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Official seal of the Osage Nation
|13,307 enrolled members|
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States (Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma)|
|Christianity (Roman Catholicism), Native American Church, traditional tribal religion|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Kansa, Omaha, Ponca, Quapaw|
Official seal of the Osage Nation
|13,307 enrolled members|
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States (Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma)|
|Christianity (Roman Catholicism), Native American Church, traditional tribal religion|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Kansa, Omaha, Ponca, Quapaw|
The Osage Nation is a Midwestern Native American Siouan-speaking tribe in the United States that originated in the Ohio River valley in present-day Kentucky. Historically, the Osage were known as Ni-u-kon-ska, considered an ancient name which roughly translates into "mid-waters." They are a federally recognized tribe that since the 19th century has been based in Osage County, Oklahoma, coterminous with their reservation. Tribal members live throughout the country.
After years of war with the invading Iroquois, by the mid-17th century, the Osage migrated with other Siouan tribes west of the Mississippi River to their historic lands in present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. At the height of their power in the early 18th century, the Osage had become the dominant power in their region, controlling the area between the Missouri and Red rivers.
The 19th-century painter George Catlin described the Osage as;
"the tallest race of men in North America, either red or white skins; there being few indeed of the men at their full growth, who are less than six feet in stature, and very many of them six and a half, and others seven feet".
The Osage language is part of the Dhegihan branch of the Siouan stock of Native American languages. They originally lived among speakers of the same Dhegihan stock, such as the Kansa, Ponca, Omaha, and Quapaw in the Ohio Valley. The tribes likely became differentiated in languages and cultures after leaving the lower Ohio country.
Descendants of indigenous peoples who had been in North America for thousands of years, the Osage traditions and linguistic data show they were part of a group of Dhegian-Siouan speaking people who lived in the Ohio River valley area, extending into present-day Kentucky. According to their own stories (common to other Dhegian-Siouan tribes, such as the Ponca, Omaha, Kaw and Quapaw), they migrated west as a result of war with the Iroquois and/or to reach more game. Scholars are divided in whether they think the Osage and other groups left before the Beaver Wars. Some believe that they started migrating west as early as 1200 CE, and attribute long years of war with invading Iroquois to helping form their style of government. West of the Mississippi River, the Osage were sometimes allied with the Illiniwek and sometimes competing with them, as that tribe was also driven west of Illinois by warfare with the powerful Iroquois.
Eventually the Osage and other Dhegian-Siouan peoples reached their historic lands, likely splitting into the above tribes in the course of the migration to the Great Plains. By 1673, when they were recorded by the French, many of the Osage had settled near the Osage River in the western part of present-day Missouri. They were recorded in 1690 as having adopted the horse (often acquired in raids on other tribes.) The desire to acquire more horses contributed to their trading with the French. They attacked and defeated indigenous Caddo tribes to establish dominance in the plains region by 1750, with control "over half or more of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas," which they maintained for nearly 150 years. They lived near the Missouri River. Together with the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache, they dominated western Oklahoma. They also lived near the Quapaw and Caddo in Arkansas.
The Osage held high rank among the old hunting tribes of the Great Plains. From their traditional homes in the woodlands of present-day Missouri and Arkansas, the Osage would make semi-annual buffalo hunting forays into the Great Plains to the west. They also hunted deer, rabbit, and other wild game in the central and eastern parts of their domain. The women cultivated varieties of corn, squash, and other vegetables near their villages, and they harvested nuts and wild berries. In their years of transition, the practices of the Osage had elements of both Woodland Native American and Great Plains peoples.
In 1673 French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, were among the first Europeans to encounter the Osage as they explored southward from present-day Canada in their expedition to the Mississippi River. Marquette and Joliet claimed all land in the Mississippi Valley for France. Marquette's 1673 map noted that the Kanza, Osage, and Pawnee tribes controlled much of modern-day Kansas.
The Osage called the Europeans I'n-Shta-Heh (Heavy Eyebrows) because of their facial hair. As experienced warriors, the Osage allied with the French, with whom they traded, against the Illiniwek during the early 18th century.
The first half of the 1720s was a time of more interaction between the Osage and French. Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont founded Fort Orleans in their territory; it was the first European fort on the Missouri River. Jesuit missionaries were assigned to French forts and established missions to the Osage, learning their language. In 1724, the Osage allied with the French rather than the Spanish in their fight for control of the Mississippi region.
