While many in America are celebrating Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples Day or Native American Day, about 20,000 Osages are celebrating Osage Day.
In 2006, then-Principal Chief Jim Gray proclaimed the second Monday in October as Osage Day. The parallel to Columbus Day is the Nation’s way of celebrating its own tribal sovereignty.
“Policy Analyst Leonard Maker made the case for Osage Day to replace Columbus Day on the simple fact that it was our sovereign right to decide what our paid holidays were going to be for our tribal government,” Gray said. “I initially favored keeping that Monday as a day out of defiance to Columbus. But as it turned out, the BIA, IHS and HUD offices would be closed anyway because they were federal agencies. It might have been inconvenient for citizens to be at the Nation’s offices when they were closed while we were open. So, I just rebranded the holiday to make it Osage Day.”
Columbus Day was declared a national holiday in 1937 by U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1971, the holiday date was changed to the second Monday in October. The day is intended to be a reminder of Christopher Columbus’ navigating spirit, his curiosity for exploration and his ambition. Columbus was from Genoa, Italy. The monarchy of Spain financed his exploration and he set sail aboard the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria in hopes of finding Asia, but as many history books account, he landed in the New World in October of 1492.
In President Barack Obama’s 2015 proclamation of Columbus Day, he said “Though these early travels expanded the realm of European exploration, to many they also marked a time that forever changed the world for the indigenous peoples of North America. Previously unseen disease, devastation, and violence were introduced to their lives – and as we pay tribute to the ways in which Columbus pursued ambitious goals – we also recognize the suffering inflicted upon Native Americans and we recommit to strengthening tribal sovereignty and maintaining our strong ties.”
According to reports, Columbus did not discover America, he landed in the Bahamas in 1492 and later returned to the islands to enslave and export natives. It was actually the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano who landed around the northern tip of North Carolina and traveled up the coastline to land in New York Harbor.
The first Columbus Day celebration recorded in the United States was in New York in 1792 to honor Italian-American heritage. Many Italian-American heritage celebrations are still held on Columbus Day in the United States and other countries.
Many cities have traded Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples Day or Native American Day. Oklahoma is home to 39 federally-recognized tribal nations and Tulsa, Okla., is one recent city to adopt Native American Day as their parallel to Columbus Day.
A celebration from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Guthrie Green in the Tulsa Arts District is taking place today and Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear is one of the speakers.
According to a Time article by Jennifer Calfas, 55 U.S. cities have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, with four of those cities located in Oklahoma. They are Anadarko, Norman, Tulsa, and Tahlequah. The states that celebrate either Indigenous Peoples Day or Native American Day are Minnesota, Vermont, Alaska and South Dakota.
The Osage Journey
The removal of the Great and Little Osage from their Missouri homelands began in the early 1800s. According to “Kappler’s Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties,” the Great and Little Osage ceded lands to the United States by treaty as early as 1808. There would be a series of treaties throughout the 1800s where the Osage’s lands in Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas were ceded to the United States in exchange for rations and payment.
It has been 146 years since the Osage bought their lands in Indian Territory and moved in 1871 to what is now modern-day Osage County in northeastern Oklahoma. Pawhuska remains the capital of the Osage Nation. The story of Wah-Tiah-Kah and other Osage warriors, riding by horseback from Kansas to find a new home for the Osage, is often told at Osage events and ceremonies. Wah-Tiah-Kah was in search of a land where the Osage would not be troubled by whites. He chose modern-day Osage County for its rocky ground because prior to their removal, the Osage had lived on fertile farmlands.
It was a difficult relocation for the Osage to move to Indian Territory, many Osage did not complete the journey and many died of disease once they settled. Once they rebuilt their lives many forces threatened their existence; settlers, disease, and greed were the deadliest, especially after oil was discovered in Osage County.
“As the late Leonard Maker once said to me on one of many conversations during my tenure as Chief, ‘Osage people never go backward, they always move forward.’ That's the way it was during the mound builder’s day, that's how we survived during our interaction with European traders, removal, Oklahoma statehood, the adoption of the In-Lon-Schka Dances, the Reign of Terror,” Gray said. “Each significant change to our people will never end, but we adapt, we survive with the blessing of Wah-Kon-Dah, we will survive future challenges too.”