Historic Preservation
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The Osage Nation Historic Preservation’s Heritage Site Visit, held March 18 – 22, 2024, was a powerful journey into Wahzhazhe ancient history in and around St. Louis, MO. Osage Nation staff members hosted more than 30 Wahzhazhe folks from throughout the United States and one tribal member who has been residing in London for the past two decades. Wahzhazhe families attending included multiple generations, some of which were connecting with their heritage more deeply than ever before. The experience became a moving rite of passage for folks who had not visited our ancestral homelands in Missouri, which date back hundreds if not thousands of years.

On the first day of the site visits, the St. Louis Art Museum staff pulled historical Wahzhazhe materials from their collection for a special viewing, including a stunning woman’s blanket, a young man’s blue broadcloth leggings with double-sided ribbonwork, and a gorgeous woman’s finger-woven belt. Ceramic figurines on display dated back to the early 1000s A.D. Following the museum visit, the group gathered in Washington State Park to view early Wahzhazhe pictograms and petroglyphs created by our ancestors around 1000 A.D. during the Mississippian period.

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On the second day, the group toured the Missouri History Museum, including the Library and Research Center. The museum’s collection of maps were on display for viewing early surveys of Cahokia Mound, treaty documents, and French maps depicting Wahzhazhe presence in Missouri dating back to the 1700s. Visiting the Gateway Arch was challenging for some visitors due to the symbolism as a monument celebrating western expansion of the United States. Nevertheless, the collection on display included exquisite examples of Wahzhazhe cultural materials and trade items.

Tower Grove Park, the final stop on Day 2, revealed a curated landscape devoted to Wahzhazhe lifeways and worldviews. Water features wove a path through the park, which had landscaped destinations along the way. The outline of typical Wahzhazhe home from the Missouri era was configured in a rock formation. Large stones surrounding a water feature in the park represented the three districts of the Osage Nation: Grayhorse, Hominy, and Pawhuska.

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Day 3 marked the crescendo of the trip with visits to Sugarloaf and Cahokia Mounds. Visiting the mounds was particularly meaningful for some attendees who connected with the landscape on visceral and spiritual levels. Climbing to the tops of the mounds became a pilgrimage for some that had only read about our ancient geographical, cultural, and spiritual homelands. The power in these distinctly Wahzhazhe places made some participants visibly emotional as we climbed the stairs to the windy summits towering above the Missouri hills. Kilan Jabobs led a prayer for the group at the peak of Monks Mound, the highest point in the Cahokia complex, rising 100 feet at its peak. The group became most palpably connected in that intimate moment as participants embraced each other as well as embracing a deeper connection to their collective Wahzhazhe heritage. Moments of private contemplation were graciously respected by the members of the group before descending the mound, almost reluctant to leave.

The Historic Preservation staff expertly hosted a dense schedule of some of the most important destinations in our Wahzhazhe history. The diverse and delicious meals planned for the group spanned the globe, from Italian cuisine to Irish and Mexican cuisine and American barbeque. Participants remarked how well-organized the trip was and appreciated how the site visits were curated in such a way that the cultural history of each of the destinations informed the subsequent destinations. Participants formed bonds with fellow Wahzhazhe whom they had never met but whom they undoubtedly will never forget.