In 1725, Bourgmont led a delegation of Osage and other tribal chiefs to Paris. The Native Americans were shown the wonders and power of France, including a visit to Versailles, Château de Marly and Fontainebleau. They hunted with Louis XV in the royal forest and saw an opera. After the French and Indian War (a part of the Seven Years' War in Europe), France was defeated and ceded its lands east of the Mississippi River to England. It made a separate deal with Spain, which took nominal control of much of the Illinois Country west of the great river.
By the late 18th century, the Osage did extensive business with the French Creole fur trader René Auguste Chouteau from St. Louis, then part of territory under Spanish control after the Seven Years' War. In return for the Chouteau brothers' building a fort in the village of the Great Osage 350 miles (560 km) southwest of St. Louis, the Spanish regional government gave the Chouteaus a six-year monopoly on trade (1794–1802). The Chouteaus named the post Fort Carondelet after the Spanish governor. The Osage were pleased to have a fur trading post nearby, as it gave them access to manufactured goods and increased their prestige among the tribes.
Lewis and Clark reported in 1804 that the peoples were the Great Osage on the Osage River, the Little Osage upstream, and the Arkansas band on the Vermillion River, a tributary of the Arkansas River. The tribe then numbered some 5,500.
In 1804 after the United States made the Louisiana Purchase, the wealthy French fur trader Jean Pierre Chouteau, a half-brother of René Auguste Chouteau, was appointed as the US Indian agent assigned to the Osage. In 1809 he founded the Saint Louis Missouri Fur Company with his son Auguste Pierre Chouteau and other prominent men of St. Louis, most of whom were of French-Creole descent. Having lived with the Osage for many years and learned their language, Jean Pierre Chouteau traded with them and made his home at present-day Salina, Oklahoma, in the western part of their territory.
The Choctaw chief Pushmataha had a notable career as a warrior against the Osage tribe. When the Western Cherokee (Arkansas Cherokee), who, like Sequoyah, voluntarily removed from the Southeast to the Arkansas River valley in the early 19th century, they immediately clashed with the Osage, whose hunting lands they were invading. The Osage ceded these lands to the federal government in the 1818 treaty referred to as Lovely's Purchase after 600 warriors drawn from the United States, Choctaw and Cherokee nations carried out the massacre known as the "battle of Claremore Mound," killing thirty Osage and capturing their horses and trade-worthy goods.
Despite its proclaimed goal of creating peace among Native peoples, the United States delivered these lands to the Cherokee aggressors, over the protest of Osage who hoped the land would serve as a buffer zone between them and the Cherokee invaders, one in which hunting rights were preserved for Osages even if other tribes settled there.
In 1833, the Osage clashed with the Kiowa near the Wichita Mountains in modern-day south-central Oklahoma, in an incident known as the Cutthroat Gap Massacre. The Osage cut off the heads of their victims and arranged them in rows of brass cooking buckets. Not a single Osage died in this attack. Later, Kiowa warriors, allied with the Comanche, raided the Osage and others. In 1836, the Osage prohibited the Kickapoo from entering their Missouri reservation, pushing them back to ceded lands in Illinois.
In 1867, because of their scouting expertise, excellent terrain knowledge, and military prowess, Osage scouts were used by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer in his campaign against Chief Black Kettle and his band of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians in western Oklahoma near the Washita River. Custer and his soldiers took Chief Black Kettle and his band by surprise in the early morning. They killed Chief Black Kettle, and there were additional deaths on both sides. This incident became known as the Battle of Washita River.
The Osage began treaty-making with the United States in 1808, by the Osage Treaty and their first cession of lands in Missouri. This treaty created a buffer line between the Osage and new European-American settlers in the Missouri Territory and ceded 52,480,000 acres (212,400 km2) to the federal government. This 1808 treaty also provided for approval by the U.S. President for future land sales and cessions. In 1808 the Osage moved from their homelands on the Osage River to western Missouri. The major part of the tribe had moved to the Three-Forks region of what would become Oklahoma soon after the arrival of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. This part of the tribe did not participate in negotiations for the treaty of 1808, but their assent was obtained in 1809.
