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New Year’s Eve Handgame in Pawhuska Village canceled due to pandemic

Photo caption: Eddy Red Eagle Jr., Mogri Lookout and John Red Eagle give a cedar blessing for attendees of the 2019 New Year’s Eve Handgame at Wakon Iron Hall in Pawhuska. The annual handgame is hosted by the descendants of Lillie Bighorse Cunningham. Osage News File Photo

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing into 2021 and concerns to keep the Osage community safe, the annual New Year’s Eve Handgame festivities held in the Pawhuska Village are canceled.

The annual handgame social gathering held in the Wakon Iron Community Building each Dec. 31 brings Osages of all ages and their families together for fellowship, food, games, round dancing and to celebrate the incoming new year at midnight with a cedaring ceremony. The village tradition dates back years and was started by the late Lillie Bighorse Cunningham who lived in the village and today her family descendants have continued the yearly celebration.

However, with COVID-19 still keeping its community presence and with newly-launched vaccination efforts underway worldwide, Cunningham’s granddaughter Asa Cunningham Concha announced the New Year’s Eve 2020 handgame cancelation on Dec. 13 after a family discussion.

“After a long discussion through our Zoom (virtual) meeting today with my cousins, we've decided to cancel this year's handgame and cedar ceremony to bring in the New Year due to the coronavirus pandemic that we’re all living in and for the health and safety of us all,” Concha said via Facebook. “We've agreed when the midnight hour comes upon us and we're all bringing in the new year we will be keeping everyone near and far in our Prayers!! From our family to yours we wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!”

“Back in the mid-1900s my Grandmother Lillie (Bighorse) Cunningham started the Annual New Year's Eve Handgame in her home and it has been passed down through her children and now us grandchildren," Concha said. “Grandma wanted a safe place for everyone to enjoy and have fun together to bring in the new year. Over the years, this handgame grew and was moved from her home to her summer house and to the Wakon Iron Hall so everyone could come enjoy & be comfortable.”

The handgame cancelation is among several annual events that did not occur in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic spread nationwide, including the Osage Nation starting in March. Other area events canceled include: the 2020 Osage Sovereignty Day Dance, the Grayhorse War Mothers Annual Soldier’s Dance, Skiatook Kihekah-Steh Powwow, Tulsa and IICOT powwows and the Harold Bigheart Smalley American Legion Post 198 Veteran’s Day Dance.

Other Osages agreed with the event cancelation for safety reasons. “It's for the best. We can celebrate when this is all over,” said ON Congresswoman and village resident Paula Stabler.

“Ace, will miss seeing all but you have made the right decision,” said Wilma Brown. “Good decision. A great tradition by an amazing family,” said Bobby Tallchief.