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The Osage Fixation

Starting in June of this year, I’ll be creating the first ever datapoint set for the Osage Nation that aims to highlight the number of missing and murdered Osage women from the time of initial tribal enrollment in the early 1900s to present day.

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Something’s been pulling me back toward Oklahoma. No matter where I go, from Paris to Milan, I can’t shake the feeling from beneath my boots that I’m supposed to be headed West. I know that I’m not running from my inevitable future in Pawhuska. But I sense a form of a responsibility from deep within my bones that’s hard to describe, almost like a drug that never fades.

My fixation started last fall when I began studying abroad in London, coinciding with the release of the film that propelled our tribe into the spotlight (once again). I quickly began to feel homesick and more than anything, I wished that I was closer to my community during that monumental time. Even though I wrote about how fellow Osages showed me that I was never alone, I still felt like something more was missing from within me.

In January, when I was on break, my mom and I traveled up to the reservation for the Golden Globes watch party – otherwise known as the Lily Gladstone Achievement Awards. It was my first time being back after a year and I couldn’t help but to want to ask questions about everything I saw, to drive up and down every road, and that I wished I knew exactly who was related to who as people’s last names flew around my head like a lost bird. Don’t get me wrong, I had such a fabulous time that night meeting incredible people who gave me new leads to follow and research for this column. Yet, I still couldn’t shake the words echoing inside my head: You should be doing more.

During one of the show’s commercial breaks, I slipped out of the party to go to use the restroom when a kid only a few years younger than myself approached me with a gift. He said This is how “we” say welcome and held out his hands to reveal a tiny, bundled up turquoise and purple ribbon. While the interaction was brief, I immediately smiled from ear to ear and held the ribbon close to my chest before he disappeared as quick as he materialized. I never did catch his name.

Over the course of my last few days in Texas before I returned to London, I kept thinking about how I could better serve our community – with or without this column. One idea dancing across my mind since seeing Killers of the Flower Moon was to adapt it into a stage play. The dialogue alone could ring throughout a theater – especially, if it’s portrayed by the wonder that is Lily Gladstone – and I would love the opportunity to tell this story from the perspective of the Kyle family and not from that of their oppressors. Another was to turn this column into podcast form to try to reach new audiences wanting to learn more about Osage culture, but I quickly remembered how much I hate hearing my own voice on recordings. I threw around so many different ideas before landing on one that not only excited me or used my research background but one that meant that I could spend my upcoming summer in the place where I knew I belonged: Oklahoma.

Starting in June of this year, I’ll be creating the first ever datapoint set for the Osage Nation that aims to highlight the number of missing and murdered Osage women from the time of initial tribal enrollment in the early 1900s to present day. I know that this is a huge endeavor and likely made a few of you scoff quietly to yourselves, but nothing seems more pressing to me than to preserve this part of a forgotten history. There are still so many variables I’ve yet to navigate – like funding and lodging – and I would appreciate anyone writing in tips or messages to help me with this as so many of you have done so before after reading past pieces of mine. But, for the first time in a long time, I finally feel like I can take a breath knowing that every decision I’ve made has led me to this moment and back to where my family’s story began in Osage County.

After all, I know it in my bones.

[Author’s Note: I want to apologize to you, the reader, for stepping away from this column for so long. After the release of Killers of the Flower Moon, the entire Osage world and community suddenly felt so big. I was thrust into multiple different directions and leads, and I didn’t know how to keep my head on straight while still ensuring that I was only putting out pieces I 100% believed in. I promised you from the beginning that each month’s piece would explore a different aspect of Osage culture so that others and I would no longer feel like an outsider in the tribe. And, I fully intend to keep my word. The next few pieces will explore language, politics, and even our relationship to water as I write to you from around Europe. I’m so sorry again for my absence, but I don’t intend to leave anytime soon. x – TJE]

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Tristan Joseph Espinoza
Tristan Joseph Espinoza
Tristan Joseph Espinoza is a writer and proud Osage Native from outside Dallas, Texas. While pursuing his undergraduate degree at Columbia University, Espinoza is also currently studying abroad at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the creative director of the Indigenous Peoples’ Initiative, a youth-led organization that works to combat the stereotypes and stigmatism that plague Indigenous communities. His work has appeared in Osage News, The Plentitudes Literary Journal, Solange Knowles’ BlackPlanet, and others. In his spare time, Espinoza likes to watch Survivor reruns and post film photos of his loved ones on Instagram @thetristane.
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