The Nov. 10th, 1808 Treaty of Ft. Osage explicitly states the U.S. would "protect" the Osage tribe "from the insults and injuries of other tribes of Indians, situated near the settlements of white people....". However, in a letter dated Aug. 21, 1808 sent from Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis, Jefferson informs Lewis that he approves of the measures Lewis has taken in regards to isolating friendly Osages from those deemed as hostile and says that "we may go further, & as the principal obstacle to the Indians acting in large bodies is the want of provisions, we might supply that want, & ammunition also if they need it." Meriwether Lewis anticipated war with the Osages, citing their raids on eastern Natives and European-American settlements. However, the U.S. lacked sufficient military strength to coerce segments of the Osage into ceasing their raids and decided on a strategy that essentially began with the Spanish where they would supply the warriors of other tribes with weapons and ammunition, provided they attack the Osage to the point they "cut them off completely or drive them from their country." 
This strategy actually appeared to be taking place prior to 1808 as in Sept. 1807, Lewis had persuaded the Potawatomie and Sac & Fox to attack an Osage village where three Osage warriors lost their lives. The Osage blamed the Americans for the attack, but instead of retaliation they opted to attend a buffalo hunt after a "skillful trader" intervened.
The Osage occupied land in present-day Kansas and in Indian Territory which the US government later promised to the Cherokee and four other southeastern tribes. When the Cherokee arrived to find that the land was already occupied, many conflicts arose with the Osage over territory and resources.
Between the first treaty and 1825, the Osages ceded their traditional lands across Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma to the US in the treaties of 1818 and 1825. In exchange they were to receive reservation lands and supplies to help them adapt to farming and a more settled culture.
They were first moved onto a southeast Kansas reservation called the Osage Diminished Reserve, where the city of Independence, Kansas later developed. The first Osage reservation was a 50 by 150-mile (240 km) strip. Following the Louisiana Purchase, the United Foreign Missionary Society sent clergy to them, supported by the Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed and Associated Reformed churches. They established the Union, Harmony, and Hopefield missions. Their cultural differences often caused conflicts, as the Protestants tried to impose their culture. The Catholic Church also sent missionaries; the Osage were attracted to their sense of mystery and ritual, but felt the Catholics did not fully embrace the Osage sense of the spiritual incarnate in nature.
During this period in Kansas, the tribe suffered from the widespread smallpox pandemic of 1837-1838, which caused devastating losses among Native Americans from Canada to New Mexico. All clergy except the Catholics left the Osage during the crisis. Most survivors of the epidemic received vaccinations against the disease. The Osage believed that the loyalty of Catholic priests, who also died in the epidemic, created a special covenant between the tribe and the Catholic Church but did not convert in great number. Honoring this special relationship, in 2014 numerous Osage elders went to St. Louis to celebrate the city's 250th anniversary of the European founding. They participated in a mass at St. Francis Xavier (College) Catholic Church of St. Louis University on April 2, 2014, as part of planned activities. One of the con-celebrants was Todd Nance, the first Osage ordained as a Catholic priest.
In 1843 the Osage asked the federal government to send "Black Robes", Jesuit missionaries to educate their children; the Osage considered the Jesuits better able to work with their culture. The Jesuits also established a girls' school operated by the Sisters of Loretto from Kentucky. During a 35-year period, most of the missionaries were new recruits from Ireland, Italy, Holland and Belgium. They taught, established more than 100 mission stations, built churches, and created the longest-running school system in Kansas.
White Squatters continued to be a frequent problem for the Osage, but they recovered from population losses, regaining a total of 5,000 members by 1850. The Kansas-Nebraska Act resulted in numerous settlers arriving in Kansas; both abolitionists and pro-slavery groups were represented among those trying to establish residency and affect whether or not the territory would have slavery, and Osage lands became overrun with Anglo settlers. In 1855, the Osage suffered another epidemic of smallpox, because a generation had grown up without getting vaccinated.
Subsequent treaties and laws through the 1860s further reduced the lands of the Osage in Kansas. During the years of the Civil War, they were buffeted by both sides, as they were located between Union forts in the North, and Confederate forces and allies to the South. While the Osage tried to stay neutral, both sides raided their territory, taking horses and food stores. They struggled simply to survive through famine and the war. During the war, many Caddoan and Creek refugees from Indian territory came to Osage country in Kansas, straining their resources.
