Colonial Entanglement: Constituting a Twenty-First-Century Osage Nation

Colonial Entanglement: Constituting a Twenty-First-Century Osage Nation

Colonial Entanglement: Constituting a Twenty-First-Century Osage Nation

Colonial Entanglement: Constituting a Twenty-First-Century Osage Nation


From 2004 to 2006 the Osage Nation conducted a contentious governmental reform process in which sharply differing visions arose over the new government's goals, the Nation's own history, and what it means to be Osage. The primary debates were focused on biology, culture, natural resources, and sovereignty. Osage anthropologist Jean Dennison documents the reform process in order to reveal the lasting effects of colonialism and to illuminate the possibilities for indigenous sovereignty. In doing so, she brings to light the many complexities of defining indigenous citizenship and governance in the twenty-first century.
By situating the 2004-6 Osage Nation reform process within its historical and current contexts, Dennison illustrates how the Osage have creatively responded to continuing assaults on their nationhood. A fascinating account of a nation in the midst of its own remaking, Colonial Entanglement presents a sharp analysis of how legacies of European invasion and settlement in North America continue to affect indigenous people's views of selfhood and nationhood.


Late one night in March 2004, I received a call from my father. He told me that he had been “up on the hill,” the area in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, where the Osage Tribal Council (OTC) chambers and other offices of the Osage Nation are located. He explained that there had been a lot of discussion about reforming the requirements for voting. I laughed and told him that people had been talking about reforming Osage citizenship my whole life and most of his. He replied that this time was different, that the otc had introduced a bill in the U.S. Congress to finally settle the Osage citizenship problem, which, due solely to their status as headright holders, gave only 4,000 of the possible 16,000 Osage descendants the right to vote in Osage elections. This system had been in place since the 1906 Osage Allotment Act (34 Stat. 539), when the United States government allotted the Osage reservation surface lands but left the subsurface nationalized among the Osage. a share of the proceeds from this subsurface, known as a headright in the Osage Mineral Estate, was given to each person on the roll, and this headright was required in order to vote in subsequent Osage elections.

My father further explained that congressional field hearings had just been held in Tulsa. At these hearings, various people of Osage descent had argued that the Osage, like all other federally recognized American Indian nations in the continental United States, needed to be able to determine their own citizenship and government. It now looked like the U.S. House would pass the bill and send it on to the Senate.

“Somebody needs to document this,” my father said, always scheming for ways to bring me back to Oklahoma. That night, however, he made a convincing case, and our phone conversation was the catalyst for this book.

In the summer of 2004, as I began preliminary research on the Osage government reform bill (Public Law 108–431), which was moving through the U.S. Congress, I understood myself as an Osage. I had not yet, however, considered exactly what that meant for my political identity. I had spent the first eighteen years of my life in Oklahoma but had never been eligible to vote in Osage elections. Shortly after turning eighteen, I left Oklahoma for college, before political participation had become important to me. I had been told that I would inherit half a share in the Osage . . .

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