Columns

The Osage Diaspora

This morning an emergency text from Bobby Tallchief told me the freezing line extended from Bowring to Ralston. I don’t have to worry about icy weather here along the Columbia River, but I like to see what’s happening in the Osage. I remember staring into a stormy night sky with my husband in Pawhuska, trying to understand how we translated the tornado warnings on television with our neighbors acting normal and Facebook telling me friends were getting together to party.

This session, Speaker Angela Pratt introduced ONCA 20-84, legislation that would have repealed the act authorizing the Regional Gathering Fund. Currently, groups can request funds for space and various expenses up to $2,500 per meeting, twice a year to support meetings focused on cultural or political activities across the country.

The Nation has had multiple financial stressors this year—Governor Stitt attacked the gaming compact and the pandemic closed casinos. The need to reduce spending was clear, and in fact, several regional meetings were canceled because of the coronavirus, but the congressional discussions surrounding the Regional Gathering Fund reflected other concerns.

Second Speaker Jodie Revard said she wanted to take away the suggestion that departments needed to send staff to the various meetings in Southern California, Northern California and beyond. Some comments on social media suggested the funds were evidence of reverse discrimination against those inside the Osage.

Pratt and other Congress members said that while the appropriation for the fund is a small part of the budget, the greater expense was travel. The Osage News calculated travel costs might be $100,000 for multiple staff to attend spring and fall meetings. Other Congress members preferred that department managers control their expenses.

I remember a Northern California meeting in Petaluma when staff from the Cultural Center helped prepare traditional Osage foods and taught shawl making. At the same meeting, Osage Nation Social Services staff recruited families to become certified Osage foster or adoptive families for Osage children currently awaiting placement in temporary or permanent homes.

The first Northern California Osage meeting I attended was in Alameda when my cousin Don lived there. I remember being surrounded by water and the air off the bay. After a meeting in 2015, I saw the tule elk herd at Tomales Point with a group including Mineral Councilwoman Kathryn Redcorn. Later, we visited Point Reyes Station, one of the more beautiful places on the continent. There’s an inconvenience in traveling for work, but the beauty of the West Coast is some compensation for those long days. 

In recent years, some Osages have expressed concern about population growth driving rising costs of the health benefit and scholarship funds. This year short-term cash flow questions have amplified policy questions regarding the level of benefits the Nation can afford or chooses to provide. Other questions that hang over funding include who receives benefits, where they live and how integrated they are into the cultural life of the Nation.

The Act to Repeal the Gathering Fund was defeated this year, with only Pratt and Revard voting for it. Of course, the Nation should analyze the cost of providing outreach or services to Osages and the most effective ways to do so.

Members of the Traditional Cultural Advisors didn’t support employees traveling to teach culture. Jerry Shaw, one of the members of the Traditional Cultural Advisors, told Osage News, “Eating our food doesn’t make you an Osage. You only learn by listening to those that came before you.”

For those of us who have been fortunate enough to come home, it’s clear that the meetings are no substitute for being at home, but they are an opportunity to connect with other Osages. Speaker Pratt asked rhetorically if Osages from outside were going to come and help preserve the Osage way of life. The meetings are a bridge to collaboration, even to Osages moving home.

I remember Adeline Choi smiling as she drew a map of Grayhorse where she played as a child, and Cameron Pratt giving a lecture and an Osage lesson for kids.  

I’ve heard stories about the Southern California Osage meetings in the 1950s, long before the Gathering Fund appeared in 2011. The Northern California Osage have dues and have held raffles over the years. The meetings can continue without the gathering fund, but the primary issue, the relationship between the Nation and its far-flung citizens remains.