I spent September in New England—New Hampshire specifically— at a respected residency for writers and artists. The leaves on the beech trees around my cabin turned yellow while the season changed. A huge stone fireplace reminded me of John Joseph Mathews at the Blackjacks. Porcupine and black-tail deer traipsed through the yard. MacDowell was founded in 1907, in one of three small towns that were the basis of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer prize-winning play “Our Town,” written in 1938.
I wrote about driving through Kansas on my way to Grayhorse Inlonshka this year and thought about our Osage history. I walked back to my cabin after conversations with writers, composers, filmmakers and artists from across the country and the world as the nights got colder.
In early September, the first episode of In Trust, a podcast hosted by Rachel Adams-Heard and produced by Bloomberg News and iHeartMedia was released. John Maker was one of the Osages interviewed, and he’d called to tell me to watch for it some months ago.
The podcast is deeply reported and takes off where David Grann’s book stopped. It asks hard questions and interviews those living in Osage County who experienced the thefts and loss, as well as those who benefited from a system that, as the podcast says, “moved wealth from Native hands to White ones. One that three brothers learned to operate, laying the foundation for a modern American dynasty of land and influence that continues to this day.”
The theft and graft of the allotment and guardian era isn’t a secret to Osages, but it’s particularly moving to hear it laid out systematically. To hear the voices of Osages we recognize and well-known Drummond family members who were willing to be interviewed. Gentner Drummond, the candidate for Oklahoma Attorney General was interviewed, but Ree and Ladd Drummond declined. Archival tapes of Jack Drummond are particularly effective in unapologetically detailing how businessmen worked to take Osage money.
In the midst of a nationwide Land Back movement, it’s important and completely timely.
There were important projects happening at MacDowell. One architect was creating a true-to-life model of the slave ships that transported his ancestors to this country.
There’s attention to social justice. A need to take stock of how exactly we got here, and strong push-back, an unwillingness to look closely at the past.
After my time at MacDowell, I’m going to Boston to find materials about the missions run by Protestants for Cherokees and Osages in pre-Indian Territory Oklahoma. Those ancestors are on my mind, about how effective colonization was at separating them from land and culture.
It’s hard to listen to the six episodes of In Trust. To acknowledge that Indians were and are second class citizens when it came to fair treatment. Hard to hear the BIA deflecting requests for information and for accountability. Hard to hear about Osages who were fluffed off when they wrote with details of thefts. It’s hard to hear, but it’s worthwhile.
After the focus on Osage theft, slide over to Reservation Dogs. In Episode 8, “Where the Plot Thickens,” tribal cop Big runs into a cult of white oil executives and politicians who believe they own the land and the minerals beneath it. In Rez Dogs over-the-top style, the men are wearing catfish masks and initiates are doing sexual acts with stolen catfish. It’s bizarre—a group of white men stand before a giant owl in the forest for an induction, wearing robes, and pouring oil over new members, while chanting “our land.” It’s absurd, but not far from reality.
In another episode, set side by side with that kind of absurdist humor are beautiful scenes with ancestors gathered around that make the show powerful and a must-watch.
There’s a lot going on in Indian Country. A lot of work to be done, lots of legislation and court cases to pay attention to. And there’s the good news that Reservation Dogs has been renewed for a third season. Osages and other Natives will be part of that creativity. See In Trust, https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2022-in-trust-podcast, and the first episode of This Osage Life, an Osage News YouTube video considering the In Trust series from an Osage perspective, featuring former Principal Chief Jim Gray, White Hair Memorial Director Tara Damron and Osage Nation Congressman John Maker.