Community , Culture

Elders Series: George Shannon

George Albert Shannon, 83, resides in Skiatook with his high school sweetheart, Elnora Supernaw Shannon. He was born in Tulsa at Hillcrest Hospital in 1934. His parents are Claude Shannon (non-Indian) and Lenora Morrell Hamilton, the first full-blood Osage woman to graduate high school. He is the grandson of Bob and Grace Penn Morrell. He is of the Hominy District, the Deer Clan and his Osage name is Wah-Kon-See-A – When the Deer Herd Looks Up. He is a member of the Morrell Family Chapter Native American Church. He has one sister, Mary Shannon Brave and two half brothers, Charles Shannon (deceased) and Claude Shannon Jr. who lives in Portland, Ore.

Shannon has six children with his late wife Mary Agnes Wagoshe Shannon, who passed away in 1991. Their six children are Susan Shannon, Stanley Shannon (deceased), Ruth Shannon Shaw, Carolyn Shannon (deceased), Allen Shannon and Margaret Shannon Sisk. He has seven grandchildren, with one of his granddaughters, Blake Sisk, recently deceased; and 10 great-grandchildren.

With a degree in Business from the University of Oklahoma, he’s been a Federal Estate Tax Specialist, he has served as a Fiduciary Trust Officer for banks in San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Calif., and Tulsa, until he went into business for himself as a business consultant for many Oklahoma tribes. He is responsible for many tribes gaining 8(a) small business designation in order to qualify for preference in contracting (including the Osage Nation) with the federal government. He was a 2014 recipient of the AARP’s Indian Elder Honors and is currently serving his second term on the Nation’s Traditional Cultural Advisors Committee.

ON: When did you start dancing at In-Lon-Schka?

GS: My grandfather Bob Morrell called my two uncles, Preston and George Morrell, together with their dance outfits and told them to open their suitcases. They were in his bedroom in the new house west of Hominy. My aunts called me in. I was out playing and went up to my grandpa’s room and he just picked out the different parts of the costume: moccasins, leggings, shirt, tail, everything, out of my uncle’s suitcases. One of them had two roaches and he put that roach on me. Grandpa called together relatives, including Paul Pitts, who was chief of the tribe at the time and invited them to come out to the house where the family had put up a large 3-pole tent (on a related incident, that spring Lamont Brown, a Ponca man, made a song for me and presented it to my mother, who accepted the song and with the permission of the In-Lon-Schka committee put the song in the drum at the Hominy District). But on the day my grandfather had the roach put on me by Chief Pitts, including the eagle feather, thus announced my first time to dance. I wasn’t “Roached” under the arbor, that is how they do it today, it’s done by the Head Committeeman. But when I was young, my grandpa did it his way and they had a First Time to Dance ceremony for me. The First Time to Dance Ceremony was in effect the induction of me into the In-Lon-Schka dance. My grandfather Introduced me to relatives, ‘This is George, his first time to dance.’ That same year Antwine Pryor had the drum in Hominy. When I showed up to dance and danced one or two songs, his grandmother, Mrs. Martha Oberly asked the Head Committeeman to let me tail dance that evening. So, my first time to dance I was a tail dancer. I believe I was 12 years old.

ON: What are the differences in the In-Lon-Schka today than when you were a boy?

GS: It’s hard to say there are any differences, one of the reasons is that’s one of the rules. Word of mouth rules don’t change things, and just about everything has remained the same. The big difference is the increase and acceptance of the dance by Osages. When I was young, Thursday night, the first night, sometimes there would only be five or six dancers and Saturday, when there are the most dancers, we would have about 10 to 15. Now, we have 75 to 80 dancers from each district. So, the acceptance of the dance and the popularity of the dance has grown. Talking to anthropologists who study American Indian tribes, the Osage are about the only one where their traditional dance has grown that much. Others have diminished, for various reasons, but I’m kind of proud of that.

ON: What is your favorite thing about the In-Lon-Schka and why?

GS: Well, it’s the dancing. My uncles were real good dancers, I liked the way they danced and it’s seeing all the Osages you’ve met from other districts. It’s significant that the Osage have three districts and each district hosts the other two in successive weekends in June. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful way of getting to know the whole tribe. The host Drumkeeper feeds everyone including the other two Districts in a Saturday noon lunch and pulls out all the stops. All the older kinds of foods Osages ate years past and they all pray, and pray when the dance starts, pray before each meal, sometimes they pray to express their thanks to the lord and a lot of the dance is based upon the old religious traditions that the Osage had years and years ago in Missouri, before written history. The Osages had adopted a single God, called him Wah-Kon-Tah. Whole families would pray three times a day, morning, noon and night, thanking Wah-Kon-Tah for life, good ways and religious activity that carried all the way to our traditional dances of today. As an older Osage elder, I’m very proud of the In-Lon-Schka and the way it’s conducted and the religious undertone that permeates the dance.

ON: How has the Osage Nation evolved in your lifetime?

GS: Well, in 2004 the U.S. Congress passed a law for the Osages, said it’s time for you to create a tribal government of your own that’s not influenced by the U.S. government as trustee. Subsequently, we created a Constitution and the government is operated by the Constitution now. There is a difference of opinion about the mineral estate. One faction of the tribe believes that the Tribal Council created in 1906 still has the authority that was not taken away by the 2004 act of Congress. The other faction believes in the Constitution and that the minerals council falls under it. So, there’s some dispute over who has the authority. And that dispute causes quite a bit of consternation over the entire tribe. And I’m hoping that some compromise can be reached in the near future. It doesn’t belong. That’s not an Osage tradition to be separated, one part of the tribe go this way, and one part of the tribe go that way. It’s not good, it’s not right.

