Starting at least 100 years ago, advocates like the Cattaraugus Seneca scholar Dr. Arthur Caswell Parker worked to designate holidays to honor Native Americans in cities and states across the nation. Parker convinced the Boy Scouts of American to set aside a day for the First Americans between 1912 and 1915. New York State began to observe American Indian Day in May of 1916. Seventy years later, Ronald Reagan proclaimed American Indian Week. In 1990, George H. W. Bush declared November American Indian Heritage Month, and each year since Natives have taken the opportunity to focus on our concerns as well as share culture with the broader community, using our month-long spotlight to educate folks.
This year, Native American Heritage Month coincided with focus on the Osage murders of the 1920s. David Blakely’s adaptation of Dennis McAuliffe’s Deaths of Sybil Bolton opened on November 1stin Tulsa, generating local television coverage. Mid-month, several hundred Osages turned out for an Osage-specific casting call for Martin Scorsese’s production of Killers of the Flower Moon.
There are Osages excited to honor their relatives by acting in a major Hollywood motion picture, and others unwilling to trust a non-Osage, non-Native perspective. Wherever you sit on the issue, the film is generating focus on that painful history. It makes me think about how communities heal from tragic events. The Nation, both individually and collectively, is considering how to have input into the way our stories are told. The Grayhorse community hosted a traditional dinner for Martin Scorsese to introduce him to Osages and show him the value and importance of Osage perspectives.
Violence against Osages is not restricted to the past. Libbi Gray, the director of the Osage Nation’s Family Violence Prevention Program, testified this month in an Oklahoma House of Representatives’ Government Efficiency process to address the high incidence of MMIW in Oklahoma.
While there was extra attention on painful parts of the Osage experience this month, there were also chances to celebrate. In Portland, Ore., Parks and Recreation held a Native Family Day celebrating Native crafts at a community center, and Osage/Pawnee World Champion Fancy Dancer Ryland Moore and Yuchi stomp dancers from the Duck Creek Ceremonial Grounds danced for Pawhuska Public School students, while Native students wore their traditional clothes.
My favorite moment featured a convergence of Osages in Portland Prairie Blossoms, a duo consisting of Osage Karen Kitchen and Mel Kubik, performed at several Native Heritage events across the city in November.
Karen Kitchen was raised on the Oklahoma prairie and Mel Kubik in Kansas. The talented singers-musicians formed a duo in 2018 and have since toured in Europe and released a CD "Till the Star Rises Here."
They performed for children at the Holgate Library on a Saturday morning. The duo sang Pawnee, Shawnee and Creek songs in the tribal languages, except one, because as Kubik said, “We don’t have the Mohawk down on this legit yet.” Kubik helped the kids learn the songs’ words and the history. Several had been so engaged that they’d followed the duo from one event to another this month. One of those was three-year-old Talulah Maddox, an Osage who played a rattle and shaker on Saturday, after attending another session focused on dancing. It was good to sit with Talulah and her mother Emma Maddox and think of her grandmother Carol Arata and all the great-aunties in the Osage who love her.
Kitchen said, “Ha.we,” when I arrived, which is the best welcome. I’m hoping for more Osage face-to-face time in Portland, where, just like in Oklahoma, it’s always a good day to be Osage.