WOODLAND, Calif. – Osages and their families spent a Saturday here full of fellowship, laughter, reflections and chatter largely on the recent release of the Martin Scorsese-directed “Killers of the Flower Moon” film during the Nov. 4 Northern California Osage gathering.
More than 60 people met for the NCO gathering in a hotel event room for the presentations by Osages who mostly traveled from Oklahoma, including those who worked on the film during its 2021 production or helped with research when New York journalist David Grann started visiting the Osage Nation to gather information for the book by the same name in 2017.
Abby Mashunkashey, director of Wahzhazhe Communications for the Nation’s government, delivered an overview presentation of her department and discussed the “Wahzhazhe Always” campaign released in March in anticipation of the KOTFM’s theater release on Oct. 20 and the public’s increased interest in the Nation and its people. Mashunkashey said the campaign release is important as part of the Nation branding itself and delivering its own accurate information especially to the non-Osage public.
“Because we know what happens whenever minorities are misrepresented, this is all research and studies that we’re pulling from,” Mashunkashey said. “And the repercussions of not being represented properly affect generations and generations. They affect children’s experiences, success in academia, it really affects mental health, so knowing all of this, we wanted to make sure that we did right by the Osage Nation. Our role is not to be loud, it was to tell our story for the world who may not truly understand and for our world, including for those who may just be beginning to understand the depth and value of their culture. This is about who we are then, now and always.”
Mashunkashey said using “Wahzhazhe” is important considering several of the Nation’s employees used it to refer to themselves and others in conversations while putting together the Wahzhazhe Always campaign with input and participation from ON officials. “If you didn’t already know how Wahzhazhe became Osage, in the 1670s, French traders used a sketch map created by missionaries to identify us and using phonetics, the translation to English … resulted in ‘Osage’ (after many variations were used). So, while we are the Osage Nation, we really like to identify as Wahzhazhe, we’re going to take that back, it’s a power move, it’s something more personal to us and that’s why we chose to use that word.”
During her presentation, Mashunkashey showed the four-minute “Wahzhazhe Always” campaign video featuring the participating ON officials, which is available on the Nation’s YouTube page at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbeVWLcyu1c
“’Killers of the Flower Moon’ was set so long ago and we want to make sure that people that look at us now can see how we have this really beautiful culture that’s alive and well today,” Mashunkashey said.
Keir Johnson-Reyes, who sits on the NCO steering committee that planned the event, applauded the campaign and said “it’s really about our healing and what we’re seeing in that, we’re reclaiming our imagery, we’re reclaiming our story, we’re reclaiming our voice and our amazing relatives have been involved in this process providing the optics nationally and internationally on our Nation have done an amazing job.”
Mashunkashey also noted a recorded video message by Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear is featured at the beginning of some theater showings of KOTFM. After the NCO gathering, the attendees were invited to attend a KOTFM screening – arranged by the NCO organizers – at the State Theatre along Woodland’s Main Street. About 30 attendees watched the movie, which featured recorded messages by both Standing Bear and Scorsese before the 3.5-hour film commenced.
In his words, Standing Bear said the movie is “a story of trust and betrayal as directed by Martin Scorsese. While watching, you need to know that this is a true story. Many Osage lives were lost and whole family trees were forever altered. The film lays bare the truth and injustices done to us while challenging history not to be reviewed. We honor our ancestors during this time by continuing to survive and ensuring our future guided by our Wahzhazhe culture and traditions.”
To the viewers, Scorsese said: “’Killers of the Flower Moon’ is a deeply personal story to me and one that I had a passion about telling for a long time. We filmed it in Oklahoma where we worked very closely with the Osage community and the Osage leaders and a cast and crew deeply committed to telling this powerful historical story in the proper most authentic way. So on behalf of all of us, thank you for supporting our movie, we’re honored to share ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ with you.”
Also during the gathering, former ON Museum director Kathryn Redcorn spoke, as did her daughter and current museum employee Julianna Redcorn Cote. Also, current ON Museum Director Marla Redcorn-Miller attended virtually and delivered a presentation on current and former museum exhibits. Their discussions touched on the film, as well as the museum and Grann’s book as he started researching the Osage Reign of Terror that is the time period focus.
Redcorn recalled meeting Grann while she was museum director and helping with research at the time. “We sat and talked about my family and the families that experienced this … After we talked, he said ‘you know what, I really do want to write this book about what happened here.’ And so we made an appointment that he’d come back and I got people (elders) in the community to come in and talk to him. We had a little bit of time trying to decide whether we really wanted to do this or not – tell the world what happened to us.”
Redcorn also suggested that Grann also return to the Nation and see a performance of “Wahzhazhe: An Osage Ballet,” which is a contemporary ballet directed by Randy Tinker-Smith with her daughter/ ballet choreographer Jenna LaViolette that features several scenes of time periods in the Osage-produced story. “And he was certain that he wanted to write the book after seeing the ballet,” Redcorn recalled. “I think he did a wonderful job about telling what happened to us … It wasn’t an easy job to do.”
Redcorn served as museum director for 17 years after she was asked to work there by then-Principal Chief Charles Tillman. “It was the most fun job I ever had because I got to meet most of you while I was in the position and to learn about Osages and what great people we are,” she said and also encouraged the attendees to “go to the museum in Pawhuska, it is the oldest tribally-owned museum in the United States.”
