Osage Nation breaks ground in Pawhuska, Bartlesville

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Despite financial concerns caused by changing market conditions, including rising prices for building materials, the Osage Nation moved ahead last week with groundbreaking ceremonies for two new casino-hotel projects.

One of the new hospitality facilities will be in Pawhuska, while the other will be in Bartlesville. The projects are expected to reach completion in the fall of 2022.

"Today is an incredible day for the Osage Casinos and the Osage Nation," Byron Bighorse, CEO of Osage Casinos, told a crowd that gathered at noon Tuesday, June 15, at the future location of the new Pawhuska casino-hotel. It was a hot day, with temperatures in the 90s as guests took shelter under an event tent.

The Pawhuska development involves 60 acres, located to the east of the main highway turnoff into town. Anticipated are a 47-room hotel, 3,675 square feet of meeting space, 250 electronic games, a fitness center, and pool and hot tub facilities.

The Bartlesville complex is to be larger – 86 luxury hotel rooms, 15 suites, 10,560 square feet of meeting space, 500 electronic games, and full-service catering on a 125-acre site.

“This is an event that is nearly eight years in the making,” Bighorse said.

The Osage Nation received approval in the summer of 2020 to transfer the Pawhuska and Bartlesville properties into federal trust status for use in gaming.

“Here it is and we’re so proud of what we’re going to do that it just makes my heart swell,” Mark Sims, chairman of the Osage Nation Gaming Enterprise Board, said in remarks to the Pawhuska groundbreaking crowd.

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear situated the tribe’s latest economic development project within the larger history of the Osage people. He spoke of the importance of prayer in the way that Osage people approach life’s challenges.

“This is Osage, and it is a competitive world … but what we’re trying to do here is maintain ourselves like we have for thousands of years,” Standing Bear said. “This is not random. It is well-planned. It is well-understood.”

Standing Bear explained that the Osage Nation is attempting to make sure it has the resources to address challenges, such as generating the revenue needed to allow Osage children to engage in remote learning in a constructive and effective way.

“It is this facility here that is going to contribute,” he said.

Standing Bear praised the Osage Nation Congress for being willing to move ahead with the project in spite of anticipated cost increases.

Congress Speaker Angela Pratt said she looks forward to the Osage Nation’s continued progress, and she noted that the tribe’s partners in the world of financial services did not waver in the face of cost increases.

Pawhuska Mayor Roger Taylor voiced thanks to the Osage Nation for its support of the local economy.

“We are grateful to the Osage Nation for continuing to invest in the Pawhuska community,” he said.

The Osage Nation uses gaming revenues to finance tribal government activities, to promote the general welfare of Osage people, to promote economic development and to provide charitable support.