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Osage County Historical Society names five Osages ‘Heroes and Legends’

In its eighth year, honorees for the 2024 awards included Rhonda Wallace of Hominy, and Chad Renfro and Julie O’Keefe of Pawhuska. Two posthumous honors were also awarded to Marjorie and Maria Tallchief, and their relatives Dana Bear and Russ Tallchief accepted the awards.

The Osage County Historical Society’s 8th Annual Heroes and Legends awards dinner and auction honored five Osages for their work building the county up. Historical society president Jerry Butterbaugh opened the night by acknowledging the Osage Nation’s work on “Killers of the Flower Moon” and added, “We also wanted to recognize individual people … who have dedicated a life to keeping a community together and centered. These were the heroes.”

Historical society board member Faren Revard Anderson took the stage and introduced Osage Nation Ambassador for KOTFM, Chad Renfro, and Head Osage Wardrobe Consultant for KOTFM, Julie O’Keefe, noting their contributions. Renfro, Anderson began, was born in Pawhuska and voted “most loyal” by his classmates. He is involved in philanthropy and art, and serves as the current president of the Pawhuska Community Foundation.

For KOTFM, Renfro had the critical role of making sure Osage language and culture were accurately portrayed. Renfro was the first Osage to make a connection with the film’s representatives in an industry that he had never pictured himself in, Anderson said. He helped convince Martin Scorsese to shoot the movie in Oklahoma and to persuade the state to give millions in rebates to production. Renfro also connected Scorsese’s crew with Osage actors, and Osage history, culture, language, clothing and traditions.

Anderson remembered Chief Standing Bear’s words, “‘We have a unique culture and history and Chad knows that unique culture and history … he was meant to be right where he is.’”

“Julie O’Keefe,” Anderson said, “grew up in the heart of the Osage Nation in Pawhuska, but her passion for design has taken her all over.” O’Keefe assisted with research and costuming, producing pieces, and working with principal actors. She was part of the team nominated for best costume design at the 2024 Academy Awards.

In addition to her accomplishments on Scorsese’s film, she founded a Native American and women-owned company focused on continuing the traditions of Native American regalia for community events and dances, and is head of the Indigenous Cultural Department on a television pilot at Netflix.

“There’s not that many people here that can say they’ve been to both the Cannes Film Festival in France and to the Oscars in California,” said Anderson. Renfro and O’Keefe took the stage and received their medals side by side with smiles, both donned in shades of champagne and beige.

“Faren did have a lot to say,” Renfro began, and joked, “I was born at the Pawhuska Hospital November 3 in 1969 … just kidding. It was really easy to do what I had to do, represent our people. Make a few phone calls to bring people to Osage County and show them how beautiful it is … What is difficult is having to go through the process of watching that story.”

The pleasure he was able to get from working on the film, Renfro said, was watching the community of Fairfax “do their stuff, to showcase the beauty of Osage Nation and Osage County. … [and] the work provided me with the opportunity to stand up here tonight with legends like Maria [Tallchief].”

O’Keefe began with a quip. “Nobody told me to keep it short,” she said.

“What I look at in this crowd, I see so many faces that I grew up with, and when I think of heroes and legends … [I think] of pastors and schoolteachers. … What I really had, Chad I both, besides grandparents, was [leaders] that really knew how to put us in these communities.”

O’Keefe spoke of Scorsese’s and the Osage people’s contributions to a new standard in Native American filmmaking. “An epic movie, a global stage, and it came to our county … He brought us to a very big table, and it set a standard within a huge history in Hollywood and it will be a standard that everyone is going to start following for Native and Indigenous stories and we really are the first one. And I really believe it is the spirit of our community,” she said.

“Of everything we’ve been to in the world, this is really one of the most important, ever. Thank you all,” said O’Keefe.

Carter Rogers followed the KOTFMambassadors. “Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed guests, and fellow admirers of the arts and history,” he said, beginning the tall task of introducing the balletic Osage sisters. “It is my utmost pleasure to introduce to you two extraordinary Osage women, originating from Fairfax, Okla., who have left an incredible mark on Osage County history and the world of ballet: Marjorie and Maria Tallchief.”

“Born into a world that often tried to limit their potential, these sisters defied all the odds to become trailblazers in their field, showcasing the true power of determination and talent.”

