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Chelsea Hicks travels to France to understand the link between two cultures

If her trip made anything clear, it is that surviving and maintaining language depends on the ability to resist the dogma and hatred among each other.

To honor a historical connection, as well as dive deeper into her own roots, Osage author of “A Calm and Normal Heart,” Chelsea Hicks made her way to Southern France.

Hicks described the mountainous region as reminiscent of the Osage hills, filled with rocks and scrubby plants.

“I felt good and, ana iki thali^ ko^bra, I want to get good from it,” Hicks said.

She spent the first part of her trip exploring Occitan country, as she called it, guided by a local farmer and his cow. She enjoyed local cuisine and drink, but also discovered that Occitan history has violent similarities to Osage history.

Hicks shared that the countrymen who tend the earth, make cheese, make wine, and tend to cattle, are the descendants of the Roman people who invaded and killed the Indigenous

people to that region of France.

“They are a mixed people,” Hicks said. “Called that ugly word that Osage people have also heard before.”

This history, Hicks discovered, was so buried in the past that France has become a country in which the idea of Indigenous people lacks existence. The Occitan, however, hold many similarities to the Osage way of life.

“There are the people with less power, less recognition, and more respect for the earth,” she said. “Their language and culture is older than that of France proper. The language is a mix of Latin, Spanish, Italian, and French, and their way of life includes plant medicines that are good for healing and health. This reminds me of our old ways.”

Chelsea is surrounded by the Tolosa Choir, an Occitan polyphony that welcomed her on Monday, July 18 at the Ostal d’Occitania in Toulouse, France. Courtesy Photo

The second part of Hicks’ trip consisted of exploring ancient ruins and learning more about the crusades which lead Hicks to make even further connections between the Occitan and the Osage.

Hicks visited a memorial honoring those burned for their faith, some considered witches for their knowledge in plant medicine. A terror Hicks could connect all too closely to her Osage lineage.

“I think tolerance is a good value, and that it’s more important than I ever realized to respect

differences in understanding. It’s better to learn about why and how other people think the way they do than to argue. There is room for all of us and our differences, and this comes also with the study of our old languages,” she said.

Hicks believes the Osage way of tolerance is a good lesson. She wanted to address the elephant in the room, that there is division among the tribe. If her trip made anything clear, it is that surviving and maintaining language depends on the ability to resist the dogma and hatred among each other.

Hicks spent the remainder of her trip enjoying art, music, architecture, and poetry. She reminisced on her trip and returned inspired.

“It’s an inspiration to see what other people are working on to preserve their language,” Hicks said.

She described a space within the Occitan Cultural Center that is a cafe for people to come together, drink coffee, and practice their language.

“It inspired me that one day we might have these spaces like cafes to practice the Osage language,” she said.

Jean-Claude Drouilhet, the man who has spearheaded bringing the Osage and the people of Montauban together for the past 30 years, also welcomed Hicks.

In a July 19 email to several Osage friends, he said this of Hicks: “For a week your Osage Nation was magnificently represented by your ambassador in Occitania: Ms. Chelsea Tayrien Hicks. In Montauban, she crossed the old bridge over the Tarn river as your ancestors had done in 1829 and all the Osages who have visited us since 1990. Chelsea conquered the hearts of Occitans and conversely she takes with her a little Occitan culture in your country.”

Read more on Osage culture preservation and diaspora within Hicks’ newly released book, “A Calm and Normal Heart,” available on Amazon now.

A photo of the area where Chelsea was staying in Southern France. Courtesy Photo/Chelsea Hicks
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Natasha Lovato
Natasha is a Colorado native born with a passion for the natural world. When she’s not hiking, paddle boarding or cycling you’ll find her curled up with a good book and her cats.
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