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Osage Congress passes $250K bill to design new Wakon Iron Community Building

A new Wakon Iron Community Building in the Pawhuska Indian Village will be designed by architects thanks to a $250,000 appropriation approved during the 4th Special Session of the Sixth Osage Nation Congress.

The bill (ONCA 19-39 sponsored by Congresswoman Paula Stabler) passed unanimously before the session ended on June 24. According to the bill, the $250,000 will be appropriated to the capital asset fund out of the retained revenue fund for professional architectural and engineering services.

Like the other two respective Osage villages’ community buildings, the Pawhuska village’s Wakon Iron building is the venue for cultural and celebratory events including handgames, dinners, holiday, birthday parties, weddings, dances, funerals and residential meetings year-round.

Pawhuska is the last of the three villages to receive a newly built community building after the Grayhorse Village broke ground in May on its new building scheduled to be built by the 2020 Inlonshka dances. Shortly after this year’s Grayhorse Inlonshka, demolition crews razed the former community building. Hominy Village received its new building shortly before its respective 2018 Inlonshka dances. 

Stabler, a former Pawhuska Village Committee Chairwoman, said the current building has “all kinds of dire issues that go on with it and it’s past time to replace the building that’s going on 50 years now. (The village committee) does their best to maintain it, they’ve done lots and lots of repairs to it … It’s really a smaller building than what we need. We haven’t had a number of dances out there in a long time and that used to be one of the main facilities that held dances … I think the village is hoping for some new amenities, a new building and hopefully a place where dances can start resuming again.”

During the 2019 Hun-Kah Session, Stabler filed ONCA 19-39 to be considered, but it was held due to limited funding at the time. “Since then, we’ve had a lot of discussions with the Chief and with the village itself and because of the timeframe itself to get into construction, they’d like for us to go ahead and consider this now. I have checked with our budget analyst … there is some money there now, it would be nice for the village to start this process. It does take 18-24 months (it seems like for us) to get all the way through to the contractual piece and so I want everyone to consider it instead of waiting until the fall and go ahead and give them the jump on getting to work on the planning and architectural engineering for this project.”

For the appropriation amount, Executive Branch Director of Operations Casey Johnson said 10 percent of the estimated building construction cost is budgeted for architectural/ engineering design costs. “It may end up being a lot cheaper, but we don’t know until the architect and engineer gets to looking at it, meets members of the community… it could be a million bucks or all the way to $2.5 million.”

In the meantime, the current Pawhuska Village Committee (also called the Five-Man Board) is also gathering information and ideas toward the new Wakon Iron building. In April, committee members Fawn Cheshewalla, Teresa Tinker Schutz and Project Manager Regina “Ustee” Grass attended the Hominy Village Committee’s meeting to ask for thoughts and feedback on the new community building.

At the meeting, Hominy Village Committee Chairman Reuben DeRoin said the planning process “was a group decision” which included input from those who sit on the dance committee, cooks and fellow village committee members. For the Hominy building design process, the committee worked with professionals including Lance Woolsey of Tulsa-based Wallace Engineering, DeRoin said.

Before the floor vote on ONCA 19-39, Stabler said: “It’s a huge day for the Pawhuska Village and a real exciting day for me because I started with the village in the 1990s and I’ve been chair out there for over 10 years and was able to advance to Congress (in the 2018 election) and now to be on the initial end of creating this and creating this fund for them is exciting for us … All of this work from our guest arbors, to our (dance) arbor, to our community building is our future because it’s what protects us as the culture – we are the culture – and so it gives us hope with these new steel buildings, there will be 50-70 years’ worth of (a newer community building).”

The bill passed 11-0 with one absence from Congresswoman Shannon Edwards. Cheshewalla, who attended the session with Schutz, exclaimed “Yay!” after the votes, followed by smiles and soft applause from the Congress members. ONCA 19-39, like other passed bills, was sent to Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear’s office for his signature to take effect on June 26.


Benny Polacca

Original Publish Date: 2019-07-15 00:00:00

Benny Polacca

Title: Senior Reporter


Instagram: @bpolacca

Topic Expertise: Government, Tribal Government, Community

Languages spoken: English, basic knowledge of Spanish and French

Benny Polacca (Hopi/ Havasupai/ Pima/ Tohono O’odham) started working at the Osage News in 2009 as a reporter in Pawhuska, Okla., where he’s covered various stories and events that impact the Osage Nation and Osage people. Those newspaper contributions cover a broad spectrum of topics and issues from tribal government matters to features. As a result, Polacca has gained an immeasurable amount of experience in covering Native American affairs, government issues and features so the Osage readership can be better informed about the tribal current affairs the newspaper covers.

Polacca is part of the Osage News team that was awarded the Native American Journalists Association's Elias Boudinet Free Press Award in 2014 and has won numerous NAJA media awards, as well as awards from the Oklahoma Press Association and SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter, for storytelling coverage and photography.

Polacca earned his bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University and also participated in the former American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota where he was introduced to the basics of journalism and worked with seasoned journalists there and later at The Forum daily newspaper covering the Fargo, N.D. area where he worked as the weeknight reporter.


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