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Osage officials take oaths of office at 2022 Inauguration ceremony in Tulsa

Also newly elected in their respective June 6 election, the eight members of the 5th Osage Minerals Council also received acknowledgment and Pendleton blankets during the inauguration.

TULSA, Okla. – A new chapter for Osage Nation government is starting after the newly elected officials took their oaths on July 9 to start serving in their respective offices for the Osage people. 

About 400 people attended the 2022 Inauguration Day ceremony held in the Skyline Event Center at the flagship Osage Casino & Hotel.

Former Congressman Archie Mason welcomed the attendees and acknowledged the elected officials who were escorted into the venue by ON Princess Gianna Sieke. The officials took their seats in the front row for the program, which included the oaths of office for all those elected in the June 6, 2022 General Election.

Newly-elected Osage Nation Assistant Principal Chief RJ Walker smiles after Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear places a Pendleton blanket on him shortly after he took his oath of office. LOUISE RED CORN/Osage News

“We’re very pleased and very proud to be able to say in the Osage Nation we do have our sovereignty and our own government, and these are some of the people in charge of that,” Mason said. “So, we’re glad that all of you are here to acknowledge and see who these very important people are because they work for you, they work for me, they are us.”

The inauguration’s opening included members from the Harold Bigheart Smalley American Legion Post No. 198 posting the flag colors and opening songs sung by Osage singers. The Hominy and Grayhorse War Mothers also followed the flags into the venue.

Dr. Herman “Mogri” Lookout delivered the invocation in the Osage language followed by a presentation by a group of Daposka Ahnkodapi students who recited The Lord’s Prayer and sang “Jesus Loves Me,” both in Osage.

Osage musician and violinist Nokosee Fields performed a song during the event.

Anthropologist Dr. Jean Dennison (Osage) served as this year’s inauguration guest speaker, with Sieke introducing her. Dennison is co-director of the Center of American Indian and Indigenous Studies and an associate professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington and wrote “Colonial Entanglement: Constituting a Twenty-First Century Osage Nation.”

Published in 2012, Dennison wrote on the Nation’s government reform process from 2004 to 2006 when the Osage Government Reform Commission was launched, and Osage voters approved the current Constitution launching the three-branch government. “The primary goal of her academic endeavor is to explore how Indigenous people negotiate and contest the ongoing colonial settler process in areas such as citizenship, governance and sovereignty,” Sieke said.

“We are in an exciting moment in the Osage Nation,” Dennison said. “Since the passage of the 2006 Constitution our Nation has seen growth in land base and programs unseen since the 18th century. We now have our own school, health facility, teams of Osages working on language and cultural revitalization, and we continue to grow our Osage Casinos.”

“To this day, you will often hear advice ‘always keep respect in front of you’ and this is the important work we had in front of us in the Nation. In buying back the Osage territory, we are recovering our relationship with our lands and food systems,” Dennison said. “From 1808 to 1839, seven treaties stripped Osage control of 96 million acres of land in what would later become Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri representing 75% of the Osage land base at the time … Through land purchases and other investments in our food systems, Osages are succeeding when we are building relationships of respect with the land for it is this land that must not only sustain us but ensure that we can thrive as individuals and as a Nation.”

Guest speaker Jean Dennison delivers her speech at the Osage Nation Inauguration, held at the Osage Casino & Hotel in Tulsa on July 9, 2022. LOUISE RED CORN/Osage News

“We have people (in the cultural, language and education departments) who are working tirelessly to reestablish and maintain respectful relationships with our ways of life that hold us together, they must do this work in the face of the efforts that governments and schools put into erasing who we are,” Dennison said. “These employees are overcoming generations of colonial shaming, figuring out how to ensure that the colonial impacts are not permanent or corrupting and that there is a future for the Osage. They have been most successful when they have been able to build collaborative communities to do this hard work together. Respect is also essential to the Nation’s efforts to taking over control of the Pawhuska Indian Health (Service) facility, we can now invest in our health, in our community, but we must rebuild relationships of respect in a space of deep neglect. Not only did the Osage Nation receive a facility and equipment that were falling apart, but employees had to transition this facility without the necessary communication from the IHS and incorporate this unwieldy bureaucratic center into a Nation not built for it. This is an ongoing project, but the recent Indian Health Care Reform Act opens the door for the clinic to establish the kinds of accounting, (human resources), and other processes the health clinic requires to thrive.”

In her remarks, Dennison added: “Building relationships of respect into our bureaucracies is one of our most important challenges ahead, keeping respect in front of us is also a central motivating force behind the relationships with the U.S. government and the state of Oklahoma. These external governments have rarely been willing to honor their commitments and obligations. These relationships have been marred by failed treaty promises of protection, repeated waves of violent settlement, enforced limitations on our governance, constant threats of termination, massive mismanagement and ongoing corporate exploitation. Despite these challenges, Osages, especially our Osage Minerals Council, have worked tirelessly insisting that strengthening the trust relationship with the federal government is ultimately about demanding the respect that our treaties, agreements and laws afford us … Keeping respect in front of us is no easy task, especially in our relationships with each other. We must above all find ways of trusting each other again. We have inherited and created for ourselves cumbersome bureaucratic structures that often work against fostering respectful relationships. We know that as Osages, our structures work best when everyone knows their role, there is fluid communication and we can trust each other … Our dances are structured so everyone knows their role working toward community rather than personal interests. These values must be centered in the work ahead.”

In closing, Dennison said to the incoming government officials: “As you take up your important roles in leading our community, I ask you to always keep respect in front of you. It won’t be easy, but our future depends on it.”     

Osage Nation Supreme Court Associate Justice Drew Pierce takes his oath of office at the Osage Nation Inauguration, held at the Osage Casino & Hotel in Tulsa on July 9, 2022. LOUISE RED CORN/Osage News

The four Judicial Branch judges took their oaths of office first. Voters retained all four judicial officers and they will each serve four-year terms. Supreme Court Chief Justice Meredith Drent took her oath with Trial Court Chief Judge William Oldfield presiding.

Drent then administered the oaths of office to Supreme Court Associate Justices Elizabeth Lohah Homer, Drew Pierce and Oldfield individually.

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear took his oath with Drent presiding and will now serve a third term. Afterward, RJ Walker took his oath to serve his first term as Assistant Principal Chief.

The seven newly elected members of the Eighth ON Congress took their oaths individually with Drent presiding. Scott BigHorse, Alice Goodfox, Otto Hamilton, Brandy Lemon, Eli Potts, Whitney Red Corn and Paula Stabler are now serving on the Nation’s 12-member Congress. They join the other sitting Congress members who Mason acknowledged: Pam Shaw, Joe Tillman, Jodie Revard, Billy Keene and John Maker.    

Throughout the oath of office process, each elected official also received a custom embroidered Pendleton blanket.

Also newly elected in their respective June 6 election, the eight members of the 5th Osage Minerals Council also received acknowledgment and Pendleton blankets during the inauguration. OMC members Kenny Bighorse Jr., Joe Cheshewalla, Melissa Currey, Talee Redcorn, Myron Red Eagle, Paul Revard, Anthony Shackelford and Everett Waller all took their oaths of office at the July 1 council meeting with Lohah Homer presiding.

Newly elected members of the 5th Osage Minerals Council. From left: Anthony Shackelford, Everett Waller, Paul Revard, Myron Red Eagle and Talee Redcorn at the Osage Nation Inauguration, held at the Osage Casino & Hotel in Tulsa on July 9, 2022. LOUISE RED CORN/Osage News

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Benny Polacca
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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