Carrying the ancestral trauma of Indigenous removal is not a pain I would wish on anyone. There is a power and a wholeness and a purpose in love of place that severed causes a cascade of rootlessness, fracture, lack of meaning across generations that can be hard for the bearer to understand. In coming to the place of our removal, particularly the land of central Missouri I’m starting to understand how this trauma has shown up on my life and that of my ancestors.
It is not easy to be here in Missouri. There are dozens of places, businesses, organizations carrying the Osage name that have little to do with Osage people, that are not owned or operated or even known by us. Most do not seem to be aware of the origin of the name or that we still exist, though we’re mostly not here. The problematic story of the heroism of American settlers is alive and well here, Trump flags waving, the country music inescapable. The vibe is pretty accurately summarized by the back of this old novel, and the examples run from this seemingly innocuous sign at Blue Springs that erases hundreds of years of caretaking to unbridled praise of Presidents like Jefferson.
I have lived most of my life in California, on the territory of the Ohlone, Tongva, and Acjachemen. I’ve never felt directly what it’s like to experience your homelands overrun by settlers, living with no awareness of who took care of the land for thousands of years, who cultivated the corn that fills the fields, who walked the trails that their roads were built over, and regularly exacting disregard and violence on the land. Being here directly kicks up for me these feelings of shock and sorrow. My ancestors loved this place so much and that love is alive in my bones. To be Indigenous is to be of the land, and you can still see us here in the Bee Balm along sacred springs, in the stands of Black Walnut groves of the valleys, in the dogbane along riverbeds. It is painful to be cut out of the story of a place and be made to feel as if you’re awkward or hostile to try to insert yourself back into the story.
This is why it was so powerful for me to see the monument to the Osage Nation along the I-44 in Cuba, Missouri. As tall as trees, the iron statues of an Osage man, woman, child, and wolf are impossible to miss. A sign at the entrance reads, “Welcome home” and I was moved by those simple words, directed at me and my relatives, that both acknowledge our existence and our relationship to this place. There is also a mural downtown by Osage artist Norman Akers, depicting the meeting of the French and Osage and the trade empire that was built through this collaboration.
I don’t think big monuments and murals are a good fit for all places and tribal nations, but they felt appropriate to me here, presented in context alongside our contribution of forging a trade route and being central to what made people want to come to this place. A few years ago Berkeley installed welcome signs that acknowledge that place as Ohlone territory. Acknowledgement is a start, which should then be followed with concrete action to repair like paying a land tax and returning stolen lands.