Amid a blustery Saturday on the Osage Reservation, hundreds of Osages and families – from near and far – gathered to socialize and partake in the Osage Nation Sesquicentennial Celebration activities commemorating the reservation’s 1872 establishment.
The Oct. 22 special event took place on the open campus lawn south of the Welcome Center and west of the Law Building where special event tents, foldable chairs and an outdoor stage with audio/ visual equipment was set up for the day’s performances, as well as an Osage dinner meal and social dance that took place that afternoon and evening.
The last commemoration of the Osage Reservation took place in 1972 for its 100th anniversary on the campus in Pawhuska. This year’s event featured live performances on the stage including a reading of the children’s book “Coyote and the Bear,” poetry readings by Osage poet Elise Paschen, a puppet show titled “Sky E’ko and Her Ni.Ka.She” and Wahzhazhe: An Osage Ballet – now in its 10th year.
Osage and area military veterans raised the flag at the day’s beginning and prayers for the day were delivered by ON Congressman and Army veteran John Maker, as well as Vann Bighorse who is Secretary of Language/ Culture/ Education for the Nation.
Attendees of all ages attended with many traveling from out-of-state to watch the performances and visit the Nation’s amenities including the ON Museum, which is the oldest tribally-owned museum in the United States (dedicated in 1938) and the nearby Osage Veterans Memorial with inscribed names of veterans who served in all U.S. military branches.
That morning, Gianna “Gigi” Sieke, who serves as the current ON Princess, along with other Osages with princess titles welcomed attendees to the event at designated information booths, answered questions and took counts of how many would be staying for dinner. “It is such an honor to be the current reigning Osage Nation Princess as we celebrated such an historic event. I enjoyed seeing Osage people from all over the country celebrating their culture. The live performances were breathtaking and I loved seeing our Osage Youth on stage teaching others about our culture,” Sieke said.
Despite the day’s windy conditions, the sky remained sunny providing natural lighting for the day’s stage performances. The Nation hired Santa Fe, N.M. event planner Felicia Ponca Kenner (Osage from the Grayhorse District) for putting together the day’s activities and features which also included vendor and department booth areas, staging area for emergency command officials, sit-down areas for meals, as well as a tent with multi-colored lighting for the evening social dance.
Northern California resident Keir Johnson-Reyes, who traveled with his family for their first Oklahoma visit since before the COVID-19 pandemic, applauded the day and attendee mood overall. “The event was very welcoming and community oriented. I appreciated the layout, various performances, and resource booths. I loved how many Wahzhazhe artisans, vendors, and food businesses were represented. I am appreciative that social dances were held and that our people from near and far could feel that drum and connect through the songs. Our community came out in full force, it was a special day,” he said.
Osage artist Wendy Ponca and her family sold artworks at their Ponca Designs booth and she said it felt great to attend a second commemoration event considering she attended the 100th centennial event when she was 12 years old. Ponca remembers the event also being outdoors on the campus and dancing and socializing also taking place, adding she is glad her children and grandchildren were there for the 150th commemoration experience.
Josh Smith, Osage owner of Ekowah Coffee, sold bags of coffee beans and cups of hot coffee as he spoke with visitors throughout the day. “I loved getting the chance to meet Osages from all over the country and talk with them about their stories (often realizing we are related somehow). It was a blast! I also really got the sense of being a part of history, with the incredible displays of Osage art and culture through the poetry, puppet show, ballet, and all the great vendors. I really hope we don’t wait 50 years to do this again!” Smith said.
At the food booth area, Pawhuska-based chef Brian Lookout, who owns Ah-Tha-Tse Catering, sold walking tacos and hot dogs during the lunch hour and also worked another event that weekend. “I was really impressed at the mass numbers of Osage that came out for the celebration on Saturday! All I could see was a sea of heads from our little corner where we had set up our vending booth. It was the most people we have ever fed to date. I know my crew and I fed 1,000 plus people the last 48 hours of the event. I didn’t get but a handful of hours this last week in preparation for the celebration. The last 48 we didn’t sleep at all! It took two entire days of just shopping and over four days to prep. We had to bring in extra refrigeration just to keep all the groceries we had to buy for the event. It was definitely something I’m very proud that our little Osage business got to be included in! I was left wondering where will we be another 150 years from now? I’m just glad we got to be a part of it. It was truly a blessing!” Lookout said.
Ben Jacobs, who co-owns Tocabe: An American Indian Eatery in Denver, also had a food stand where he sold and served bison ribs topped with a berry barbecue sauce and wild rice with meat bowls to hungry attendees. When asked what the 150th experience meant for him, Jacobs said: “The simplest answer is joy. The atmosphere of the day brought a great deal of joy being able to witness generations brought together to share in our communal past, present and future as a people as well as reinforce that we have maintained strength, resilience and the continued positive progress for the Nation as a whole. Overall it was a beautiful and memorable day!”
Heather Wilson Little, who is the current Hominy District Head Cook took on the event’s Head Cook duties with help from cooks coming from all three Osage districts to prepare the evening meal. Following the afternoon social dance, attendees enjoyed the Osage meal of meat gravy, pork steam fry, grape dumplings, green beans with a frybread.
