that water rights are also established with a reservation in the Winters case from 1908.

But the state contends the reservation was disestablished in 1906. That was the conclusion reached in Osage Nation v. Irby, a more recent case that arose out of a taxation dispute.

Yet the state indicated it was open to some form of settlement, according to a letter quoted by The Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise. The Chickasaw Nation and the Choctaw Nation had their water deal approved by Congress late last year.

“We believe that this is our water, and we will defend our property,” Standing Bear told the paper.

Standing Bear and Hunter will be meeting in person to discuss the issue, according to the news reports.

Read More on the Story:
Osage Nation battles AG's office over water rights (The Oklahoman October 9, 2017)
State, Osage Nation at odds (The Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise October 11, 2017)