Director of Tourism for Osage County and Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce resigns

News from Pawhuska-Osage

Osage County Tourism Director Kelly Bland resigned from the position on March 17 after a series of incidents that upset some members of the Osage tribe.

Bland wore two hats — and earned two salaries — as county tourism manager and director of the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce.

In her letter requesting the termination of her $67,808 contract with the county, she wrote, “I would like to thank you for the past four years. I fell in love with Osage County, its people, diverse cultures and rich history. I had the pleasure of promoting northeast Oklahoma.

Bland did not respond to a message on his cellphone and calls to the chamber went unanswered on Friday.

It’s unclear what the Chamber paid Bland, but according to the latest available Chamber tax return on Guidestar.org, his predecessor, Joni Nash, received $49,000 a year plus benefits.

County and chamber salaries were combined when the chamber hired Bland last May, bringing his salary to at least $116,000 — more than double what county commissioners, county clerk, treasurer and all other county elected officials except the district attorney are paid. County officials — excluding the DA — cap at $57,000; their employees are capped at $42,500.

Last year, the Osage County Tourism Oversight Committee asked Osage County Commissioners to approve a bonus payment of 3% of county tax revenue growth – up to 12 $000 – but the measurement failed.

Bland started four years ago as a part-time entrepreneur, earning around $35,000 a year.

Bland, a Texan who expresses great enthusiasm for the cowboy life, first clashed with the Osages a few years ago when she promoted tourist visits to Grayhorse Cemetery – a place of great significance. spiritual place and the final resting place of many Osages who were murdered during the Reign of Terror.

Other missteps have fueled cultural discord: wanting Osages to dance in their ‘costumes’ for bus tours, promoting a spurs exhibit at Fairfax’s State Security Bank using a photo of murderer William Hale’s spurs when she had a choice of over 100 others, yelling at employees of the Osage Cultural Center to move their cars from the parking lot next to the room because she was hosting a cowboy cocktail party, and referring to tours of the Osage County as “Osagin’ It” – which is also the name of his podcast.

Kelly Bland

“She talks about us like we’re black and white background photos,” said Addie Roanhorse, an Osage artist, House member and great-granddaughter of Henry Roan, an Osage victim of the murder of the miser Hale. “They talk about us in the past tense. It’s frightening.

“Most people who move here who have no Osage connection want to learn and understand. She was tactless, every step of the way, creating division.

Roanhorse and his uncle, former Osage Nation chief Jim Gray, noted that none of Pawhuska’s former chamber managers over the past 20 years – Dia Doughty, Mike McCartney and Nash – had had strained relationships. with Osages.

“I can’t think of a time when it exploded like that,” Gray said. “Everyone understood the value that the Osage Nation brought to the economy of this region. We had healthy conversations and never had a problem with the room managers.

Gray said he hopes Bland’s experience will do some good: First, that the chamber and tourist boards will become more representative of the communities they serve.

“It would be nice if we could get more tribal representation on the chamber and other boards and commissions,” Gray said. “You want the Chamber to look like its community. Perhaps some changes in the composition of these organizations could be a way to avoid these situations in the future.

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