Scott N. BigHorse, Assistant Principal Chief, Osage Nation
In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today. —Dennis Zotigh, NMAI
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
Scott N. BigHorse, assistant principal chief of the Osage Nation.
Can you give us your Native name, its English translation and/or nickname?
It's written in the Osage alphabet, but in English it's spelled Kiheka. It means Big Chief.
My responsibilities are mostly cultural, but I stay abreast of all areas within the tribe, including state and federal Indian legislation that may affect tribes.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead your nation?
In almost every job I have experienced, I have been a supervisor or director, and my experience as a state representative in Oklahoma allowed me the skills to survive politics in Indian Country.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
Father and Mother. Both worked their full lives and were elected officials in county government and tribal government. Father was former assistant principal chief of the Osage Nation
Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so who?
Great-Grandfather Andrew BigHorse, one of our leaders who helped transform the old ceremonials into ceremonial dance and the Native American Church.
Where is your nation located?
Wa Zha Zhe (Osage), Oklahoma. Wa ka Ko LiN (Pawhuska) is the capital.
Where was your tribe originally from?
The Ohio Valley to the St. Louis, Missouri, area.
Does the Osage Nation have a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?
The In Lon S’kah ceremonial dance has three districts with one leader from each district. And I believe we have four active Native American Churches, which would have four different Road Men [leaders of the ceremony].
What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?
I would say when the federal government wanted us moved from Kansas to Indian Territory. Wah Zha Zhes [Osage people] made the U.S. government purchase their property in Kansas. [Then the tribe bought a new reservation in Oklahoma.] This new land ended up being “rich” with oil and gas, and all minerals were held in trust for the Wah Zha Zhes who had survived the forced allotment of the reservation's surface property in 1906. [Because the nation owned its reservation, the Osage were not covered by earlier allotment acts—the Dawes Act of 1887 and the Curtis Act of 1898].
This legislative act—the Osage Allotment Act, more often called the 1906 Act, was both bitter and sweet. It brought plenty of wealth, but wealth brought loss of property and death. It brought he Reign of Terror: Whites marrying Osages for wealth! People killing whole Osage families for their land and money.
Approximately how many citizens are in your tribe?
About 4,000 who live around the Osage reservation, approximately 14,000 total.
What are the criteria to become a citizen?
An individual must be the lineal descendant of an Osage on the 1906 roll.
Is your language still spoken on your lands? If so what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?
Yes, it's still spoken by about 10 percent of the people, with a growing number learning it.
What economic enterprises does your nation own?
Oil and gas, passive investments, casinos, and Osage Nation Energy Services.
We host Indian programs, the National Indian Taco Championship, Indian dances, rodeos, performing arts, and concerts.
What attractions are available for visitors on your land?
How is your national government set up?
After 120 years of a Bureau of Indian Affairs–controlled, resolution form of government, in 2004 the federal government finally passed legislation allowing us to form a three branch, one house, form of government with executive, legislative, and judicial branches with equal powers.
How often are elected leaders chosen?
Chiefs are elected every four years. Legislators also serve four-year terms; elections to the Osage Nation Congress are staggered with six of the twelve members being up for election every two years.
How often does the tribal council meet?
There are two sessions per year, plus any special session the chief or congress may call.
How does your tribe deal with the U.S. as a sovereign nation?
Government to government, leader to leader.
What message would you like to share with the youth of your community?
No matter what, above all, Native People are extra blessed. No matter how far you may be down, you can be and do whatever you want to be and want to do if you work hard and Wash kah —try your best.
Other interviews in this series:
Ben Shelley, president of the Navajo Nation
Councilman Jonathan Perry, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah)
John Sirois, Chairman, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation
Thurman Cournoyer Sr., Yankton Sioux Tribal Chairman
Jimmy R. Newton, Jr., Chairman, Southern Ute Indian Tribe
Cara Cowen Watts, Cherokee Nation Tribal Council
Clifford M. LaChappa, Chairman of the Barona Band of Mission Indians
Series banner, from left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All images used with permission.