This year, June brings both In-Lon-Schka and Election Day. Early voting in Pawhuska is happening as I write. Absentee ballots have been received, more are on the way. A lot of preparation goes into both the In-Lon-Schka and the election. For off reservation Osages (sometimes called California Osages indiscriminately), a different kind of preparation happens. You need to transport your Osage clothes, which can be a challenge if you fly home, and like me, travel light. You buy airline tickets and coordinate time away from work and routines, say garden watering. Along the Columbia River where I live, our peonies bloom around Memorial Day. This year, they haven’t unfurled from their tight knots.
I love Election Day for the chance to visit and spend time with friends, family and to meet new people. Election season brings a variety of Osages stepping up to share their ideas. As a voter, I listen to what candidates say, as well as what people say about them. Election time brings extra energy to social media conversations, surfaces disagreements and possible solutions. Some of which feel productive and some frustrating in an ongoing conundrum.
Even though there’s competition and rivalry, there’s also the joy of Osages getting together to share food and conversation. Candidates draw for position on the ballot and for a 20x20 campsite on the campus grounds. They plan meals and give away materials. By Election Day, people have (mostly) made up their mind, and so, it’s possible to sit outside and talk about everything Osages talk about when they get together.
Some folks advertise what they’re serving. I remember former Osage Congressman Daniel Boone’s campaign promise of a meatpie and strawberry pop for everyone. Meals or refreshments offer candidates a chance to draw voters, to chum them in, but also food is the way Osages offer hospitality. There will be a range of full meals and lighter snacks. I remember Danette Daniels’ red and white striped tent and how hard she worked serving a traditional Osage meal in 2016.
This year, Brandy Lemon and Marsha Harlan, who are sharing a campsite, are serving BBQ pork and beef, two kinds of potato salad, strawberry spinach salad, fruit melon salad and cucumber lime infused water. Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear is serving Cowboy Surprise Stew, pulled pork sandwiches, fry bread, fruit, cookies and chips.
Some describe what they’re serving on social media. Congressman Kugee Supernaw posted a flyer on Facebook, inviting folks to come to his camp for traditional Osage dinner, meatpie, fry bread and corn soup prepared by “the incomparable Ann Sleeper and Dana White Shirt Maker.” Mary Mashunkashey posted for her uncle Myron Red Eagle, inviting people to come by and rest, and for ribs, smoked bologna, ham and turkey sandwiches, cookies and cold iced tea, water and lemonade.
The shade and cool drinks people offer are welcome, even necessary in the heat. I still remember the cool fruit Brandy Lemon served last election.
Geneva Horsechief Hamilton and Congressman Otto Hamilton are going after cool and healthy with fruit cups with chili powder and lime and varieties of fruit water. Otto Hamilton said they’re “trying something different than typical ‘cookout foods’ to deal with the heat.”
Some candidates are serving catered meals. Margo Gray and Mary Jo Pratt are camping together. Gray said that as “very busy Osage business women,” they’re using Ah-Tha-Tse Catering to serve pork sliders, fresh veggie and fruit trays, as well as strawberries and lemon drop cakes at the noon meal. Assistant Chief Raymond Red Corn is serving Burnco Barbeque from Tulsa with salad, fresh brewed tea, lemonade and plenty of bottled water. Some are keeping it simple, like Paul Revard and Susan Revard Forman, with ice cold drinks, fruit cups and ice cold candy. Angela Pratt is offering meatpies made by Julia Maker, green beans, salad and cake.
Election Day is all about the people. As Otto Hamilton said, “I’m looking forward to meeting new people and seeing friends. Please come by and tell everyone to come by.” Or, Marsha Harlan who said, “In these busy days, we don’t often get the opportunity to enjoy fellowship with our fellow Osages.” It’s a day as Raymond Red Corn says, to “set up camp, tear down camp, see a lot of old friends, and hope it doesn't take long to get the results.”
There’s the shared angst of waiting outside into the darkness for the vote tally, sometimes into the early morning. I remember sitting with Tara Damron after the election four years ago. As it grows darker, there’s the glow as people check their cell phones. I remember Leonard Maker sitting outside with his family into the darkness, and the light shining from the old Council offices late into the morning.
I love the feeling of tradition. Since the Wah Zha Zhi came to reservation, we’ve been camping and getting together to figure out our direction. After the last election, I was visiting with friends who advocated that off-reservation Osages should come back to vote at least every few elections. I think that makes sense. It’s a reality that Osages live on and off the rez at various points in their lives, and some haven’t spent much or even any time here. The Osages proposing this policy had each lived away for years, earlier in their lives. Osages have a responsibility to inform themselves and contribute to the life of the Nation. Voting is just one of the ways we do that.
The election is important this year, though it’s important every year.
The issues the tribe faces feel more ominous than usual. You could say we have great challenges and opportunities to address issues like the Nation’s LLC boards, the Mineral Estate in the current federal regulatory climate, the relationship between Osage County and the Nation, and an influx of tourists visiting The Mercantile who offer economic opportunity. There are also broader state and federal issues of concern. Attorney Gentner Drummond’s candidacy for Oklahoma Attorney General drew a warning from The Oklahoman Editorial Board on May 31, 2018. In “Our Vote Matters” a video Erica Pretty Eagle Moore prepared for the Osage Nation Election Office, Timber Sampson White says, “Our vote is our future.” Yes, make your mark.