COTATI, Calif. – Fellowship and chatter about the Osage Nation government, culture and the forthcoming Martin Scorsese-directed film “Killers of the Flower Moon” filled the atmosphere here as the Northern California Osage organization hosted its first gathering event in more than three years.
On May 20, about 50 individuals – young to elderly – attended the NCO gathering in the Veterans Memorial Building to enjoy the socializing, presentations and lunch during the Saturday event. The last NCO gathering took place in November 2019 near Sacramento, then the events were paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as California state restrictions on gatherings during that time.
NCO planning committee members welcomed the attendees back to the gathering in Cotati, which is nearly an hour north of the Bay Area and a few minutes south of Santa Rosa. Attendees included Nation government officials from Oklahoma and Osages and their families who reside in the region including the Bay Area, Sacramento area and the local Sonoma County area.
Keir Johnson Reyes, a NCO planning committee member, issued an Indigenous land acknowledgment that morning, noting the venue sits on lands near the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Reservation just outside Rohnert Park. ON Congressman John Maker then delivered the day’s prayer in Osage.
That morning, planning committee member Duane Bigeagle showed attendees livestream coverage of the Cannes Film Festival red carpet marches as celebrities and entertainment industry officials arrived to watch the world premiere of “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Osages who appeared in the film, as well as Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear traveled to France for the star-studded event and they were seen in videos that made the livestream in California.
Bigeagle also recognized fellow planning committee members at the gathering including Chuck Maker, Johnson Reyes, Melani King, Karen Elliott and Carole Bennett.
Several people at the NCO gathering expressed excitement for the Osage attendees representing their people in France for the historical moment as the livestream coverage was shown on a flatscreen TV monitor in the venue’s auditorium.
“The movie is the main hot topic in Oklahoma,” Maker said. “This movie is going worldwide!” The film will be shown in select theaters starting Oct. 6 and a wide release will follow on Oct. 20.
Maker said plans to expand Osage Casino gaming into Missouri with a Lake of the Ozarks casino resort “is still in the works” and “I feel pretty good that it’s going to happen, it’s going to be a few years away and there’s a few things that have to happen to start that project.”
“We’re working together and trying to do everything for the future of our people and all you out here,” Maker added. “Anytime you all need something, have an idea, let us know and get a hold of me or (other Congress members)… We represent all of the Osages, not just the ones in Oklahoma.”
Congresswoman Brandy Lemon said the 2023 Hun-Kah Session wrapped the month before and the Congress approved bills including a supplemental appropriation for the Hominy senior housing complex that is being planned. She also noted there are other Nation projects that are being planned including an Elder Nutrition (Title VI) Department in Hominy, as well as an assisted living center.
Lemon said an appropriation bill to build a national cemetery near Hominy is at the Congressional committee level, as well as a Nation-owned funeral home. For future legislation, Lemon said she is researching water rights issues and “I am going to propose a feasibility study and it’s going to take an appropriation of some money to see about building a water reserve on our ranch… We have the land for it, do we have the right place on that 43,000 acre ranch?”
Lemon also said the Nation’s first-ever census is still in the works and encouraged people to fill it out when it’s available. “Please take the time to fill (the census out), call your friends and neighbors who are Osage and let them know how important this is… The census is going to help us understand who’s out there, what your family looks like and what your needs are so that we can (in my opinion) better utilize our dollars to help every Osage and certain populations.”
Language Department Director Braxton Redeagle provided an overview of the operations and community classes available to attend in-person or virtually. He also said the department assists other government departments with Osage language translations for their work.
“We get requests all the time from different departments anytime something’s going up on a sign or graphic or a social media post, a lot of times that comes through us, we give translations,” Redeagle said. “We also help people with orthography how it’s supposed to be spelled and we do a lot of research, so we have all kinds of different documentations of our language spanning back 150 years.”
Courtney Neff works as the Section 106 Assistant for the Nation’s Historic Preservation Office and shared an overview of the operations during the gathering. “Our basic mission in our office is to preserve the culture and history of the Osage Nation and share it with the people. We are also wanting to protect historic and archeological sites throughout our Osage Nation ancestor territories, so not just within the reservation boundaries.”
Neff said the ONHPO consults with various government agencies through different laws at the federal, state and tribal levels. “There’s the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Archaeological Resource Protection Act, NAGPRA and a lot of other state laws,” she said as examples.
When it comes to the National Historic Preservation Act, Neff said “throughout our ancestral territory, if somebody is getting a federal permit, or a grant or any type of money like that, this law allows us to have a say-so in protecting our cultural resources, which are our sacred sites, our burials, archeological sites, village sites, anything like that before they go into digging in the ground, any kind of ground disturbance of the areas, so they’re going to talk to us first and we’re going to express our concerns.”
During the gathering, Osage writer Aimee Inglis passed out copies of a community zine, titled “Osage Reconnection,” which she compiled and edited with her cousin Chelsea Hicks. Inglis described the zine as “a grassroots community magazine and I thought it would be fun to put something out as Osage people along the theme of ‘what does reconnecting to our culture mean to you?’ and we put out a little call on Facebook and got some submissions (from fellow California-based Osages), there’s a couple poems in the Osage language in there.”
The zine is available as a digital download at https://bit.ly/osagezinewinter22
For more information on Osage language and culture resources, visit https://www.osageculture.com/
More information on the Nation’s Historic Preservation Office is available online at https://www.osageculture.com/culture/historic-preservation-office