Reunion with Osage ancestral homelands ushered by City of Murals, an Osage ballet, and a monument recognizing Osage legacy in Missouri
By Geneva HorseChief-Hamilton, Osage Nation Communications
Rolla, Mo., (Wednesday, September 13, 2017) — Beginning with a ballet performance on Thursday, Sept. 7, and wrapping-up with a mural depicting Osage history in Missouri, the Osage Nation and two progressive art communities in Missouri told the story of the Osage legacy in the area through art and teamwork.
More than five hundred elementary to middle school age children filled the Leach Theater in Rolla, Mo., at the Missouri University of Science and Technology on Thursday, Sept. 7. They were there to see a full dress rehearsal of Wahzhazhe: an Osage Ballet. The final scene was still ending when the theater filled with the sound of roaring applause from the children.
“My favorite part was the question and answer session with the kids," beamed Amity Bevard, Osage, and a professional ballerina in the production. "They had so many questions, we didn't have time to take them all." Before answering questions, Bevard had been through several costume changes and exerting dance routines for scenes that beautifully tell the story of the Osage people through a history that includes a thriving civilization along the Missouri River.
"This is not something that is taught in schools but these schools are choosing to share this history with their students," said Randy Tinker-Smith, Osage, and the owner of Dance Maker Academy. Smith and her daughter Jenna Smith created the ballet production together in 2012 and have performed it each year at different theaters across the U.S. and at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia at the Festival of Families on Sept. 26, 2015, at Logan Square in Philadelphia, Pa., for Pope Francis.
Last Wednesday, cast, and crew in the ballet set out for Rolla, many of them from Dance Maker Academy in Pawhuska, Okla., on the Osage Nation Reservation. The drive is nearly six hours and follows some of the same trade and travel routes established by Osage ancestors hundreds of years ago, said Norman Akers, Osage, who was commissioned by the Osage Nation and the City of Cuba, Mo., to paint a historical mural depicting Osage history at a location in downtown Cuba.
Early the next day, after the ballet performance in Rolla, a Cuba project that started more than two years ago was finally dedicated. The "Osage Trail Legacy" a 35-foot monument that depicts an Osage family, complete with a baby and a dog pulling a traverse situated on a hilltop that is visible from the high traffic Interstate 44 and the U.S. Historic Route 66.
Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and his Senior Executive Advisor Johnny Williams were contacted in 2015 by Dennis Roedemeier, then President of the Cuba Development Group, and Dr. Sean Siebert. Siebert was the grant writer for the project in 2015 and has since become the President of the Cuba Development Group. Together Siebert and Roedemeier have developed several successful rural economic development projects for the City of Cuba and the State of Missouri.
Monument sculptor and visionary, Glen Tutterrow, is a local artist in Cuba. He made the massive all steel sculpture with his son Curtis Tutterrow. Tutterrow envisioned the monument as a symbol of the importance of the Trail of the Osage and how it continues to be a pathway for progress. "This corridor that runs right through Cuba was used for [Osage] travel and trade. The Osage Trail is one of the most important trails to the south that goes across our state. It has always fascinated me because of its historical significance," he said. "We are here because of the trail that the Osage blazed for us way back when."
Chief Standing Bear addressed the large crowd and media groups gathered for the monument dedication. He held a piece of healthy looking corn, deep purple in color, and said, "This is the first Osage corn grown in Missouri in two hundred years." Cuba Mayor Ray Mortimeyer grew the corn and supports fostering a continued friendship with the Osage Nation. Mortimeyer harvested the corn from kernels gifted to him last year by the Osage Nation.
"The underlying principles that inform my art include tribal oral histories, maps, art historical references, and nature," said Akers in his online artist's statement (www.normanakers.com). These principles are evident in the finished product where an Osage ribbon work design and topography of the area are blended.
The mural, "Meeting in Missouri," fortuitously named for its meeting of symbols and history was unveiled and blessed Saturday morning with cedar smoke at a first time meeting between Missouri residents and Osage people. Akers told the crowds gathered for the dedication that he was happy to look around and see the Osage and Cuba communities come together. This is Akers first commissioned exterior mural and it provided more than a new experience, he also had the opportunity to meet a lot of good people and answer a lot of necessary questions. Every day that Akers was painting he was making friends and answering questions about who the Osage people are for people who have lived their whole lives surrounded by places and things named after the areas original inhabitants.
The Osage actors, dancers, and family and friends from the ballet group drove thirty miles east of Rolla to attend the two dedications and several dressed in traditional Osage clothes. As the young dancers moved through the crowds they were met over and over with a sincere welcome, "thank you for being here," from Cuba and Rolla residents.
On Sunday, after most of the Osages who travelled to Missouri were safely home, the Cuba MO Murals & More Facebook page posted, "The Cuba community welcomed home the people of the Osage Nation--a celebration of warmth and friendship," along with pictures of the Osage youth who danced in the ballet and attended the statue and mural dedications.
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