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 the Native peoples today.
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.
What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?
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.
To read the full interview with Scott N. BigHorse, assistant principal chief of the Osage Nation visit the NMAI series here.