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HomeCommunityOsage Nation cuts ribbon on new Fairfax Senior Housing complex

Osage Nation cuts ribbon on new Fairfax Senior Housing complex

The project includes 20 units and the Housing Department is taking applications.

FAIRFAX, Okla. – Community members and Osage Nation officials gathered here on Aug. 15 to cut a ceremonial red ribbon on the brand-new Senior Housing Complex now open for resident applications.

In 2021, the Nation purchased land on Fairfax’s south side and built 10 duplexes on the hillside property. Ten months after breaking ground on the project, the Nation now has 20 residential units open for Osage and Native American elders living in the western Osage Reservation region, including Fairfax and the Grayhorse District.

Osage government officials spoke at the ribbon-cutting event under a tent set up at the Fairfax senior housing complex as construction workers continued remaining work on some of the units. Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear noted several Nation entities worked on the project along with the construction and engineering contractors as he applauded the commemoration.  

“Housing is up there with the tops of our needs from all of our people,” Standing Bear said. “Knowing we have limited resources, we said ‘well what can we do to make something actually happen?’ So, we took the model that we used for Senior Housing years and years ago and started over in Pawhuska for a smaller (expansion) project and then here we are with a larger project today.”

Osage Nation officials and community members mingle and tour a duplex unit during the Aug. 15 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Fairfax Senior Housing Complex. BENNY POLACCA/Osage News

For example, Standing Bear said the Nation’s Tribal Development Department and Roads Department who worked on the project were “all working together with the engineers, with the construction companies, every detail they could think of within the budget allowed was considered.” Standing Bear added the new complex has natural gas-powered generators to cover the units should an electrical outage occur and noted the Nation’s Fairfax Elder Nutrition (Title VI) Center is nearby.

“The (Osage) Congress and my office will be supporting the federal and non-federal funding it’s going to take to operate these (complexes),” Standing Bear said. “Just because you build them doesn’t mean they take care of themselves. We have a good department, it’s a big challenge for them, we all understand that we all have to get behind them day-in and day-out as we go through in developing more housing. Hominy is next, we haven’t forgotten Skiatook and we haven’t forgotten the people who are technically non-elders. Housing is key if we are going to keep this Nation alive as Osage Nation, we must have good health, good security, good housing and keep our people here.”

Fairfax is the first reservation community to receive Senior Housing outside Pawhuska, which recently received a 10-unit addition to that respective senior complex. Planning is still underway for a similar 20-unit complex in Hominy.

At the Fairfax Senior Housing Complex, the duplexes are built along two streets called “Maria Drive” and “Marjorie Avenue” which are named in honor of the late Osage ballerina sisters Maria and Marjorie Tallchief who lived in Fairfax during their childhoods. Both sisters went on to perform and achieve multiple accolades in their respective ballet careers nationwide and beyond.   

Congresswoman Brandy Lemon, who comes from the Tallchief family, sponsored bill ONCA 21-55 which appropriated $8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for the project’s design, engineering and construction costs that were passed by the Seventh ON Congress.

“It was a unanimous vote, who doesn’t want to take care of one of our most cherished populations which is our elders and our seniors?” Lemon said at the event. “I’m overwhelmed with emotion because we all talk about taking care of our elders, we all talk about taking care of our seniors and we did it here! … The working together part? It’s not easy, it’s like a family, it’s a work family and it’s not easy working together or getting along all of the time, but being respectful? That’s the most important thing that I think we can all take away from trying to work together and remembering to be humble.”

James Weigant, Executive Branch Secretary of Administration and former Housing Department director, also spoke at the event for current director Sheridan Pickering, who was absent. He recalled one of his first Housing Department tasks was to make Fairfax senior housing a reality after meeting with Standing Bear and Casey Johnson, now Secretary of Development.

Johnson recalled the Nation’s efforts to obtain and purchase the land from the Fairfax Town Council last year and said construction company Builders Unlimited went to work on the project once the land purchase and engineering work was complete.       

“This complex now provides 20 new quality affordable homes constructed as the same recently built in Pawhuska,” Weigant said. “They include a little over 1,200 square feet of livable space, an enclosed (one-vehicle) garage, a storm (shelter) closet, generators just to name off a few of the amenities. A development of this size will provide real and lasting benefits for the people of the Fairfax area. While this is geared for elders, this complex will benefit everyone. We trust that the positive ripple effect on the local housing market will be felt for years to come due to this major investment by the Osage Nation.”

“Bringing on this much housing for Fairfax has made waves,” Weigant said. “Large federal construction projects like this can be funded a number of ways. First is just setting aside and building up construction funds each year from our annual HUD distribution (federal funding). Supplemental competitive grants are an option, but those can be few and far between. The (ARPA funding) came at just the right time. By the time we complete Hominy senior housing that will be kicking off very soon, ARPA will have moved the Osage Nation housing ahead by at least a decade. A lack of housing is a problem across all of Indian Country, ARPA clearly understands Native Americans have been historically underserved in areas like housing and provided specific allowances for projects just like this. Chief Standing Bear, our Osage Nation Congress, and the COVID-19 Task Force were all very much in support of this ARPA housing element from the very beginning. And we wish to express our appreciation to them here today.”

Afterward, the officials, along with a group of approximately 20 people from the Fairfax and Grayhorse District gathered for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting at the front door of one of the housing units. Afterward, the attendees toured the two-bedroom unit’s interior.

The next day, Weigant met with the Congressional Appropriations Committee to give updates on the Nation’s ARPA-funded projects and said the construction work on the Fairfax senior housing is over 90% complete. He said there are five units confirmed to receive residents and the Housing Department is taking applications to fill the other units. For more information on the Nation’s Housing Department, Senior Housing and other services, visit www.osagenation-nsn.gov/services/housing

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Benny Polaccahttps://osagenews.org
Benny Polacca started at the Osage News in 2009 as a reporter and has covered various stories and events impacting the Osage Nation and Osage people. Polacca is part of the News team awarded the Native American Journalist Association’s Elias Boudinot Free Press Award in 2014 and other NAJA Media Awards and SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter awards for news coverage and photography. Polacca is an Arizona State University graduate and participated in the former American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. He previously worked at The Forum newspaper covering the Fargo, N.D. region as the weeknight reporter.
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