ON: What is your favorite Osage food?

GS: That’s very difficult to answer because the food I thought tasted the best to me when I was young was cow gut, stuffed with strips of pork and cooked in a soup called Dom-Sha. That was the best tasting food that I have ever tasted. Then there’s always corn soup and frybread, it’s hard to beat too.

ON: Who are your heroes?

GS: My heroes, there are several. I would say the town of Hominy. The people in the town of Hominy, from the barber to the café owner, to the filling station owner, always encouraged us young people to go to school, go to college. With that wish, they’re saying you’re good enough. Now, other heroes are my mother, then there’s my grandfather Bob Morrell, he taught me how to bait a hook, shoot a gun, throw a curveball, sing peyote songs, took me to peyote church – might say he and my mother raised me together and I owe an awful lot to him. He encouraged me to go to school. I remember when we went to watch Oklahoma play football, he wore a big hat and wore braids and if it was cool, he’d get out an Indian Pendleton blanket and put it on. More or less showing me that you can still be Indian and be in college. Always had a soft spot in my heart for OU because my grandfather would take me to those games.

ON: What was the happiest moment of your life?

GS: That’s a toughie. I really can’t point one out. Getting out of the army, getting discharged from the army. I was drafted and I didn’t like the way the army was and that day I caught the bus in Fort Smith, Ark., and my wife, who passed away, Mary Agnes Wagoshe, drove to Tulsa and picked me up. That was pretty nice. Pretty good time. Then, the firstborn, Susan, that was significant. Later on in life there was some good moments, but being recognized by the OU Indian Alumni Society as outstanding Elder one year and also acting as president of the OU Indian Alumni Society was good. I have a lot of friends, Kiowa country, Otoe, Ponca, had relatives, Oberly’s, Osage and Comanche, I think it’s good when they have these powwows around the state and you get to meet different people, different families. Going to powwows, learning songs, learning 49 songs. My wife today, Elnora Supernaw, is Quapaw and Osage and I learned how to lead stomp dance for her, and all those are exciting beautiful moments that I look back on quite often.

ON: What is your earliest memory?

GS: I think it’s going to school, first grade. There was some non-Indian boys that are still living today. One of them is still living here in Skiatook, name is Charles Carver. We went to first grade together, the other lives in Stillwater. Went all the way through high school with those two guys and a couple of other people, we were always good friends.

ON: What is your favorite thing to do for fun?

GS: Well, at age 83 it’s waking up in the morning. (laughs) No, I enjoy being around my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. I enjoy the football season and the June dances. It’s an appreciation that there are some real nice people in this world and that they’re truthful, fun loving and just plain good people. Most of them that I know are Indian, but there are many white people that fit that category and I enjoy their company. Sometimes it’s just a clerk at the grocery store, sometimes it’s after mass talking to people and sometimes it’s just a neighbor and he lets you know that he knows you’re a good guy. There’s plenty of strife out there, plenty of politics on the national level that is way out of favor right now and I have faith in the American public to clean that up as we go along.

ON: What was your favorite decade and why?

GS: I suppose it was the decade I was two years in the army. The next two years after the army I finished college. Then went to work for the first time in an administrative manner in San Francisco. Beautiful city, great people. Going to work for the first time, seeing my first 2 to 3 children born, that was a good 10-year period.

ON: What world events had the most impact on you?

GS: Well I’ve lived to see the Korean War, the Vietnam War, those two events had something to do with the way I approach things. Later on I learned to appreciate religion a lot more. Not so much as a way of trying to get to heaven, but trying to find ways for people to get along with each other. I like to find out why people do things and what influences people. Our basic Christian religion puts ways into people’s minds, puts ways into how people talk to each other and puts ways into people’s lives that give them a chance to get along. It’s good. Like I say, Osages had this single God concept, way, way back, thousands of years ago, and archaeologists have ways of reading drawings and signs in caves and walls and funeral type artifacts that tells them the Osages have had religion a long, long time. It follows, not directly, but it follows along with the Christian religion.

ON: What would you tell your 20-year-old self?

GS: Just keep going at college until you get your bachelor’s degree. It might take 4 years, or it might take 10 years because it’s interrupted by different factors in life. Actually, it took me about 10 years to get my bachelor’s degree and when I did it helped me support my family, but it is also an education. There’s a lot of information, a lot of things going on in the world, different people, different races, it’s good to be educated at least through the bachelor degree. At the University of Oklahoma, regardless of your major, you’re required to take history, math, studies of different peoples in addition to what you’re majoring in. it’s called an education and I learned later on that’s what affected me the most in my life. A mild appreciation of history, international history, and our own government. The United States Constitution is a wonderful document and it needs to be protected and I was happy to do my part, two years in the army.

ON: Is there anything else you would like to add?

GS: I’d say it doesn’t take too much to be disliked, doesn’t take too much to be an odd person, doesn’t take too much to be an outcast – but it takes effort, work, and good thoughts to be a good person. You have to want to be a good person. Osages, from what I’ve learned throughout my life, taught their children to be good people – then comes school, then comes degrees. But they always taught their children to be good people. Be good to your fellow man, be good to your spouse, be good to your children. My mother would never let me touch my children by spanking them, or by getting a switch. Primarily because she said, ‘You’re wolf clan. You might lose control and hurt one of them.’ That’s why she had me named in the Deer Clan. So, I never did, I never spanked my children. Now, my first wife had an awful lot to do with that. She caused all my children to love her and to love me. She was significant in my life until she passed away in 1991. But that’s where I’m at right now, is do what you should be doing to be a good person.

[Disclaimer: George Shannon is the grandfather of Osage News Editor Shannon Shaw Duty.]