FAIRFAX — An Osage Nation plan to assert environmental jurisdiction over the state's largest county appears to be dead. However, the tribe's chief isn't reverting from his claim that Osage County is a reservation.
In his latest volley, Principal Chief Jim Gray claims state consumer protection inspectors have no authority to enter a tribe-owned grocery store in Fairfax.
Gray's argument is that the store, called the Palace of the Osage, is within the Osage Reservation, which he said includes all of Osage County.
Therefore, only the tribe's laws apply, Gray said in a May 22 letter to the state Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.
"As such, from this point forward unless federal laws or the laws of the (Osage) Nation provide otherwise, neither the Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry, nor any other state agency has lawful authority to enter the Palace of the Osage, or any other tribally licensed business located within the Osage Reservation for the purpose of enforcing state law and regulations,” Gray wrote.
An Agriculture Department attorney said Gray may be right. However, the tribe and another state agency are embroiled in a lawsuit over a related issue.
Gray's letter is being circulated by members of the Osage County Cattlemen's Association. That entity was instrumental in killing — at least temporarily — an Osage Nation bill to create and regulate environmental standards for all of Osage County.
That bill sought to supercede state and federal environmental rules and would have applied to anyone who lives or conducts business in the county.
It would have forced non-Osage landowners to comply and would have established tribal court as the place to settle disputes.
Tribal officials said Thursday the bill is on indefinite hold.
Two July hearings to discuss the measure have been canceled.
The bill's author, Osage Congresswoman Faren Revard Anderson, previously said she introduced it at the request of Gray's office.
Pricing violations found
The new controversy stems from consumer protection inspections of the tribe's Fairfax grocery store dating to 2005.
An inspector notified the store of pricing errors on several visits, records show.
For instance, margarine marked at $1.49 actually cost $1.99.
A gallon of barbecue sauce advertised at $10.