The Osage Ballet was thrilled when they were scheduled to perform in front of Pope Francis at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia this Saturday, September 26th. That joy was tamped down, however, when they were told they would perform in the afternoon, while the Pope was scheduled to hold mass at Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.
However, after several inquiries from ICTMN to authorities and those that manage the papal schedule, the ballet was notified this week that their time-slot in the festival has changed – they will perform at the very end of the afternoon – and the Pope will be in attendance. The Osage Ballet is, once again, thrilled.
The Osage Ballet's Prayer Scene - www.OsageBallet.com Photo by Jennifer Bettinger
“We’re really honored that we got invited at all,” says Osage Ballet Director Randy Tinker Smith, who conceived the ballet, Wahzhazhe, an Osage Ballet, when she was building the website for the Osage Tribal Museum in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
Her daughter, Jenna Smith, who was teaching ballet in Tulsa at the time, choreographed the piece. It played locally to packed houses and was received so well that the company was invited to perform it at The National Museum of The American Indian in 2013.
While Smith appreciates the papal audience for her ballet company’s performance, Smith said there is a unique relationship between the Osage people and the Catholic Church.
“We are unique in our tribe in that we put away our old ways (pre-contact religion) back in the 1870s, when our elders came over to the reservation we bought,” Smith says. “We lost so much of our clans that ceremonies couldn’t be done anymore because the structure was messed up, with losing whole clans.” she explained.
“Sometime after that a lot of our tribe went to the Native American Church and the Catholics came in and really helped our people, so our ancestors invited them to come and teach their kids English because they saw the writing on the wall. It wasn’t a good situation, but they got along with French priests, so we do have a long-term friendship with the Catholic Church.”
The Osage Nation and the Catholic Church also have a unique financial relationship. The Osages are one of the wealthiest tribes in the nation due to oil rights, and individual members have funneled millions of dollars of headright money directly into the church. The practice has been going on for over a century.
In Pawhuska, Oklahoma which is the location of the Osage Nation Headquarters, there exists the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. It is the only Catholic Church in the world that has stained glass windows depicting Jesuit Priests meeting with the Osage people.
“I know Osages paid for [Immaculate Conception] in Pawhuska, and the stained glass windows,” says Dr. Garrick Bailey, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Tulsa. The structure is a gothic architectural masterpiece, famous for its 22 9’ x 26’ German-made stained glass windows, installed in 1919. The church had to get special dispensation from Rome, as one window includes the portraits of then-living Osage tribal members instead of the tradition Biblical scene.
Bailey says that after the tribe abandoned their traditional religion, some turned to Catholicism, some to the Native American Church, and some to a mixture of the two. The relationship between the Catholic Church and the Osage Nation is even present in the 1906 Osage Allotment Act, an act of Congress that split up what is now Osage County among the tribal members. “At allotment the Sisters of St. Francis received the 60 acre site of St. John’s Boy’s school and 160 acres for St. Louis school,” Bailey says.
Overall, the event looks to be an unforgettable experience. We are honored that Roman Jasinski, the son of Moscelyne Larkin, an accomplished Native American ballerina, of the Peoria and Shawnee tribes, will be one of the dancers to perform,” Smith said on their website.
If you would like to help with their expenses, you can do so by visiting https://www.gofundme.com/osageballet