As a young person attending Osage elections, many young Osages walked the Osage Agency grounds on the hill, seeing other young people. It looked then very much like it does today, with Election Day Camps. It could have been during an election when I first climbed, up and down, the stairs that reach from Kihekah Avenue to the Agency Grounds.
When I was growing up, young Osage people learned early that a voter must be an adult Osage owner of headright interest. We also learned that each voter had one vote for Chief, Assistant Chief and eight Council members. That elected body of 10 was generally referred to as, “The Council.”
I have been told that early in the past century only Osage men voted. Both men who told me that are men who I believe to be knowledgeable.
The 1906 Act is based on a way of living that reaches back, much further in time than 1906. That ancient tribe is the source of our sovereignty.
Under the 1906 Act the privilege of voting was tied to a simple ownership in the mineral estate. It was only a matter of time until Osages with a vote were soon out-numbered by Osages without a vote. Looking back on it, it was also only a matter of time until that too would change.
The first change made back then was to replace the “One Person – One Vote,” with a vote that had value based on the value of headright interest.
By then, three Osage political parties had taken root in our tribe.
The change was this: if an adult Osage owned half of a headright, then that person was entitled to half a vote. If an adult Osage owned a full headright, then that person was entitled to a full vote. We all know how that works.
I was in high school when a candidate of one of the political parties asked me to help out one evening. The candidates had the official list of voters that gave the value of each voter’s ballot.
One evening the candidates sat circled in a large living room. Several of their wives attended the evening meeting. There were good things to eat and they drank a lot of coffee, and the candidates discussed each person whose name appeared on the voter list. They were trying to determine which of the three political parties the voter in question would choose.
The value of each vote was printed alongside the voter’s name. The value of each vote was carried out to five decimal points. I remember that.
When the candidates reached a decision, a mark was placed by the voter’s name. The mark indicated which of the three political parties the voter seemed to prefer. There was also some discussion about who was best suited to approach a wavering voter.
My job was simple. I would key in the value of each vote, and press the Enter button. I totaled the votes of the three political parties, one party at a time. Being included by those older Osages made me feel good.
For several decades a minority of tribal members were able to determine how Osage business was handled. Those were Headright owners. In those days, the Mineral Estate was the principle business for the tribe to administer.
Over the years, there were other areas of government responsibility that came along. Services such as Education, Health, Housing, Economic Development; services not related to the Mineral Estate.
In the year 2005 the Osage Government Reform Commission was created. The Commission spent well over a year listening and writing the Osage Nation Constitution. Then, in 2006, for the first time in a century, every adult Osage was able to vote to approve, or disapprove the way Osages business is conducted.
In that year 2006, Osage People overwhelmingly voted to acknowledge the sovereign quality that endures within each Osage person. It is when our individual sovereignty is joined together, that all of us make the Osage Nation sovereign.
The Osage Mineral Council election remains the same, with voting based on the value of ownership in the Mineral Estate.