Although the Osage favored the Union by a five to one ratio, they made a treaty with the Confederacy to try to buy some peace. As a result, after the war, they were forced to make a new treaty with the US during Reconstruction, and give up more territory in Kansas to European-American settlers. By a treaty in 1865, they ceded another 4 million acres (16,000 km2) to the United States and were facing the issue of eventual removal from Kansas to Indian Territory.
Following the American Civil War and victory of the Union, the Drum Creek Treaty was passed by Congress July 15, 1870 during the Reconstruction era and ratified by the Osage at a meeting in Montgomery County, Kansas, on September 10, 1870. It provided that the remainder of Osage land in Kansas be sold and the proceeds used to relocate the tribe to Indian Territory in the Cherokee Outlet. By their delays in agreeing to removal, the Osage benefited by the change in administration; they sold their lands to the "peace" administration of President Ulysses S. Grant, for which they received more money: $1.25 an acre rather than the 19 cents previously offered to them by the US.
The Osage were one of the few American Indian nations to buy their own reservation, and they retained more rights to the land and sovereignty as a result. The reservation, of 1,470,000 acres (5,900 km2), is coterminous with present-day Osage County, Oklahoma in the north-central portion of the state between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Ponca City, Oklahoma.
The Osage established three towns, which were the center of their three major bands at the time of removal: Pawhuska, Hominy and Fairfax. They continued their relationship with the Catholic Church, which established schools operated by two orders of nuns, as well as mission churches.
It was many years before the Osage recovered from the hardship suffered during their last years in Kansas and their early years on the reservation in Indian Territory. Although they had money held by the US government from the sale of their land, for nearly five years during the depression of the 1870s, the Osage did not receive their full annuity in cash; like other Native Americans, they suffered through the reduced rations that the government supplied during this period. Some people starved. Many adjustments had to be made to their new way of life.
During this time, Indian Office reports showed nearly a 50 percent decline in the Osage population. This resulted from the failure of the US government to provide adequate medical supplies, food and clothing. The people suffered greatly during the winters. While the government failed to supply them, outlaws often smuggled whiskey to the Osage as well as the Pawnee.
In 1879, an Osage delegation went to Washington, DC and gained agreement for payment of all their annuities in cash; they were the first Native American nation to gain this. They gradually began to build up their tribe again, but suffered encroachment by white outlaws, vagabonds, and thieves.
By the start of the 20th century, the federal government and progressives were continuing to press for Native American assimilation, believing this was the best policy for them. Congress passed the Curtis Act and Dawes Act, legislation requiring the dismantling of other reservations, and allotted lands in 160-acre portions to individual households, declaring the remainder as "surplus" and selling it to non-natives.
As the Osage owned their land, they were in a stronger position than other tribes. The Osage were unyielding in refusing to give up their lands and held up statehood for Oklahoma before signing an Allotment Act. They were forced to accept allotment, but retained their "surplus" land and apportioned it to individual members. Each of the 2,228 registered Osage members in 1906 (and one non-Osage) received 657 acres, nearly four times the amount of land (usually 150 acres) that most Native American households were allotted in other places. In addition, the tribe retained communal mineral rights to what was below the surface. As development of resources occurred, members of the tribe received royalties according to their headrights, paid as a percentage of the land they held.
In 1906, the Osage Allotment Act was passed by U.S. Congress, as part of its effort to extinguish Native American tribal rights and structure, and to prepare the territories for statehood as Oklahoma. In addition to breaking up communal land, the Act replaced tribal government with the Osage National Council, to which members were to be elected, to conduct the tribe's political, business, and social affairs.
Although the Osage were encouraged to become settled farmers, their new land was the poorest in the Indian Territory for agricultural purposes. They survived by subsistence farming, later enhanced by stock raising. They discovered they were fortunate to have lands covered with the rich bluestem grass, which proved to be the best grazing in the entire country. They leased lands to ranchers for grazing and earned income from the resulting fees. Their royalty income from grazing rights led the Indian Commissioner to call them "the richest people in the country" in the early 20th century
The Osage had learned about negotiating with the US government. Through the efforts of Principal Chief James Bigheart, in 1907 they negotiated to retain communal mineral rights to the reservation lands. These were later found to have great amounts of crude oil, from which tribal members benefited from royalty revenues from oil development and production. The government leased lands on their behalf for oil development; the companies/government sent the Osage members royalties that dramatically increased their wealth by the 1920s. They are the only tribe today to retain a federally recognized reservation within the state of Oklahoma.
