PAWHUSKA, Okla. - Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and Neil McCaleb, nominee for the assistant secretary Indian Affairs, met with members of the Osage Nation last week. Norton was in Oklahoma to promote President Bush's energy program.
"She and the new officially nominated Assistant Secretary of the Interior McCaleb were here," Osage Chief Charles Tillman said. "We had close to a hundred tribal leaders and oil producers here. We had environmentalists and conservationists here too and then the Osage Tribe itself."
Tillman said the Osage were hosts to Norton because she wanted to come. "The Osage Nation has this vast oil holding here," Tillman said. "It's 13,000 oil wells. We also have the ecosystem of the tall grass prairie. Do they all get along? Yes, they do. She wanted to see that. She also wanted to express the president's energy policy and see if the oil producers of Osage County agreed with it. Most of them did."
Asked what he thought of the future of the president's energy policy, Tillman was ready with his answer. "That's a very touchy subject. Because we don't know what to do about it."
Using California as an example, Tillman said the state had not deregulated in the right way and that now the state was in trouble. "It may take two years for them to overcome that. Are they going to blame Oklahoma? I hope not, they caused that themselves.
"Energy is the main topic right now in this country. We are the richest and most powerful country in the world. We need to address our energy problems," the chief said. "President Carter lost the election over it. People didn't want to hear that they were going to have to pay more than they wanted to for gas, they wouldn't accept that. It's not a matter of what you are willing to accept now, it's a matter of how much do we have."
New power plants and new sources of coal and oil as well as a continued dependency on foreign sources of energy are going to be in the forefront, Tillman said, along with the American people learning conservation.
"This president is willing to address that. We are depending on foreign oil to make gasoline. We have a shortage of refineries ... we are going to have to learn how to conserve. We've had the luxury for many, many years of being able to use as much as we want, when we want and where we want and that will be no more in some cases, because we are running out of energy."
Tillman blamed the population boom and the fact people are too quick to turn on air conditioners and not think about the consequences.
He said he believes that with the new administration in the White House, the Osage have a new opportunity for themselves as well as other tribes, not only in energy production, but in trust responsibilities as well.
"I believe we have a secretary who is willing to listen," Tillman said. "I think we have an assistant secretary who is willing to listen and learn about Indian country. I think there is a window of opportunity here to settle our differences and the only difference is Trust Fund ... I think the president is willing to look at this and say, 'Let's get this out of the way. Let's pay this off, we don't need to be in court.' The last administration said 'We are not guilty'. I'm saying they are guilty as hell."
Tillman said trust fund lawsuits may be settled because of the new administration's desire to work with Native American issues and settle them once and for all.
"(President Bush) is going to go back and revisit it and set the agenda right," Tillman said. "They're willing to do that, they're willing to say, 'If we're going to go down the road, let's do it right. Let's don't come up here and beat on desks ... let's get over here together and work out solutions.' They want solutions. They don't want a dogfight, it doesn't get us anywhere."