A Pawhuska Village project years in the making came to a grand opening reality celebrated with a May 4 ribbon cutting for the new and expanded Wakon Iron Hall to host future culture and community events.
The long-awaited larger Wakon Iron Hall stands at 17,000 square feet with its front doors facing east toward the dance arbor giving attendees a shorter walk across the street during the Inlonshka and other dance occasions. The grand opening also comes one month ahead of the 2023 Inlonshka season and the building will be a venue for future cultural and special occasions including dances, community meetings, dinners, parties and receptions to name a few.
The ribbon cutting commenced with an Osage prayer by Osage Minerals Councilman and village resident Talee Redcorn. The new and larger village community building retains its name from the prior Wakon Iron Hall that stood for approximately 50 years and was demolished, along with the former chapel building to make way for the larger new and modern building on the same spot.
At the ribbon cutting, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear recalled earlier decades when he remembered seeing Wakon Iron (1891-1967) and other Osages at that time during social and dance events. “He was a kind, kind man and everybody treated him with such great respect and it felt really good to see him and what he stood for,” Standing Bear said.
According to his newspaper obituary, Wakon Iron was a WWI veteran, a member of the Pawhuska-based Harold Bigheart Smalley American Legion Post 198, and a charter member of the Pawhuska Indian Village Community Association. “When the Indian Village Community Association purchased the former Indian Camp school and converted it into a community meeting hall, the membership of the association voted to name it Wakon Iron Hall in honor of Iron,” the obituary stated.
Later, as the community and building use grew, the Pawhuska Village community, including Iron, undertook efforts to fund and build the larger Wakon Iron Hall that stood for decades before that building’s use was retired and demolished to make way for the new Wakon Iron Hall construction that started in August 2022. The former school house was used as a village chapel in recent decades before it too was demolished for the larger building project. A new larger Wakon Iron Chapel was constructed first and opened in 2022 west of the new hall building.
“We outgrew it just like that arbor,” Standing Bear said of the former buildings, including an older dance arbor that was replaced with the current and larger structure built and completed in 2015. “Here we are in a good-sized room… There’s a lot of things in here that this Village Committee and Inlonshka (committee) wanted to put in here.”
Construction on the new Wakon Iron Hall took place following a series of community meetings, including with those active with the Pawhuska Inlonshka Committee and Committee Cooks as well. The new building comprises seating room for 500 people, an industrial kitchen with appliances, a family room, larger storage space, restrooms with showers, laundry room with washer and dryer and a larger outdoor cooking area.
Standing Bear acknowledged the various individuals and groups who participated in the planning and building of the structure. “I think it’s going to be big enough for us for awhile … This is a big room,” Standing Bear said, adding he looked forward to future events to be held in the village versus renting other venues.
Congresswoman and former Pawhuska Village Committee Chairwoman Paula Stabler sponsored appropriation legislation to fund the new building construction as the former building suffered from various wear and tear maintenance issues through the recent years, prompting legislative efforts to fund a new building. She applauded the moment with emotion: “It’s finally here! Twenty years ago, we were gluing trim back up on the wall, we were trying to keep the grass cut from growing up in the kitchen, we were putting pails under (roof and ceiling) leaks for two decades. We knew this had to come about somehow.”
“My memories go back to ‘the little Wakon Iron’ and then what we called ‘the big Wakon Iron’ and all the memories that are in that building and all the memories that will be made in this building,” Stabler said and recalled memories of family members and Osage elders during her childhood. “We were always so self-sufficient and now we’ve grown so much that we can’t be self-sufficient anymore, we have to have cooperation of the tribe (to obtain building funding) and that’s OK, that’s what it’s for … But all-in-all we waited 20 years and it’s much better because we really know what we want and what we need out here.”
Pawhuska Village Committee Chairwoman Cherokee Cheshewalla said “it’s a beautiful facility” and thanked the government officials for their work to bring the building to reality. “Also thanks to the committee and the community for being so understanding in times of construction … If this was last year, we would have trash cans lined up to catch the rain, so this is a very nice difference. I’m excited for everybody to get in, for the cooks to have plenty of room and to utilize this building to its full potential.”
George Stabler Sr., Pawhuska District Head Committeeman, echoed others’ first reactions of the new building, stating “this is a huge building!” and also noted the growing participation in recent years during the Pawhuska Inlonshka with more dancers on Friday and Saturday nights. George Stabler also recalled seeing Wakon Iron during his youth and attended past special events in both former buildings.
“I thank the Osage Nation, the Congress for making the plans and funding for this building and I know it’s going to service well for many years and hopefully our children and grandchildren will be OK in it and when their time comes, they’ll be able to do something like this too if they need something bigger,” George Stabler said. “I’m thankful that we have this, that we have our ways … I’m excited to be here for this coming June and I know our committee is excited, they’ve been asking about it, making sure it’s going to be ready … I want to thank Wakon Iron for his thoughts that he had way back then.”
Afterward, a group of tribal officials, village committee members and residents gathered for a ceremonial ribbon cutting just outside the building’s front doors.