C. Steven Hager is an attorney at Oklahoma Indian Legal Services in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. His focus is the Indian Child Welfare Act and is assigned to the north central region of Oklahoma.
If a researcher wishes to use the information gathered in this interview for uses other than educational or scholarly uses, they may do so without further permission from the interview subject.
Below is a short selection of the interview with C. Steven Hager. You can listen to the full interview by visiting the Chickasaw Nation Law Library at Oklahoma City University School of Law.
Below is an excerpt from Mr. Hager's interview and a link to download the full transcript.
KEK: And tell me about the Colley case, that class action case that the office was dealing with at the time when you came here.
CSH: Well, Colley versus the United States was a class action that dealt with the Anadarko Basin. And what had basically happened was for, really, since the existence of Oklahoma, people had been drilling oil and gas wells in western Oklahoma around Anadarko, Oklahoma. And, if you were on fee simple land, if you were on state land, you got your money. And you had the ability to sue the oil company to make sure that you got your money and you had the ability to watch them and things like that. If you lived in, on the western side of course it’s trust land, but if you lived on Indian land or if your well was on Indian land, the money was not sent to you, the money was sent to the Department of Interior through a subdivision called the Mineral Management Service. Now, the Mineral Management Service was kind of an heir to the BLM which used to get their money. And before the BLM got it, it was sent to someplace else. But it would, basically there would be about a 30 day lag between the time the oil company paid the money and the time the individual saw it. Even then there was no real accountability, the money was… you know, often the contracts differed dramatically. If you were living on fee simple land you might be getting a dollar twenty an NCF, a thousand cubic feet of gas, on Indian land you might be getting 12 cents for the same NCF. Laying a pipeline, if you were, if the pipeline went across Indian land they might be laying it for pennies per foot, where it might be hundreds of dollars per foot as soon as it left Indian land. The BIA was just doing an abysmal job of watching that and so the lawsuit, Colley versus United States, was filed demanding an accounting of this. And it was filed in 1982, 1984 I think, no, 1982, it was before I started law school. And it was settled ten years later in 1992 after I had been at OILS for two years. We co-counseled with the Native American Rights Fund out of Boulder, Colorado. A good friend of mine, Steve Moore, was really lead counsel and I was head local counsel. And, it was one of those cases where the decision was made very early on that we were going to have much better results by negotiating a settlement with the government than we would ever get out of court, and I think that was the wise thing because as you can see through the Cobell litigation, going to court has not been successful for the Native American Rights Fund, they might, should have had Steve Moore helping out on that case as well but they chose not to. But Colley, we really started serious negotiations when I came on board in 1990. And, basically they were issuing payment statements that literally were nonsensical, that literally could not be read or understood. Most statements, it’s called an EOP, an Explanation of Payment statement, it was just like a check stub you’d get. It would tell you how much, how many NCF had been taken from the well, what the price on the NCF was, your share, your interest share, and how much that came out in cash. It was pretty much a very simple thing to follow.
KEK: And who was, who was getting these statements? Your clients then, the individuals…
CSH: Yes, the individual Indians were getting the statements and they were being issued by the Department of Interior. The problem was the statements the Department of the Interior issued were completely nonsensical, they were just random numbers generated on a page and, what finally happened was the Secretary of the Interior was, under, this would be under the original George Bush, the first George Bush, was called before a Congressional subcommittee and they projected one of the EOPs up on the wall behind him and they said, “Could you tell us what line 1 means?” And the Secretary of the Interior with his entire staff there could not explain what line 1 meant, or line 2, or line 3, or line 4, or how they eventually got at the amount of money that they were paid. It was a complete and total disaster for him and he was humiliated. So, he came back and said, “Settle the lawsuit, settle it now.” And about six months later, we had a full settlement. Very, very amazing. The Colley lawsuit was kind of the, I would call it the forerunner to the Cobell litigation which is the litigation that now involves all the tribal land nationally, that’s kind of raising the same issues that we raised very specifically with oil and gas issues just in one little area. But, it’s just a, you cannot believe the level of sheer incompetence that has occurred, it’s just literally billions of dollars have been stolen from Indian people by the government.