Columns

Celebration and Resilience

In June, Osages hear the echo of bells under the arbor wherever they are. Maybe the longing is stronger because the dances were canceled last year when the COVID-19 virus turned things upside down. Or because Osages have been involved in the filming of“Flowers of the Killer Moon,” acting, sourcing props, furniture and providing cultural detail.

In what still feels like an upside-down year—when normal life feels within reach, the Pacific Northwest has been hammered with Oklahoma weather. It felt like the year in June when Leonard Maker named my cousins. Maybe because I had flown to Tulsa, shortly before and was dehydrated, I remember feeling half-nauseous the morning of the naming. I drank water as I drove on the Tallgrass prairie, but continued to feel sick, until my friend recognized I was heat sick and made me cool down beside the air conditioner.

I hate to have missed Osages welcoming producers and actors from “Killers of the Flower Moon” to the arbor, but the weather here was a tangible reminder. Although it’s exciting to see the 1920s recreated, it is, of course, bittersweet. Poignant that Hollywood’s attention is captured by evil that murdered parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. That affected families directly and ripples through the Osage people. The underlying racism that allowed the white community at local, state and national levels to turn their eyes from this genocide in the 1920s continues. We see it in the attempts to extort our communities with the upset of the gaming compact, with dysfunctional BIA policies, with assaults on sovereignty across the country.

We see ongoing racism in attempts to scrub history curriculum of difficult subjects, unwillingness to name the genocide that was foundational to America. It’s as if our history distorted by Hollywood in Westerns and stereotype, is so close, so accepted, that we can’t see it, don’t name it.

The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation reported finding the remains of 215 children at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia last month. Last week, Cowessess First Nation reported hundreds of unmarked graves at the former Marieval boarding school in Saskatchewan. In Canada, like the United States, disruption of family life, community cohesion, language and cultural transmission was the stated goal of boarding schools. It was policy, a solution to the problem of distinct Native peoples. Merriam-Webster defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.”

We know this, have seen it first hand. But it’s something that takes time to come to terms with, to articulate and accept on intellectual and emotional levels.

These longest days of summer with the sky getting bright before five, I’ve been up early to walk before the sun cranks up the heat. Yesterday, while I sat in the morning shade in the side yard, a flock of about fifteen pelicans flew over. We have Canada geese by the hundred, but there are fewer pelicans. Usually we see them soaring high over the river, glints of white against a blue-grey hillside. They were low enough to see yellow bills, the distinctive shape of the pouch in a thousand cartoon pelicans, black chevrons on their white wing tips. In a trick of light and humidity they looked like they’d been dipped in honey. I’m hoping the latest Hollywood depiction of Indians, Osages, is a faithful representation.