Columns

Wah-Kon-See-Uh

WAH-KON-SEE-UH, When the deer herd looks up.

At the Dec. 5 Oil and Gas Summit, George Shannon told us his name is WAH-KON-SEE-UH, signifying unity. “Reference,” he said, “is made to the Osage people being like the deer herd. Only the people look up together.” Sadly, we both knew our tribe no longer possesses this type of unity.

I feel very blessed and grateful to live on original allotment land. It is beautiful, calm and quiet. I see it as a gift from Wah-Kon-Da, the Wha-Zha-Zhi leaders of the past, and my father. I frequently see deer gathered in the early morning light, heads down, grazing as a collective side-by-side. My dog and I try to be quiet. I think we are quiet, but inevitably they hear us or sense our presence. One looks up and then, as in concert, they all look up as one.

We are one people united by ties of blood, friendship and marriage. We share experiences like June’s In-Lon-Schka, the 5.8 magnitude earthquake in September, and how busy Pawhuska looked after The Mercantile came to town. We share a history of forced removal from Kansas, the purchase of our own lands back here in Oklahoma, and the Allotment Act of 1906. A common history is a lot of what makes us who we are, and who we are is a lot of what makes our history.

We are a good, smart, intelligent people. These attributes have helped us survive. We are also a stubborn people which has also helped us survive.  When our elders refused to accept allotment at the same time, under the same terms as the other tribes, the United States government called us obdurate. Our history is replete with situations wherein our determination and perseverance have held us in good stead, from fighting enemies on the battle field to fighting enemies in the halls of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Stubbornness, obduracy, inflexibility turned inward and directed toward the tribe and/or tribal members weakens cohesiveness and thereby unity. Demeaning, belittling, talking-bad-about other tribal members is intended to hurt the other. This behavior does hurt others, but it also hurts and weakens the tribe, a tribe of which we are members. It seems wrongheaded to purposefully weaken one’s own tribe. Weakness renders us vulnerable to outside forces. Forces, which for reasons of their own, may wish to harm the tribe. 

The U.S. Congress in writing the Allotment Act of 1906 set traps which would not be sprung for years to come. The official roll included every man, woman and child (2,229) living at the time. Each of those 2,229 enrolled members was issued a parcel of land and a share in the mineral estate. But then, the roll was closed.    

No new members could be added to the roll, no land would be allotted, no headright shares would be issued to folks born after 1906. Potentially, at the death of the last allottee there would be no more tribal members, hence no more tribe.

“The 1906 Act not only allotted land it also prescribed the form of government ... only those adult Osages owning a headright share in the Osage Mineral Estate were permitted to vote ...”  Those born after 1906 could not vote until or unless an original allottee died and bequeathed a headright to that person.

According to the Osage Nation Supreme Court, “This aspect of the 1906 Act is an anomaly in the context of modern federal Indian policy, hearkening to a darker era when federal Indian policy was being crafted as a means to destroy tribal governments and assimilate tribal members.”  

The effect of this aspect of the 1906 Act divided the Osage Nation into two groups, causing a rift that “colored and clouded the social and political affairs of the Osage since enactment ...” (SCV-2015-01) 

It is in this rift that the root of today’s discord lies. I believe most shareholders wanted the Reaffirmation Act of 2004, which addressed voting rights and the Constitution. However, many are less secure of their protections under the Constitution than we were under the 1906 Act. There are concerns over the possible loss of Headright income, and management over the Mineral Estate.  I hope to explore these issues further.