Community , Columns

Celebrating Osages in COVID Times

The Osage are a sovereign people, with land, shared culture and language and governance. The times we spend together, face to face during the dances in June and when we elect our government are affirmations. COVID-19 requires us to safeguard each other, our precious elders and those with preexisting conditions through social distancing.

This year, two districts have postponed the Inlonshka, and this year the tradition of visiting candidate’s camps on Election Day might not happen. The Osage congressional election is like the funerals and weddings we are dealing with during this pandemic. More than one friend has been far from her parent in their last moments. The losses we are accruing teach us, remind us what is most important.

Because gatherings are limited to 10 people in Washington state, we watched our nephew marry from our deck, far enough away to see the bride in her long dress, the small group of parents and best people on their porch.

This year during COVID and social distancing, the election board asked absentee voters to “vote this ballot immediately and return it the same day you receive it to ensure it arrives in time to be counted.” My ballot was mailed from Pawhuska on 4/21, which adds time pressure to folks (like me) still gathering information about the 15 candidates.

The Osage News posted interviews with the candidates on their website and on social media, and sponsored a candidates’ debate on Zoom. Responses to a set of Osage News questionnaires are dribbling in with information that can be found in the candidates’ literature, and additional questions about cultural connections and clan that the candidate’s literature may not have addressed.

Osages have a healthy community on Facebook, Instagram, and a smaller presence on Twitter. There are quasi-political action groups composed of Osages on and off the reservation discussing issues, generating debate, dishing each other and articulating their agenda. Some people, like former Osage Principal Chief Jim Gray, formulate policy questions that generate considered response from most, if not all, the candidates. Candidates like Michael Bristow post videos responding to voter questions, and Billy Keene hosted a live discussion. Osage Impact announced their candidate endorsements in a video.

While election season usually generates a lot of social media energy, Osage Election Day is a good time to see friends and family and visit. We sit outside late in the evening and into the night, while votes are counted and announced. Terry Mason Moore remembers taking lawn chairs to Pawhuska around suppertime and visiting the camps and eating with friends when her father was alive. “At some point my Dad would vote,” she said. They’d go back home while votes were counted by hand with the proper headright shares being checked and tallied. She remembers, “Fellowship, catching up, good food. Osage being spoken by native speakers.”

On recent Election Days, I’ve visited with friends, met candidates and watched children play in the evening light. I remember driving into the Osage with Kathryn Red Corn and then, going to the Cultural Center to vote. It was on an Election Day years ago, waiting for election results that I learned that ticks will fall from the trees, something I missed during the years I lived in central Texas.

Maybe Osages’ comfort with social media, especially Facebook, is a continuation of our love of family portraits from the early days of photography. Maybe it is another affirmation of the Wah Zha Zhi people and the way we make our way through the challenges that face us.