“For me each meal is just as important and special as the last, the Sesquicentennial was no different,” Little said. “The biggest difference for the celebration was the amount of food and number of people that we planned for. This was the largest amount I’ve prepared or cooked for, but I planned for it the same way as I do the others; take our time and don’t worry because it always works out. We started our day with a prayer led by one of my firemen. The wind was brutal in our cook area, but just like those before us we persevered and did the best we could with what we had.”
Little added: “We served around 1,700 meals in restaurant style to-go containers. There were 11 cooks, five firemen and multiple helpers, around 45 of us altogether. I felt it was important to represent all three districts and those who are a part of our community. I could not have been more proud of the meal our cook crew made and the support from our families and the planning committee. Our cook crew and I were blessed for cooking this meal and I know that those blessings were passed on to all who were fed. That makes me happy.”
Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt also attended the event with his wife and two children and praised the day on his social media afterward. “My tribal nation – the Osage Nation – commemorated 150 years in Oklahoma today with an epic celebration. From ballet, to dancing, poetry, to food, the Holts had a wonderful day in Pawhuska. Our hearts (and our bellies) are full!”
ON Congresswoman Jodie Revard visited with attendees and family members throughout the day and praised the event workers and presenters for making the day possible also on her social media. “I attended the 150th Sesquicentennial Celebration watching all the hard work and dedication come to light. I was able to see the dedication behind the scenes. The puppet show was amazing and I’m so proud of my sister Welana (Queton) who was able to bring her vision to life for our community. (ON Communications Director) Abby (Mashunkashey) and (Wah-Zha-Zhe Cultural Center Director) Addie (Hudgins) were running on prayers and gracefully persevered. Heather, her cooks and firemen prepared an amazing meal! Norris (Bighorse), his singers and the lady singers brought good feelings as always!,” Revard said. “Thanks to (Secretary of Public Safety) Nick (Williams) and his team for providing safety and David (Murray) for providing transportation. Thanks to (Museum Director) Marla (Redcorn-Miller) and her crew for the great exhibit and I loved how the veterans were included. And (Financial Assistance Department Director) Andrea (Kemble) and her crew worked so hard providing information to our folks about direct services (during the day).”
Also as part of the 150th commemoration, the Nation planned to sell a custom-made Pendleton blanket designed by artist and former ON Princess Jasmine Phetsacksith for the Nation’s milestone, but sales are delayed until next year. “The Pendleton blanket will not be ready until 2023 (month pending) due to major supply chain issues,” Mashunkashey said.
David Nagle, who is minister at the Hominy Friends Church and a retired college instructor, praised the day and its significance to the Osage. “The puppet show and the ballet were powerful, as were some of the poems. The new book from the Language Department is impressive and (Language Department Director) Braxton (Red Eagle) did a good (reading) job. Best was being able to see so many Osage together and to visit with friends. Since I arrived in Hominy in 1975, there has been tremendous change. So many accomplishments and having an opportunity to celebrate was a blessing. Of course, the Sesquicentennial is bittersweet as being dispossessed of the Kansas lands still impacts us and the horrific memories and raw pain and sorrow of the Reign of Terror and all of the injustices endured are just below the surface. Having survived all this makes the accomplishments even more significant. Yesterday was emotional for me and I’m only culturally adopted, not Osage by blood. One of the most impressive elements of the day’s events was the amount of Osage language heard. Our language may be threatened, but progress is clearly being made. We owe the Language Department a great deal of gratitude. Culture and language are inseparable. If the language goes, so does the culture,” Nagle said.
Skyleen Mabry and her children came from the Austin, Texas area for the event and to visit family. “I would just say that I was so happy to make the trip from Texas with my twin daughters and my mother to celebrate this occasion with my family. The food was great, the setup and tent was impressive. I felt like the whole event was well planned and I really enjoyed meeting Mayor David Holt and his family,” she said.
“It was a special time to share this once in a lifetime experience with my family, I felt so proud to be Osage,” said Carol Arata, who traveled from the San Francisco Bay Area for the weekend. “I enjoyed everything especially the Friday evening puppet show against the dramatic evening sky, the moving performance by the extraordinarily talented Osage Ballet, the dancing, sharing a traditional meal. I could go on and on!”
The evening dances concluded that night at 9:30 p.m. and the event co-emcee and former ON Congressman Archie Mason announced there would be no planned fireworks due to the windy conditions and a no burn ban in place for the region amid drought and dry grass conditions.
Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear delivered closing remarks, which commemorates “when our people came and said this is it, this is our final home. We traveled from Missouri and Kansas and we come here and we intend to stay here and today you saw how we are. We’re carrying on like our people wanted us to. You’re carrying it on and then there’s modern ways that we’re expressing ourselves through, the different ways you saw today. And just imagine if you can, if you can count the number of prayers we have seen about us, all those who have gone on prayed for us to be here, so we are… it is powerful and we’re going to acknowledge that.”
Standing Bear then asked Osage Minerals Councilman Talee Redcorn to give the closing prayer, which he did in the Osage language before attendees were dismissed.