The New Mexico Association of Osages made their presence known to 15 Osage congressional hopefuls during its first meeting at the University of New Mexico on May 1.
The association, which is in its building stages, put together a meeting where they shared their vision as an association and invited Osage congressional candidates to share their platforms and engage in a question and answer session with an audience of about 50-plus people.
While a meet-and-greet with the candidates was an important part of the meeting the highlight was getting to know the association itself.
Richard Chissoe, a New Mexico Osage and the former Osage Nation Gaming Commissioner from 2006-2010, was one of the main initiators behind the association. Chissoe served as moderator for the event and said that the meeting was a great way to showcase the association and get it on the minds of the candidates before the General Election in June.
“I will say that being election season that that really kind of promoted this meeting to take place now,” Chissoe said. “This is an idea that’s kind of been generated over a couple of few years now.”
The association isn’t new to the Osage people especially to those living in New Mexico. The idea for the association originally generated in 2005 and 2006, but with the new Osage government (at the time) in effect, gaining recognition for the association was difficult.
“At the time the government was new, voter registration wasn’t available ... there wasn’t as much awareness in terms of the government,” Chissoe said. “I think really the time was more right now to roll this out.”
But now that the association and its initiators, as they call themselves, had more time to plan they finally got the ball rolling.
And there couldn’t have been a better time than election time.
Chissoe said those initiators behind the association decided to host their first meeting in conjunction with a visit from Osage congressional candidates.
He said that there hasn’t been a charter established by laws that will ultimately shape the mission of the association.
But right for now, Chissoe said the initiators behind the association would like to see it become an organization that ties Osages living in New Mexico to the Osage people, culture, history, politics, education, language and more, together.
"This organization would serve to be somewhat of a bridge between New Mexico Osages and the Osages back home,” Chissoe said. “(To see) just what’s going on back in the Osage.”
Chissoe has lived in New Mexico four different times in his life. He moved to New Mexico from Oklahoma in 2000. In the fall of 2006 he was asked to return to Oklahoma as the gaming commissioner for the Osage Tribe. He returned to New Mexico again in the spring of 2010 and now serves on the Laguna Gaming Control Board.
The organization consists of about 8-10 initiators. All of who do not take ownership of the association. Chissoe said they are “just people who have taken the initiative” on the association.
The meeting started off with a brief introduction of the association and its initiators followed by candidate introductions. Lunch was provided for the candidates and those in attendance, followed by an afternoon of presentations and a question and answer session.
The agenda also included a slot for Osage Nation Congressman Geoffrey Standing Bear who spoke about the recent constitutional amendments.
Those candidates present for the meeting were; Archie Mason, Maria Whitehorn, Shannon Edwards, Matthew Shunkamolah, Candy Thomas, Becky Johnson, Cecelia Tallchief, Carl Sellers, Nicki Revard Lorenzo, Jerri Jean Branstetter, Angela Marie Pratt, Joe Mashunkashey, Olivia “Libbi” Gray (Chissoe’s sister), Joseph Roger Lynn and RJ Walker.
The candidates were first given the opportunity to give their platform speeches and later engaged in a three-hour question and answer session.
Osage Nation Congressional Candidate Becky Johnson, who like many of the other candidates visited both Osage organizations in California and in New Mexico, said many of the Osages in all three organizations and in Osage County shared the same concerns.
“They were similar to the ones in California, people were concerned about businesses, what’s going on with those businesses, it seems like people aren’t sure if they’re getting accurate information with what’s happened with some of the business deals,” she said. “People are concerned about possibly overreaching of the different branches, violation of separation of powers, people getting news stories they get as much accurate information from that as much as they can ... they had their opinions and they wanted to see what the candidates would do in the situations.”
“They (all three organizations) were all pretty rigorous,” Johnson added.
Other topics candidates addressed included elder care, economic development, education, cultural preservation and more.
Some candidates even briefly mentioned continuing to push for the efforts of the association.
While most candidates knew little about the association many were open-minded and fell favorable to the idea of having such an organization.
Johnson said she for one could have used such an organization when she lived in Los Angeles and Colorado as she felt home sick plenty of times. She said she saw the association on Facebook but thought it was a loose online group of Osage people living in New Mexico.
“It was nice to see that their organizing, becoming not just a political group, I’m glad to see that they’re doing more than that, getting together to support one another, from getting homesick, culture things … ” Johnson said. “As a government one of the things that’s good for us is there is community, a group that we can speak to, get their input on what they see from the outside. Their needs are completely different from the people back home. The people outside want to have that connection with the government and people.”
Chissoe couldn’t agree more. He said that’s exactly what he had hoped those present at the meeting would see.
He said he was happy with how news of the newly active association was received.
“I think it was received very favorably, I really didn’t hear any negative feedback, the response we have gotten so far has been very positive,” Chissoe said. “We’re very pleased with how this meeting went, the feed back from candidates and people back home has been very pleasant. We’re pleased with how this is going we are very motivated to continue to see how this is going.”
The association sent 165 mail outs announcing the meeting to the 163 registered Osage voters who the Osage Nation Election Board says live in New Mexico.
Many weren’t able to make it due to the timeliness of the meeting, but the association based their meeting time on what was best for the already-traveling candidates.
Jodie Revard, another New Mexico Osage who delegates her time between New Mexico and her two Osage County homes, is also one of the initiators behind the association. She has lived in New Mexico for the last two and a half years.
Revard said when the idea for the association came up she was happy to jump on board. She said when there were just a handful of Osages living in New Mexico they often would gather and have dinner, just to have that Osage connection.
She said now she’s happy to see something more formal like the association come into the works.
“I feel that its very important because Osage people, we’re very clannish, we like to be among each other and we like to support one another, doesn’t matter where you live we’re like that in general, so it just feels good to have those same values outside of the reservation,” Revard said. “My culture’s very important so I have a home in Oklahoma, I go back and forth quite often, I know being in New Mexico if I want my culture a portion of it’s not going to be brought to me, it’s my responsibility to go back there, because that culture’s there.”
Revard and Chissoe said they see more positive things to come from the fairly new association. In their next meeting (which has no set date yet) they will be nominating and voting as a group for positions in the associations.
Chissoe would like to see a delegation from the association visit with congress members and organization leaders on a regular basis to keep the Osage conversation going. He said he would also like to see a heavy interest in cultural engagement, maybe even getting the Osage language taught to New Mexico Osages.
While there are plenty of ideas as to what the characteristic of the association is going to be it is still up to those who wish to be apart of it.
“Hopefully this is a beginning into something … as things have taken shape we sort of shared a vision of what we would like to see,” Chissoe said. “(But) the association will be what the membership makes it.”