It has been well over a century since oil was discovered on the million and a half acre Osage Reservation. It would be an understatement to say that finding oil on the Reservation has had a profound impact the on the lives of Osage People. I believe it is also safe to say that oil has created more solutions than problems to Osage life. Keeping in mind that we are well aware of the problems that exist in our world, and we never pretend that those problems do not exist.
One of the first oil related problems the People faced was how to distribute future income from oil in a way that would be fair to all involved. It was a problem that lots of people would like to have had. Tribal Leaders came up with a solution. That solution was to look at all of the pools of oil found under the Reservation as if all of those pools of oil were really just one big pool of oil that ended at the Reservation border. Each Osage would then be granted to him, or to her, one full share of income from the oil produced and sold by the Mineral Estate. That interest was then called an Osage Headright.
Each Osage Headright brought with it one share of the proceeds from the million and a half acre Mineral Estate. There were a total of 2,229 members of the Tribe at that time. It also brought with it a 160-acre Homestead within the Reservation and 658 acres of surface land within the Reservation.
The one share that all women, men and children received were equal to each and every member of the Tribe.
The term Headright turned out to be an accurate description of those assets because, ideally, a Headright is passed down from one generation of tribal members to the next generation of tribal members.
We all know that life does not always follow the ideal path we hope and sometime plan for. Osages know there has been fraud and even murders committed in the pursuit of a Headright.
While it was not perfect that was about as fair as it was going to get.
I have always believed there is a connection between the ancient ways of life and the beliefs of a People, and history is the outcome of those decisions of leadership.
Economics is an important part of any culture, tribal or otherwise, and Osage Culture is partially driven by economics. More importantly, Osage Culture finds its roots in the ancient world of the Wah-Zha-Zhi. That is what the Osages of the past called themselves. The term Osage is a corruption of translating Wah-Zha-Zhi from Osage to English while passing through some Frenchmen.
No matter what the circumstances could have been, I would say that a majority of Indian People have meaningful and interesting lives, and the ones I am familiar with celebrate in ways that reach back into time, just as Osage celebrate the past as much as the present while knowing that living the past, present and future are equally important.