Rogers described Marjorie as a woman of “grace, poise, and incredible talent … the first Native American to be named ‘première danseuse étoile’ or prima ballerina in the Paris Opera Ballet.” Her career began in 1944 with the American Ballet Theatre and her time with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and later, the Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, solidified her reputation as a leading ballerina.

“Her performances were nothing short of breathtaking, captivating audiences with her technical skill and emotional depth. … She paved the way for many dancers of color to follow in her footsteps.”

Rogers called Maria Tallchief “a force to be reckoned with. Her artistry and technique were unparalleled,” and noted that even though her marriage to choreographer George Balanchine ended in 1952, she still became the prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet afterward. She turned to teaching after retiring, founding the Chicago City Ballet and helping establish the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

“[The sisters], they’re more than just dancers, they’re icons of resilience and the legacy of the human spirit.”

The Tallchief sisters’ relatives Russ Tallchief and Dana Bear accepted the medals on behalf of the Osage balletic sisters.

Bear told the story of when Dance Maker Academy asked her to create pointe shoes for the contemporary African American celebrity ballerina Misty Copeland. “I beaded them in the style of a woman’s moccasin, and whenever I they gave them to her, we all got to be together.”

“One thing that stuck with me the most,” said Bear, “is how many times I hear other women say how much they look up to my aunts. I dealt with people from Apple Productions as well, and they say the same things: wow, those were the first [famous] women of color.”

Russ Tallchief shared a story in which Marjorie continued to dance during an outdoor performance in Paris in the rain, even after all the other dancers left. “That was the discipline that dance gave her. And Maria, the goal was always perfection.”

He also noted Maria’s favorite quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “‘Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.’ A similar Wahzhazhe expression is Washka^,” he said, “‘Do your best,’ and that’s what I take from her.”

Butterbaugh introduced the final Osage honoree, Rhonda Wallace of Hominy, with a statement from her son Bradley. “She has always been very strong, just like her mom, ‘family first,’ strong faith, a very good friend back to her friends. Very good grandma and great-grandma. She worked at the post office for over 35 years, starting out as a letter carrier and then becoming the Hominy postmaster. Pretty great achievement for just being a high school graduate,” Butterbaugh read.

“She always took great care of my sister and me, and even some of our friends. She let me choose my path. She would help others often when she could, I do remember that. Great mom—heck, she put up with me.” Wallace’s son Bradley also noted that his mother has been on the Hominy School Board since 1980.

Wallace took the stage with humility. “I don’t know if I can say much more,” she said. “Okay,” she said, and sighed, crying a little. “Thank you all very much. It’s kind of hard to follow the people that went before me with these awards. I really don’t think of myself as a legend or a hero, I do what I think I should’ve done.”

“I raised my two kids, my grandchildren and one great-grandson, very proud of him. Yes, 45 years on the school board. People say are you crazy? No, I’m not. If I hadn’t enjoyed it, I wouldn’t have done it. Oh yeah, there’s rough times, but I enjoyed it and I felt like those kids who went to school, those kids were my kids, too.”

“There’s been rough times, highs and lows, but I have no regrets. The same way I went to work at the post office. Thirty-six years there, I went from a letter carrier, I hated the dogs that chased me,” she said, and the audience laughed. “Maybe in a way, I am a hero and a legend,” she commented. “I don’t compare to these others, but I’m thankful for it, and I appreciate it and my sisters that came, I’m very proud of them. Yes, I love my town and just about do anything I could for them, and thank you very much.”


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Chelsea T. Hicks
Chelsea T. Hicks
Title: Staff Reporter
Languages spoken: English
Chelsea T. Hicks’ past reporting includes work for Indian Country Today, SF Weekly, the DCist, the Alexandria Gazette-Packet, Connection Newspapers, Aviation Today, Runway Girl Network, and elsewhere. She has also written for literary outlets such as the Paris Review, Poetry, and World Literature Today. She is Wahzhazhe, of Pawhuska District, belonging to the Tsizho Washtake, and is a descendant of Ogeese Captain, Cyprian Tayrien, Rosalie Captain Chouteau, Chief Pawhuska I, and her iko Betty Elsey Hicks. Her first book, A Calm & Normal Heart, won the 5 Under 35 Award from the National Book Foundation. She holds an MA from the University of California, Davis, and an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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