In related news, planning is underway for an expanded ON Museum. Redcorn-Miller provided a brief update stating: “We received, for the master plan for the renovation/ expansion, an appropriation from (ON) Congress to do the master plan … The idea is to take that master plan and do fundraising to build some private funds with that, so it’s going to take a combination of (both tribal and contributions to fund the project).”
Redcorn-Miller also noted a museum expansion project start date won’t be released until planning is further solidified. She added there are plans to also build a new Heritage Center (comprising both the Language Department and Wahzhazhe Cultural Center) and that project will be combined with the museum expansion project “so the architects in the master plan and the owner’s representative is going to be tasked with integrating those two plans.”
Elizabeth Lohah Homer, who serves as Associate Justice on the ON Supreme Court, made her first visit to a NCO gathering and shared remarks of being proud to be Osage especially with the ongoing movie buzz and being proud of her family as well.
“I’m very proud to be Osage, I think it’s a privilege and we’re high-self-esteemed people, because we’re extraordinary people. This movie that has come out, it’s a dark chapter in our history, but we have lots of light chapters and happy chapters in our history too,” said Homer, who splits her time living in Albuquerque, N.M. and Washington, D.C., where she’s kept her own law firm for several years. “I remember running into David Grann before the book was out and I said to him ‘this is not our whole story, this doesn’t define who we are as a people.’”
Homer comes from the Hominy District and is the daughter of the late Charles Henry Lohah, who served as the first Chief Justice on the ON Supreme Court after the reformed three-branch government launched in 2006. In noting her two family generations that have attorneys, Homer said she believes the increased number of Osage tribal members who are attorneys is also a result of the Reign of Terror chapter.
“We actually do have probably the most lawyers of any tribe in the United States because I think that this terrible chapter in our history, followed by the subsequent history of being ripped off by our local neighbors in our reservation, really emphasized the importance and desire for Osages to have their own lawyers, people that they could trust, people they can count on to advance the Osage interests,” Homer said.
As part of the day’s discussion on KOTFM, a panel with participants Redcorn, attorney Terry Mason-Moore, who was a background extra in the film, NCO steering committee member Charles “Chuck” Maker participated while NCO steering committee member Duane Bigeagle moderated. The participants shared thoughts and recollections about the film production, which took place in 2021 largely in the Osage Reservation communities.
After filming was completed, Mason-Moore said she hoped a lot of the structures created to resemble Fairfax and other areas as part of the 1920s era would remain in some form, but many were destroyed. “What I and a lot of people were hoping for is a lot of the structures that (film crews) built would be left behind, but they said they had to take them down for liability purposes,” she said, adding a church façade built to resemble a former Fairfax church that burned was left behind and tourists have stopped to view it.
“Also, they painted storefronts and windows in Ralston, Fairfax and Pawhuska, which was made up to look like Fairfax (along Kihekah Avenue) – a lot of those are still there because tourists like to see them, some of the storefront people like to keep them because it draws tourists in to talk about it,” Mason-Moore said.
When asked what he thought of seeing the film, Maker said he’s seen it twice and recalled the first time “it was hard for me to be objective to see it as a movie … the second time was a little easier. But it’s really a wonderful experience to see it, I think Scorsese did a great job of what he had to do.”
Mason-Moore, who was born and raised in Fairfax and lives there today, said “the impact on me is it’s a weird thing to see the recreation of my town, some of it is how I remembered it when I was little, a lot of those things are gone now, it was a bustling town then recreated in Pawhuska, but some things are in different order (in the Main Street scenes) than they were then.” For being on-set, Mason-Moore said “I really enjoyed interactions with the actors and all the other extras and I had a lot of family members in the film.”
The panelists were asked if the film and/or Reign of Terror events should be memorialized. Redcorn said she believes Osages should continue to tell their own story and especially with Osage filmmakers “to take the time to present that because there could be something that was missed out on and the more we hear about it, I think the better.”
Mason-Moore said she too would like to see Osage filmmakers tell “more of our story, there’s so many others, hundreds others … Going further into that maybe in a documentary type style versus a movie entertainment type style.”
Maker said “we’ve got a lot of other stories – not just tragedies – (as an example) Osage entrepreneurs put together a professional football team and not many people know about that (the Hominy Indians) and they got the New York Giants to come (and played a game against them) and they whipped them!”
Bigeagle said he would like to see more research done to get better information on how many Osages perished during that era because “I don’t think we completely know how many people we lost in that Reign of Terror and I would like to see somebody really do the research and find out how many (died).”
In addition to the day’s speakers, the NCO also invited Tara Damron, program director of the White Hair Memorial, to give a virtual presentation of the research center. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, “The White Hair Memorial learning center is located in the former home of Lillie Morrell Burkhart, an Osage and descendant of Chief Pawhuska (White Hair). A repository for Osage artifacts and documents, the collections include resources such as maps, annuity rolls, oral histories, and photographs.”
Damron encouraged attendees to contact the White Hair Memorial with research questions that she and staff members could help look up information in the non-circulating library at the memorial. The “White Hair Memorial” is also on Facebook and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org For more information on the ON Museum and its exhibits, visit its website at: https://www.osageculture.com/culture/museum
To view more photos from the Northern California Osage Fall Gathering, visit the Osage News Flickr page at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/osagenews/albums/72177720312462436/with/53311850946/