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Election season is upon us

Gathering with Osage friends to talk about candidates and the goings-on back home was a special respite from daily Oregon life

It’s election season in the Osage, which for all its frustrations intersects with the Osage love of visiting, of gossiping.

Recently I talked with a Native from a different tribe about my choices for Osage principal and assistant chief. Then, we talked about the structure their tribe uses, the values they’re trying to promote and how it’s working out. We talked about what we’d like to see in our respective Nations and how distant that seems. You could feel the sadness, the hope that we have for our people.

When my husband needed a ride to the steam-driven sternwheeler moored on the Willamette River where he volunteers in downtown Portland, I took the opportunity to meet with Osage friends at the only Native-owned coffee house in Portland. Loretta Guzman (Shoshone-Bannock) has created a warm, welcoming space in the Cully neighborhood with a bison head overlooking the room that makes Osages and Plains folks feel at home. 

Covid time has made sitting in a coffee house feel special. Guzman offers homemade treats and a choice of light, medium, and dark roast coffees from Native roasters Star Village and Native Coffee Traders.

Bison Coffeehouse is the result of a strong vision. Owner Guzman was studying to be a dental lab technician when she was diagnosed with Stage 4b cancer. She went home to the reservation for healing and dreamed of a bison coming close and closer to her. The result was Bison Coffee House which aims to support the Native community. In the future, she plans to roast her own coffee and take it out on the pow wow trail.  

There are photographs of her family, bison drawer handles on a dresser, and Charley Avis art ledger rugs. When my friends came, we fell into the warmth of Osage women visiting, sharing a worldview and common experiences in the Osage.

Seems like whether they live on the West Coast, in Tulsa, even on the Reservation, folks feel they don’t know enough about what’s going on. Or that’s what I hear, when I’m home and when I talk with people from each of those places. Over coffee and the long sweet grass braids we were given, we shared perspectives, considered who would lead the tribe in the directions we believe it needs to go. We pooled our understanding, shared our experiences, and talked about our concerns.

Even though Osage elections brings mean-spirited spin and cutthroat competition, it brings time to socialize and articulate our dreams and hopes for our WahZhaZhe people. Long-discussed proposals, like an Osage-owned funeral home, are being considered by the Osage Congress. At election time, our phones string us together, like the diagrams of flight patterns across the country. We’re looking for strongest among varied talents, listening for history that contextualizes the behavior and statements we’ve heard, observed. We talk about the strides the Osage have made, the land we’re acquiring. I’ll visit the Bison Coffee House again, but next time I’ll go to the Tumwater at Oregon City—Willamette Falls on the map. It is the largest waterfall in the state of Oregon. The falls are 26 miles upriver from the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde purchased the former Blue Heron paper mill in 2019 and has been dismantling it. The Grand Ronde with the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation all met at the falls. Each is planning to create a place to experience that solid feeling of being in community on ancestral land again.


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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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