In 1889, the US federal government claimed to no longer recognize the legitimacy of a governing Osage National Council, which the people had created in 1881, with a constitution that adopted some aspects of that of the United States. In 1906, as part of the Osage Allotment Act, the US Congress created the Osage Tribal Council to handle affairs of the tribe, as part of the devolution of tribal governments to enable the admission of the Indian Territory as part of the state of Oklahoma.
Under the Act, initially each Osage male had equal voting rights to elect members of the Council, and the principal and assistant principal chiefs. Because the Osage owned their land, they negotiated under the Allotment Act to keep their communal land, above the then-common allotment the government was making of 160 acres per person. They allocated this land as well, so that each of the 2,228 Osage members and one non-Indian on the 1906 tribal roll received 657 acres. The rights to these lands in future generations was divided among legal heirs, as were the mineral headrights to mineral lease royalties. Under the Allotment Act, only allottees and their descendants who held headrights could vote in the elections or run for office (originally restricted to males). The members voted by their headrights, which generated inequalities among the voters.
A 1992 US district court decision ruled that the Osage could vote in a process to reinstate the Osage National Council as citizen members of the Osage nation, rather than being required to vote by headright. But, this decision was reversed in 1997 with the United States Court of Appeals ruling that ended the government restoration. In 2004 Congress passed legislation to restore sovereignty to the Osage Nation and enable them to make their own decisions about government and membership qualifications for its people.
In March 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that the 1906 Allotment Act had disestablished the Osage reservation established in 1872. This ruling potentially affected the legal status of three of the seven Osage casinos, including the largest one in Tulsa, as it meant the casino was not on trust land; gaming law allows tribes to operate casinos only on trust land.
The Osage discovered oil on their reservation lands, a resource that allowed them to prosper financially but resulted in their people becoming at high risk for fraud and murder. In 1894 large quantities of oil were discovered to lie beneath the vast prairie owned by the tribe. Because of his recent work in oil in Kansas, Henry Foster, a petroleum developer, approached the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to request exclusive privileges to explore the Osage Reservation in Oklahoma for oil and natural gas. The BIA granted his request in 1896, with the stipulation that Foster was to pay the Osage tribe a 10% royalty on all sales of petroleum produced on the reservation.
Foster found large quantities of oil, and the Osages benefited greatly monetarily. The "black gold" eventually led to more hardships. In preparation for statehood, the US government pressed the Osage to accept allotment and end tribal government. Before having a vote within the tribe on the question of allotment, the Osage demanded that the government purge their tribal rolls of people who were not legally Osage. The Indian agent had been adding names who were not approved by the tribe, and the Osage submitted a list of more than 400 persons to be investigated. Because the government removed few of the fraudulent people, the Osage had to share their land and oil rights with people who did not belong.
The US Congress passed the Osage Allotment Act on June 28, 1906. Because the Osage owned their land, they kept control of it all. The government made the allocation of land extremely complicated, in a way that prevented most Osage from owning contiguous parcels. This increased their incentive to sell or lease portions of land.
But, they had negotiated keeping communal control of the mineral rights. The act stated that all persons listed on tribal rolls prior to January 1, 1906 or born before July 1907 (allottees) would be allocated a share of the reservation's subsurface natural resources, regardless of blood quantum. The headright could be inherited by legal heirs. This communal claim to mineral resources was due to expire in 1926. After that, individual landowners would control the mineral rights to their plots, which increased the incentive of those eager to gain Osage lands before the deadline.
Although the Osage Allotment Act protected the tribe's mineral rights for two decades, any adult "of a sound mind" could sell surface land. In the time between 1907 and 1923, Osage individuals sold or leased thousands of acres of formerly restricted land to non-Indians. At the time, many Osage did not understand the value of such contracts, and often were taken advantage of by unscrupulous businessmen, con artists and others trying to grab part of their wealth. Non-Native Americans tried to cash in on the new Osage wealth by marrying into families with headrights.
