Osage leaders discuss meaning of tribal sovereignty
The word “sovereignty” is defined by Webster’s dictionary as, “a country’s independent authority and right to govern itself.”
Osage leaders and role models took turns providing their own definition of the word on March 11 for Osage Sovereignty Celebration Week at the Osage Minerals Council Chambers in Pawhuska.
Osage Sovereignty Day was March 11 and has typically been celebrated on a weekend with a dance and traditional dinner since 2006 when the Nation’s constitution was ratified. This year’s celebration, under the direction of Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and Assistant Principal Chief Raymond Red Corn, provided a time for current Osage leadership to share their definitions and personal meanings of sovereignty for Osage people.
“It means we take care of our lands, we take care of our culture and language, and we take care of our people…that we persevere for our children and for future generations,” said Chief Standing Bear who spoke first at the event.
Assistant Chief Red Corn offered an example of sovereignty he has been spearheading since his election, Bird Creek Farms. BCF is a food sovereignty pilot project. Several acres of Osage land in Pawhuska have been dedicated to growing fresh local food for tribal members and community members.
“[Sovereignty] means to house ourselves, clothe ourselves and to feed ourselves…to once again feed ourselves is a fundamental obligation,” Red Corn said, “[Bird Creek Farms] is on the threshold of a comprehensive method to once again feed ourselves.”
Osage Congress Speaker Maria Whitehorn said Osage people have been sovereign since the beginning and that it was evident in our existence today.
“We’re still here today as a people, after everything we have overcome historically,” said Whitehorn.
She also said as a lawmaker she firmly believes in the Nation’s sovereign rights, “as an elected official I look at [sovereignty] from a legal perspective…being federally recognized and our treaties with the U.S. government.”
The invited guest speaker was Department of Interior Special Trustee Vincent Logan who is an Osage Nation tribal member. Logan was sworn in as the Special Trustee on July 7, 2014. The Office of the Special Trustee manages Native American trust assets like the Osage mineral estate for beneficiaries of these trusts.
Logan said he has fond memories of visiting Pawhuska as a youth. He had his first summer job with the Nation. He said investing in the future of the Nation was important for Osage Sovereignty and for young Osages to seek advanced degrees in order to, “build [Osage] internal capacities.”
Representing the Nation’s judicial branch were Chief Justice Meredith Drent and Justice Marvin Stepson.
Drent said Osage sovereignty is how, “we have survived and thrived as a nation. It’s how we flex our muscles as a nation.” She said Osage sovereignty is having an established justice system and the right to vote in the Osage election process for qualified people to serve the Nation.
Stepson spoke after Drent and said our constitution was one of the most important documents for Osage Sovereignty. He said, “Some tribes don’t have this document but we do and it is working for us today.”
Erin Casoose, a Hominy High School Senior, was the invited youth speaker. She talked about growing up being involved in traditional Osage activities and events and how it helped provide her with a foundation. Casoose said sovereignty for her means, “culture, community, and family…I know where I’m going, I know who I am and I know where I come from.”
Members of the Osage Congress, Shannon Edwards, Dr. Ron Shaw, RJ Walker, Jim Norris and Kugee Supernaw also spoke about sovereignty. Edwards sent audio of her talking about sovereignty. The audio was played during the event.
Shaw talked about the Nation’s inherent right to receive federal monies due to treaty obligations secured at a time when tribes were at war with the United States and being decimated by disease. “These are our funds, it is our inherent authority to determine and design healthcare for Osages.”
Supernaw talked about the resilient aspects of Osage culture that determine Osage Sovereignty, “Our land base, our I.Lon. Shka [dances], and the little drum, Ke. Kan.Sah [Native American Church]…there are elements of our ancient culture that we still maintain, it’s alive in different ways.” He added that language immersion was one of the most critical components of Osage sovereignty that required immediate action from the Nation, “we can’t wait till the eleventh hour when the last speaker is gone.”
The last to speak was Jim Norris who said protecting the mineral estate was crucial to Osage Sovereignty, “because it identifies us as a people and as a nation.”
Videos, pictures and stories about Osage Sovereignty Celebration 2015 events are available to view on the Nation’s website.