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Being Good Citizens

January 1st was a mild day along the Columbia River where I live, with temperature in the 50s and sun breaks interspersed with gentle rain and wind of 15 knots. It felt like a reprieve in the midst of the political storms swirling.

On the first Monday of the New Year, I participated in an Osage Nation webinar that gathered input for the coming strategic plan from those of us on the West Coast. I had hoped to go to the Northern California Osage meeting because having a joint conversation about goals felt important. I appreciated the webinars that were held in each time zone across the country, but I missed the chance to hear from a larger group. College students had a separate meeting later in January. Our group was small but committed to language revitalization, indigenous foodways and the power of cultural preservation.  We talked about funding challenges, but since we didn’t have a specific budget history or projections to consider it wasn’t concrete. It seemed unlikely to inform the hard conversations our Congress and Executive Branch are approaching about priorities.

It was uncanny to be updating our plan and considering priorities at the same time Oklahoma’s Governor Stitt claimed the tribal gaming compact signed in 2004 did not automatically renew on 12/31/19. The Osage Nation has blossomed with programming funded by gaming, which coincided generally with our new Osage government. The gains we’ve celebrated with Daposka Ahnkodapi, the Osage language immersion school, and the acquisition of 43,000 acres of our ancestral land are threatened.

As an Osage living in the Northwest, I had to spend time learning about Kevin Stitt. I read endorsements from communities he sought out prior to the election, who said he listened to them because he wanted to hear their concerns. My cursory look didn’t find that same engagement with tribal communities.

Meanwhile, the United States Congress is dealing with a presidential impeachment trial in the Senate with most people convinced they are absolutely correct and the other side is completely wrong. I only have one friend from the other side that I choose to talk politics with to any degree. I respect her, though I don’t agree with her conclusions. Recently as we texted, joking, I said something about the impeachment I knew she’d agree with. She came right back, “Is this Ruby? Who took over your phone?”

But more of the time we stay in our own communities, seeing, and maybe seeking, commentary that supports our views. This brings me to Osage folks having conversations across social media about tribal politics, about the direction the Osage Nation should go, about how we should manage ourselves. It’s not surprising that most people are adamant, committed to their own views. There are thought leaders, would-be influencers, lobbyists, Guardians of Truth and Right and folks saying, “Right on.” There are also people having real, two-way conversations, expressing appreciation for having seen a new point of view.

I don’t have wise conclusions about how diverse groups hear each other and find common ground. An elder—I’m thinking about my predecessor Osage News columnist Charles Red Corn—would say something sage and generous, that generates a good feeling, even if it is fleeting. I hope our tribal, state and national leaders will rise to that conciliatory role.

Governor Stitt talks about being fair to all 4 million Oklahomans as if the 39 tribes aren’t part of Oklahoma. In 2019, nine percent of Oklahomans were Native American according to the US Census, likely more if a percentage of those who are two or more races are Native.

I know we Osages will do our best in hard circumstances. I hear my young Osage friend saying, “Here we are fighting for our rights again.”




Ruby Hansen Murray

Original Publish Date: 2020-02-10 00:00:00


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Ruby Hansen Murray
Ruby Hansen Murray is a writer and photographer living in the lower Columbia River estuary. Her work appears in As/Us, World Literature Today, CutBank, The Rumpus, Yellow Medicine Review, Apogee, About Place Journal and American Ghost: Poets on Life after Industry. She’s the winner of the Montana Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She’s been awarded residencies at Hedgebrook, Ragdale, Playa, Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Storyknife in Homer and the Island Institute in Sitka, AK. She is fellow of the Jack Straw Writers Program, Fishtrap: Writing the West and VONA, who studied at Warren Wilson College and received an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts. She’s a citizen of the Osage Nation with West Indian roots.

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