Plans for the long-publicized bronze statue of a Native American warrior and eagle titled “The American” are unclear after the Osage LLC declined to participate in a land purchase and investment opportunity. Listed in an appropriation bill passed by the Second ON Congress, the $2.5 million appropriation was for a 21-story statue which would exceed the height of the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Despite the news shared by an ON government official, a representative with the statue project told the Osage News in a May 4 email: “The American will be built,” but did not elaborate on details or a timeline for the project.
At a planned 217 feet, the American statue is described as “the tallest, free-standing bronze monument in the world that visitors can enter and ascend to a viewing area near the top,” according to theamerican.com Web site promoting the statue. The height of The American would exceed the Statue of Liberty, which is 151 feet from the statue base to the torch raised to the sky.
Osage sculptor Shan Gray is named as the artist working on the project. On the project Web site, Gray said: “It is my hope that The American will be a tribute to the courage and resolve of the American people and a symbol of a nation unified.”
It’s unknown where the statue would be erected, but previous plans have called for The American to be placed on Holmes Peak northwest of Tulsa. The American project CEO is Keith Bright who advised the Osage News the statue “will be built.”
The project is not new and has been reported on numerous times since the early 2000s by several northeastern Oklahoma media outlets. Gray, who was unavailable for comment when this story was published, told KTUL-TV in September 2010, “I love Tulsa and Oklahoma and I want to see the monument here, it seems like the natural fit.”
Costs for the project have various figures reported by the media. A 2009 Urban Tulsa Weekly story reported the project budget between $35 million and $40 million.
On April 15, the Second Osage Nation Congress passed a bill (ONCA 11-63) to appropriate $2.5 million to the LLC “as a capital contribution for purchase of real property and investment in ‘The American’ statue project.” Principal Chief John Red Eagle signed the bill into law on April 21, which started a ticking clock toward a deadline nearly two months away.
The bill does not mandate the LLC to take the $2.5 million, but allows the LLC 60 days to decide whether to accept the appropriation. Less than two weeks after Chief Red Eagle signed the bill, the LLC’s top financial official informed the Executive Branch of its decision to not accept the $2.5 million "at this time."
On May 3, Bob Petre, the LLC’s Chief Financial Officer, emailed Treasurer William Kemble, “mentioning that they did not want (to) receive the transfer of this money at this time,” Kemble told the Osage News.
Carol Leese, the LLC’s chief executive officer, did not respond to Osage News requests for comment before this story was published. Chief Red Eagle was in Washington, D.C. at energy meetings May 3, said Chris White, the Executive Branch’s executive director of governmental affairs.
According to ONCA 11-63, the $2.5 million appropriation was divided with $1.5 million designated for real property purchase for the statue project and the remaining $1 million was intended for investment purchases for the project.
Congress votes 7-4 for the statue project appropriation bill
The bill (sponsored by Congressman Anthony Shackelford) did not have the unanimous support of Congress but passed by majority vote amid debate concerns shared.
Congressman Geoffrey Standing Bear panned the bill before the vote. “It’s just totally absurd in my opinion.”
“This is the same statue I’ve been hearing about for several years, it came up in the last administration,” said Standing Bear, “When I heard about it then, I thought how ridiculous, you’ve got to be kidding me. We don’t have enough money for our day care and child care, we don’t have enough money for our housing to get those houses repaired on a timely basis . . . We have a fledgling elderly program, our veterans have requested money and we don’t have money for funding that. And to build a statue? Talk about vain. I know we’re Osages, but come on; this is just going too far. I say that because we think we’re a good-looking people and people should recognize that, but come on! A statue? Please, I’m urging you to vote ‘no’ on this.”
Congressman Eddy Red Eagle, a bill co-sponsor, defended the bill stating 1 million people live within a 100-mile radius of the proposed statue location. “Land in that particular quadrant is skyrocketing . . . that particular area of the reservation is highlighted to be very dynamic . . . it’s a good project to be thoroughly looked at.”
In his April 21 “Notes to the Nation” email newsletter, Congressman William “Kugee” Supernaw opposed the bill, stating: “I too opposed this bill and pointed out how this was intruding too much into the business of the LLC,” which is the Nation’s entity for handling business/ economic development activities which are separate from tribal government affairs and non-gaming-affiliated.
Congressman Raymond Red Corn also said he opposed the bill, amid acknowledging Shackelford for being the project promoter, stating: “he believes in it.” In his April 29 “Update” email, Red Corn wrote: “Why should a small three-year-old company owned by a small Oklahoma tribe undertake such a project? The technical challenges alone require skills and commitments far, far beyond the skills of a small tribal diversification effort. Simply put – and all other arguments aside – this is a project that is far beyond the capabilities of the Osage Nation, its business entities, or any entity of similar size.”
“I would like to say I really enjoyed all the comments today,” Shackelford said in closing the bill’s debate, amid laughs from his fellow Congressmen and women. “But I do appreciate the honesty and candor.” He cited a study, which estimates up to 2 million people could visit the statue if it’s built. Shackelford also said the LLC could use its majority-owned Osage Manhattan Builders construction subsidy to work on the project as well as provide jobs for Osages. “There’s nothing that rises to the potential that this (project) has.”
The bill passed on a 7-4 vote with one abstention from Congressman John Free. Voting “yes” were Congressmen Daniel Boone, Archie Mason, Red Eagle, Shackelford, Simms, Congresswoman Shannon Edwards and Speaker Jerri Jean Branstetter. “No” votes came from Congresswoman Alice Goodfox, Congressmen Red Corn, Standing Bear and Supernaw.
The American is described on the project Web site as “the monumental sculpture (which) depicts an Indian brave standing with his right arm extended upward as a bald eagle lands on his shroud-covered forearm. The left arm, relaxed at his side, catches a blanket fallen from his shoulder.”
“Gray's depiction of the Indian and eagle is meant to symbolize boldness, strength, courage, endurance, and triumph over the challenges that Americans face. The movement of the warrior's hair represents the winds of adversity and change. Symbolizing humanity and nature, the two figures yield to each other offering up the suggestion of acceptance between man and nature. On a higher level, the Indian represents the diverse cultures of the American people, a people who have faced hardship and peril. The eagle represents the American Ideal, the hope that freedom has given people who make their homes on our shores.”
[Editor's Note: This story has been modified for clarification.]