Pawhuska Students Push for Land Acknowledgement

Beverly Cantrell - March 8, 2022 5:50 pm

Acknowledgments recognizing the tribal land schools, churches, and governments sit on are becoming more common across the U.S., but in the heart of the Osage Reservation, Pawhuska Public School is becoming the next battleground of recognition.

Students such as Gigi Sieke, Pawhuska High School senior and reigning Osage Princess, are frustrated it’s taken months to get it approved.

Sieke would like to see administrators fly an Osage flag in every school building and use a land acknowledgment.

“In this school, we are the majority, but out of here, if we step outside of Osage County or out of Pawhuska, we are the minority,” Sieke said. “Just a simple flag in the hall to remind us that we’re here. That we are still thriving and living.”

In November, the Pawhuska Johnson O’Malley Parent Committee sent a letter to the school board.

By February, it was brought up as a discussion topic at the monthly school board meeting.

Now, it’s March and the JOM Program was hopeful to see it brought to a vote.

Title XI Indian Education Director at Pawhuska Public Schools, Sharon Forte, said this would mean so much to her students.

“There’s a difference between what you say and what you do,” Forte said, “I think a lot of people are hesitant about what could go wrong instead of looking forward to what we could do right.”

Superintendent David Cash said he did not know what a land acknowledgment was.

“I’m excited about it. I had to educate myself on it,” Cash said.

The JOM Program has offered to meet with board members.

The superintendent now wants to see a committee formed to discuss the language of the acknowledgment.

“We need to have student representation on this as well,” Cash said. “We need the input from all parties.”

In three months, Sieke will graduate on the only tribal land that was at one time retained a federally recognized reservation in Oklahoma.

“We are a nation within a nation,” Sieke said. “And so in order to be sovereign, we have to act sovereign.”

She wants to know that when she returns to Pawhuska, a school that receives money for being on a tribal reservation and educating indigenous students, the Osage flag is flown with pride.

The proposed land acknowledgment from the JOM Parent Committee states:

We acknowledge that Pawhuska Public Schools resides on the Reservation of the Osage Nation. The process of knowing and acknowledging the land we stand on is a way of honoring and expressing the gratitude for the ancestral Osage people who were on this land before us. We acknowledge this land to include and respect the sovereign tribal partners and all indigenous families and students in the community of Pawhuska.


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