Alarmed about the way the Osage were using their wealth and in part trying to protect them, in 1921 the US Congress passed a law requiring any Osage of half or more Indian ancestry to be appointed a guardian until proving "competency". Minors with less than half Osage ancestry were required to have guardians appointed, even if their parents were living. This system was not administered by federal courts; rather, local courts appointed guardians from among white attorneys and businessmen. By law, the guardians provided a $1000 allowance to their charges, but the government required little recordkeeping of what they did with the difference, as annual royalties were higher. The guardianship program created an incentive for corruption, and many Osage were "legally" deprived of their land, headrights, and/or royalties. Others were murdered, in cases the police generally failed to investigate; the coroner's office colluded by falsifying death certificates, claiming suicides when people had been poisoned, for instance. The Osage Allotment Act did not entitle the Native Americans to autopsies, so many deaths went unexamined.
The tribe auctioned off development rights of their mineral assets for millions of dollars. According to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, in 1924 the total revenue of the Osage from the mineral leases was $24,670,483. After the tribe auctioned mineral leases and more land was explored, the oil business on the Osage reservation boomed. Tens of thousands of oil workers arrived, more than 30 boom towns sprang up and, nearly overnight, Osage headright holders became the "richest people in the world." When royalties peaked in 1925, annual headright earnings were $13,000. A family of four who were all on the allotment roll earned $52,800, comparable to approximately $600,000 in today's economy.
The wealth was accompanied in the early 1920s by a rise in murders and suspicious deaths of Osage, called the "Reign of Terror", and the Osage Indian Murders. In one plot, in 1921, Ernest Burkhart, a European American, married Molly Kyle, an Osage woman with headrights. His uncle William "King of Osage Hills" Hale, a powerful business man who led the plot, and brother Byron hired accomplices to murder Kyle family heirs. They arranged for the murders of Molly Kyle's mother, two sisters and a brother-in-law, and a cousin, in cases involving poisoning, bombing and shooting.
With local and state officials unsuccessful at solving the murders, in 1925 the Osage requested the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was the bureau's first murder case, and by the time they started investigating, Molly Kyle was already being poisoned. She had inherited the headrights of the rest of her family. The FBI achieved the conviction of the principals in the Kyle family murders. From 1921-1925, however, an estimated 60 Osage were killed, and most murders were not solved. John Joseph Mathews, an Osage, depicted the disruptive social consequences of the oil boom for the Osage Nation in his semi-autobiographical novel Sundown (1934).
As a result of the murders and increasing problems with trying to protect Osage oil wealth, in 1925 Congress passed legislation limiting inheritance of headrights only to those heirs of half or more Osage ancestry. In addition, they extended the tribal control of mineral rights for another 20 years; later legislation gave the tribe continuing communal control indefinitely. Today, headrights have been passed down among descendants of the Osage who originally possessed them. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has estimated that 25% of headrights are owned by non-Osage people, including other American Indians, non-Indians, churches and community organizations. It continues to pay royalties on mineral revenues on a quarterly basis.
Beginning in 1999, the Osage Nation sued the United States in the Court of Federal Claims (dockets 99-550 and 00-169) for mismanaging its trust funds and its mineral estate. The litigation eventually included claims reaching as far back as the 19th century. In February 2011, the Court of Federal Claims awarded $330.7 million in damages in partial compensation for some of the mismanagement claims covering the period from 1972 to 2000. On October 14, 2011, the United States settled the litigation for a total of $380 million. The tribe has about 16,000 members.
The settlement includes commitments by the United States to cooperate with the Osage to institute new procedures to protect tribal trust funds.
The Osage Tribal Council was created under the Osage Allotment Act of 1906. It consisted of a principal chief, an assistant principal chief, and eight members of the Osage tribal council. The mineral estate consists of more than natural gas and petroleum. Although these two resources have yielded the most profit, the Osages have also earned revenue from the mining of lead, zinc, limestone, and coal deposits. Water could be considered a mineral and might soon be applicable on the reservation. The first elections for this council were held in 1908 on the first Monday in June. Officers were elected for a term of two years, which made it difficult for them to accomplish long-term goals. If for some reason the principal chief's office becomes vacant, a replacement is elected by the remaining council members. Later, the tribe increased the terms of office to four years.
