Culture , Columns

Sovereign

Charles Red Corn, Osage News columnist and author of, "A Pipe for February."

We are sovereign.  

There are Osages left who know what that means.

Those before us knew they were sovereign, they just did not know what to call it.  

It is a bundle of things.

It is honor, bravery and honesty with others. 

I think mostly it is the ability to stand alone. 

How you stand alone is up to you and only you know for sure what that is. 

It is an inner thing.

That is where it starts.

Then you feel it grow.  

Who else knows about it does not matter

That is how you know it is real.

I wrote the above poem while I was thinking about what is sovereign? If a people are sovereign, where did they get it? Do we as Osages understand it? Do we feel sovereign? How does a sovereign feel?

In 2004, President George W. Bush tried to define sovereignty by stating, “Tribal sovereignty means that. It’s sovereign. You’re a ...You’re a ... you’ve been given sovereignty and you’re viewed as a sovereign entity.” I am certain the 43rd President had a better understanding of sovereignty than he expressed on that day, and I include the incident to demonstrate that it can be a difficult concept to get a handle on. 

Today, people think they understand what is sovereign and try to define what is a sovereign tribal nation within the parameters of Eurocentric thought and I feel they miss the true meaning of a sovereign tribal nation, but especially as it relates to the Osage Nation. In the Webster’s dictionary, sovereign means: a supreme ruler, especially a monarch. I don’t think our Osage ancestors believed in a supreme ruler or monarch. 

Our Osage ancestors understood Wah-Kon-Tah, that it means the power or force that creates all things. They only defined themselves as Ni-U-Ko’n-Ska, The Children from the Middle Waters. Trying to define sovereign through a Webster’s Dictionary device does not define the meaning of our Osage ancestors’ “sovereign” way of life. It is analogous to translating the Osage language within the parameters of the English language. Sometimes the definitions of the words or phrases have a different meaning, thus can lose what our Osage ancestors originally intended for that word or phrase. 

Which brings me back to my poem and “Those before us knew they were sovereign, they just did not know what to call it.” Osages called it what they wanted and did not need permission from any European entity as to their meaning. As I ponder this passage, I came to disagree with it and I could come to terms that our Osage ancestors knew what sovereign was by their everyday actions within themselves and their interactions with their fellow Osages as they lived a life free from interference from other groups, entities or governments in a state of independence. Free to hunt, free to study the stars from whence they came, understanding each plant and tree with a profound respect for the earth and water. 

Our Osage ancestors through their everyday life and with the help of the structure of the clans which kept order in their world that through these actions they lived a sovereign life.

Osage leaders of today are faced with defining and defending our Osage sovereign national boundaries through a modern government within the United States. It is not an easy task but just as our Osage ancestors defined what is “sovereign” so will our current and future Osage leaders define our “sovereign” way of life. 

In today’s environment, the Osage Nation is growing and continues to provide a positive environment for the social and economic growth of our people.