An Osage tradition

Grayhorse cemetery


My cousin hosted us for supper while we visited Fairfax (Grayhorse), Oklahoma last week. Fairfax, Hominy and Pawhuska (the seat of Osage country) form a triangle of Indian communities just north of Tulsa. The cemetery in Grayhorse, where we visited my mother a year after her passing, is an easy walk to my cousin’s home.

This part of Oklahoma comes alive each June when Osages gather for the annual dances: one each weekend in each of the three communities. And my cousin Julia, whom we call Leaf, has a large, welcoming home in Fairfax where she puts up relatives and friends who gather each year for the dances (and any other time of the year). The main room has several dining tables, chairs, couches and a large kitchen for entertaining. She easily hosted 10 of us last week.

The remaining rooms of the house include a den with a television and computer, and a wing devoted to sleeping: rows of twin and double beds fill a sweet dormitory for fellow travelers. Leaf has a small alcove tucked way in the back of the house for herself.

Leaf had the place settings ready when we arrived, with each plate filled with fresh fruit and a hard-boiled egg. Underneath the plate was a plastic baggie so we could take the snack with us for our road trip.

She explained this as an Osage tradition (to have a road snack ready), although, in the old days, relatives would pack their snack in a tea towel rather than a baggie. She then served us a bountiful meal of my mother’s favorite foods: hominy, tomato salad and green beans.

Traditionally the Osage drank from bowls, rather than cups, and Leaf ladled tea from a metal pot into our drinking bowls while we tucked away meat pies and fry bread.

No one left hungry.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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