In 1994 by referendum, the tribe voted for a new constitution separating the Mineral Council, or Mineral Estate, from tribal government. It determined that only Osage who are headright holders can vote for the members of the Mineral Council, as if they were shareholders of a corporation.
The Osage wrote a constitution in 1881, modeling some parts of it after the United States Constitution.
The Osage Allotment Act of 1906, mentioned in more detail under the previous section Natural Resources and Headrights, provided for a principal chief, assistant principal chief and an eight member tribal council as the recognized governing body of the Osage Tribe. Each allottee received 657 acres (2.66 km2) of surface rights and mineral rights were reserved to the Osage Tribe. Only allottees and their descendants with headrights could vote or run for office in the tribe and, over the generations, headrights and votes became highly fractionated.
Today, the Osage Nation has 13,307 enrolled tribal members, with 6,747 living within the state of Oklahoma. It has established membership based on a person's lineal descent from a member listed on the Osage Rolls at the time of the Osage Allotment Act of 1906. A minimum blood quantum is not required. But, as the Bureau of Indian Affairs restricts federal scholarships to persons who have 25% or more blood quantum in one tribe, the Osage Nation tries to support higher education for its students who do not meet that requirement.
By its new constitution in 1994, the Osage voted that original allottees and their direct descendants, regardless of blood quantum, were citizen members of the Nation. Due to court challenges, this constitution was overruled.
In 2004, President George W. Bush signed Public Law 108-431, An Act to Reaffirm the Inherent Sovereign Rights of the Osage Tribe to Determine Its Membership and Form a Government. After this, the Osage Government Reform Commission formed to develop a new government. The Reform Commission held weekly meetings to develop a referendum that Osage members could vote upon in order to develop and reshape the Osage Nation government and its policies. On March 11, 2006, the Constitution was ratified in a second referendum vote. By a 2/3 majority vote, the Osage Nation adopted the new constitutional form of government. It also ratified the definition of membership in the Nation.
The tribal government is headquartered in Pawhuska, Oklahoma and has jurisdiction in Osage County, Oklahoma. The current governing body of the Osage nation contains three separate branches; an executive, a judicial and a legislative. These three branches parallel the United States government in many ways.
The tribe operates a monthly newspaper, Inside Osage. The Osage Nation has an official website and uses a variety of communication media and technology.
The judicial branch maintains courts to interpret the laws of the Osage Nation. It has the power to adjudicate civil and criminal matters, resolve disputes, and judicial review. The highest court is the Supreme Court. This Supreme Court has a Chief Justice, currently Meredith Drent, who replaced former Chief Justice Charles Lohah. There is also a lower Trial Court and more inferior courts as allowed by the tribal constitution.
The executive branch is headed by a Principal Chief, followed by an Assistant Principal Chief. The current Principal Chief is Geoffrey Standing Bear, and Raymond Red Corn is the Assistant Principal Chief, who were both sworn in on July 2, 2014. Administrative offices also fall under this executive branch.
The legislative branch consists of a Congress that works to create and maintain Osage laws. In addition to this role, their mission is to preserve the checks and balances within the Osage government, carry out oversight responsibilities, support trial revenues, and preserve and protect the nation's environment. This Congress is made up of twelve individuals who are elected by the Osage constituency and serve four-year terms. They hold two regular Congressional sessions and are headquartered in Pawhuska.
The Osage Nation issues its own tribal vehicle tags and operates its own housing authority. The tribe owns a truck stop, a gas station, and ten smoke shops. In the 21st century, it opened its first gaming casino and as of December 2013, has seven casinos. Casinos are located in Tulsa, Sand Springs, Bartlesville, Skiatook, Ponca City, Hominy and Pawhuska. The tribe's annual economic impact in 2010 was estimated to be $222 million. Osage Million Dollar Elm, the casino management company, is encouraging employees in education, paying for certificate classes related to their business, as well as for classes leading to BA and master's business degrees.
The Osage Tribal Museum in Pawhuska opened in 1938 as the first tribally owned museum in the country. It documents and interprets their history. Historian Louis F. Burns donated much of his extensive personal collection of artifacts and documents to the tribal museum.
The tribe also has a Historic Preservation Officer, archives, and cultural office. It is working to revive the Osage language, with immersion in Headstart classes and elementary school, as well as classes for youth and adults.
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