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Osage scholar uses his education for tribal cultural preservation

Michael Hopper, a Frank C. Hibben Fellow at the Anthropology Department at the University of New Mexico, is working toward a goal to help his people

With more and more Osage tribal members taking advantage of the Osage Nation Higher Education Scholarship, one Osage man plans to use his degrees for the betterment of the Osage people.

Michael Hopper, a Frank C. Hibben Fellow at the Anthropology Department at the University of New Mexico, is working toward a Master in Archaeology with a minor in Museum Studies.

“It is my goal to continue my educational journey to become an archaeologist with a specialty in the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA),” Hopper said. “So, that I can continue my work in bringing our ancestors back home where they belong.”

Over the summer he interned at the Osage Nation Museum helping digitize the museum’s archives. A personal project he took on was digitizing photo archives from the exhibit “2229,” which featured photos of the 2,229 original allottees from 1906. The project was first initiated over 20 years ago by former ONM director Kathryn Red Corn and was displayed for many years.

Over time, photos have gone missing from the project and Hopper spent his time at the ONM this summer finding those photos and digitizing them. He said currently only 923 photos have been identified for the project. He said it will be an ongoing project with the goal of locating images for all 2,229 original allottees.

“Once everything is digitized it will be a great resource for people who are looking up original allottees,” he said. “They’ll be able to pull up a list, show them the list and give them copies of the photos. That’s the whole idea anyway.”

Michael Hopper with his parents Mike and Adell Hopper, after he received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma. Courtesy Photo

Hopper is from Norman and is the son of Mike and Adell Hopper and the nephew of one of six remaining full blood Osages, William Fletcher. He is full blood Native American and a direct descendant of the Osage hereditary Chief Black Dog. He is Choctaw on his mother’s side and spent time working with the Choctaw Nation this summer in their NAGPRA Department. He felt it was important to experience both the Choctaw and Osage people, to be immersed in both cultural environments and to learn from the various experts working with both tribes. While with the Osage, he was looking forward to learning how to handle the collections and personally seeing the items that came from his family.

He worked with the ONM for over five weeks and said he was very impressed with the staff and museum. The director of the ONM, Marla Redcorn-Miller, said “his encompassing approach is admirable and will no doubt help him in his career path.” Hopper added that the employees at the ONM are all experts in their fields and he was honored to work with them.

“I have been fortunate to work with several museums in the past couple of years and there is a different kind of connection with the ON museum. Most all of the Osage families have projects they have worked on or collections they have donated to,” he said. “The people have a special connection to the museum because of that. You can feel that the ON museum belongs to the people and that they are proud to share that part of our culture to the visitors that come to experience it.” 

When asked what his favorite item is in the ONM collection, he said the shield of his great-great-great-grandfather Black Dog II. He said his grandmother told him that his great-great-grandmother Kate Barker, Black Dog II’s second daughter, donated the shield to the museum to preserve it for the Osage.

His summer was a busy one. He also traveled to Edwardsville, Ill., to participate in an archeological field school. The site is associated with Cahokia, and he said he was excited to be back in traditional Osage lands to learn more about the area. Following Edwardsville, he flew to Hawaii for five weeks to participate in a research team to study the traditional agricultural community there. He returned to the ONM for a few more weeks before moving to New Mexico for his two-year master’s program.

Michael Hopper stands with other students and archeologists on an archeological dig in Edwardsville, Ill., near Cahokia, which is part of Osage ancestral lands. Courtesy Photo

He hasn’t ruled out earning his doctorate degree.

“My ultimate goal would probably be to work for either the Osage Nation or the Choctaw Nation upon graduation,” he said. “Probably the cultural preservation, so that would include anything like language, food sovereignty, but specifically for me it’s NAGPRA right now. I’m hoping that within my lifetime, we won’t have the need for NAGPRA and then I can transition into more so of a museum position because I do love museums and I love learning. It’s like here (at ONM), you can always learn more when you get to actually deal with the artifacts and house them.”

He said he hopes to continue this career path and make his family proud.

“I want to do something to help our ancestors and people, by working with NAGPRA and culture preservation,” he said. 

CORRECTION: Michael Hopper is from Norman, Okla., and not Hominy as incorrectly stated. The Osage News regrets the error.


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Shannon Shaw Duty
Shannon Shaw Duty is the editor of the Osage News. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor's degree in Journalism and a master's degree in Legal Studies, Indigenous Peoples Law from the OU College of Law. She served on the Board of Directors for the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) from 2013-2016 and served as a board member and Chairwoman for the Pawhuska Johnson O’Malley Parent Committee from 2017-2020. She is a Chips Quinn Scholar, a former instructor for the Freedom Forum’s Native American Journalism Career Conference and the Freedom Forum’s American Indian Journalism Institute. She is a former reporter for The Santa Fe New Mexican. She is a 2012 recipient of the Native American 40 Under 40 from the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED). In 2014 she helped lead the Osage News to receive the Elias Boudinot Free Press Award, NAJA’s highest honor. An Osage tribal member, she and her family are from the Grayhorse District. She currently resides in Pawhuska, Okla., with her husband and six children.

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