In the eyes of this committee, it was always meant to be an equal distribution.
Quapaw, OK – For weeks now, Quapaw Nation citizens have sought clarification on language found in Bill HR4715 (specifically the words "certain" and "landowners"). Conversations filled with speculation have helped create an uneasy feeling amongst the general members based on that language and misguided, though principally sound, social queues from other citizens. An outcry for the Business Committee to reaffirm their commitment to an equal distribution of the Bear Settlement funds has been heard and recently addressed at the August 2021 meeting.
The language found in Bill 4715 is not something new. "We understand there's concern from members over the choice of language, which is the same language that has been used throughout the settlement process." Said Chairman Byrd. "The language was agreed to before our time on this council by all parties. The short language of a bill can be amended at any time throughout the congressional process, and it will likely change as we continue down the process."
Quapaw Nation leadership hopes that in passing Resolution 082121-A, a resolution calling for the equal distribution of the Bear settlement, the minds of those afflicted by rumors and false narratives are put at ease. Guy Barker made the motion to adopt the resolution, and Callie Bowden seconded that motion. Still, it was clear that every member of the committee shared the sentiment of equal distribution to all those who were members before the cutoff date of September 27th, 2019.
In discussion, Guy Barker thanked all members that had reached out to the committee before launching into a moving speech in which he dispelled rumors, articulated facts of the settlement agreement, and thanked individuals that a majority of the settlement was based on – many of whom are no longer with us.
"It has always been the stance of this current administration that any monies appropriated through Bear, would be equally distributed amongst the 5,290 living tribal members on the rolls before September 27th, 2019." Guy Barker stated. "This has always been our position, and it will continue to be our position. We did not agree that it should be distributed at an amount of $15,000 per person paid out over five years, and I would like to make that abundantly clear."
Secretary-Treasurer Barker Barker is, of course, referring to the distribution plan put in place by former Chairman Berrey, which would have resulted in more than $58 million not being dispersed to members. Mr. Berrey shared the appropriation language he failed to submit to Congress, before his defeat in the 2020 general election, through a social media group moderated by himself.
In that language was a call for each member, before the same cutoff date of September 27th, 2019, to receive $3,000 a year for five years, totaling exactly $15,000 per member, but also leaving approximately 42% of the total settlement to be kept by Quapaw Nation. Additionally, any member who passed away before the completion of their payment would forfeit the remainder of their settlement funds and would be claimed by the tribal government.
"It saddens me to see such fervent belief that this administration would support any distribution that would be inequitable in favor of individual landowners." Mr. Barker continued. "These theories are false. However, if the current petition that is being circulated and this resolution can memorialize the tribal government's position and bring about peace of mind for our tribal members, this committee is in full support of it."
Lloyd Buffalo clarified that the exact number of those that would receive an equal share of Bear is most likely lower than the 5,290 figure given as some members have walked on without the tribe being notified. Mr. Buffalo also pointed out that there has never been a statement issued by the Quapaw Nation Business Committee contrary to an equal distribution of Bear.
Chairman Byrd would add to his earlier statement saying that he hopes with the passage of this resolution, the question of the committee fairly distributing Bear can be put to rest and allow Quapaw Nation to move forward.
If anything else could be grasped from the conversation, it was the fact that although the business committee is currently and will continue to make a strong push for disbursement, the date of that distribution may be much further out than previously anticipated.
"Our tribal government needs to remain focused on (Bear) because I can't oversell how difficult of a process this is going to be." Said Secretary-Treasurer Guy Barker.
"As an example, the Poarch Creek tribe in Alabama, in a similar trust settlement to our own, about $90 million, reached that agreement and introduced their bill over 11 years ago. They are still waiting for Congressional action. We hope to expedite that process by learning from some of their missteps, lobbying mistakes, and perhaps efforts on the hill – where their piece of legislation is currently stuck. Receiving the distribution is still going to be a long and challenging process. Make no mistake, the introduction of this house bill is no indication that payment is imminent. They do not call it an act of Congress for nothing, which is what we will require."
It's important to note that neither Joseph Byrd nor Guy Barker were in office when the final settlement was agreed upon and signed, meaning that any language housed within was agreed upon and decided upon by past leadership. Although not pleased with the reasoning, members of the Business Committee are delighted to see citizens of Quapaw Nation using their voices in a show of unity.
The social media outcry has led to a petition also calling for equal distribution of the Bear settlement being turned into the Business Committee, Enrollment Committee, and Election Committee last week with over 200 signatures of Quapaw Nation registered voters already attached. More signatures are still being collected and will be added in the future.
Section 16.1 of the Quapaw Nation Election Ordinance grants General Council members the ability to pass resolutions and ordinances as long as they can garner support from at least 100 registered voters. The process is not as simple as it sounds and has its limitations but is possible through technology and understanding the requirements set forth by the Election Ordinance.
Now that the petition has been turned in and certified, it will move to the agenda of the September Business Committee meeting, where members of the Business Committee will vote on it. If the petition fails to pass by a majority, an election will be called to give General Council the final say in its passage. Based upon action taken today, the full potential of the petition may never be realized. Nevertheless, Democracy is in full show for Quapaw Nation, and the nation has leaders that support that showing.