December 6, 2014

I-Lon-schka Osage Ceremony


Scores of Osage dancers participate in the tribe’s annual I-Lon-schka each June, what is also known as Osage ceremonials. A drum-giving ceremony and dancing are the glue that holds this fiercely traditional society together.


Held in the tribe’s three area districts each June, the weekend festival is Hominy’s time to shine. Attendees say this is the best of the three June weekend sessions, but that all depends on who is asked.

In addition to some serious dancing, Proctor has a special duty. The young man is this year’s recipient of the ceremonial drum. In Osage terms, there are few higher honors.

The chosen drumkeeper is usually the eldest son of an Osage family. The passing of the drum occurs about every four years and is resplendent with pomp and circumstance.

The drumkeeper is responsible for all that occurs within his district during the ceremonial. If something goes wrong, he will be the one to fix it.

In explaining the I-Lon-schka, careful attention must be given to detail. The ceremonial is not a powwow. Visitors are welcome, but, unlike powwows, the emphasis is more spiritual than social.

Here, one will find no concession stands or arts booths.

The term I-Lon-schka is literally interpreted to mean the “playground of the eldest son.”

It is a tradition given to the Osage from two other tribes, the Kansa and the Ponca, tribal members said. Very distinct rules and patterns are followed in dancing, during breaks and even in eating.

In June, the three districts of the Osage tribe — Grayhorse, Hominy and Pawhuska — will take turns in hosting the ceremonial.

For Proctor and his family, he is this year’s eldest son. His wife, Quinn, and daughter Brie accompany him to the dance arbor from their family camp.

Dressed in heavy broadcloth and dance attire, the fortitude of walking in the procession is impressive.

But it is not just Proctor’s immediate family that gets credit here. Relatives are integral, contributing to funds for gifts and toward making regalia that will be worn, especially during the drum ceremony.

The drum in question was given to Proctor by the Goodfox family within the Hominy district. By the time the entry parade is over, a horse and dozens of blankets and dance shawls will be given to his committee and advisers.

“Now it is my time to pay for the honor,” Proctor said.

The drum, considered the heart beat and lifeline of the tribe, sits in the care of “drum warmers” who will make sure the drum is cared for properly before it is used.

This drum is more than 100 years old. Painted wagon red and stretched with tanned hide, it is considered the center of Osage ceremonial life. It is said to create the spirit and energy during dance sessions that unite the tribe.

Right before the procession, Proctor and family stand in glaring heat, while the cameras flash.

Clearing his throat, tribal member Brad Dailey speaks to the assembled relatives.

“This is a high honor. You can talk about this from now on,” he said. “Once this drum is yours, it’s yours to take care of. This makes the Hominy district look good.”

In the course of the ceremony there is the giving away of “bride” coats.

Made by Proctor’s grandmother, who recently died, special Osage bridal costumes will be worn by six young, unmarried women. The coats will be given away to the other district’s drumkeepers.

The six women are decked out head to toe and wear stacked, adorned hats with plumage. Designed military-style, the coats are covered with ribbon work and epaulets. The “brides” will walk the procession as part of Proctor’s party, along with relatives.

During their walk to the arbor, cameras are positioned to get a good shot. The moment is too important not to catch for posterity, one mother said.

There is a moment that crystallizes old tribal ways. A nervous young pinto is curried and painted with a lightning bolt and hand print. Its tail is wrapped and beaded. A horse handler helps make the transfer from owner to new owner.

With the passing of the drum, huge trunks of shawls are given away to cooks and helpers. This year’s shawls are all lightweight and lavishly embroidered. As they are handed out, women in the audience gasp approval because each shawl seems lovelier than the next, one woman said.

“There is a time to do things,” said Harry Red Eagle Jr., elder and processional speaker. “We try to keep this tradition the best way we know how.”

After the ceremony, the singing begins. Literally hundreds of Osage attend and watch the procession, drum passing and dancing. Many more will attend on weekend afternoons. Families will camp and hundreds will be fed each day.

At the ceremony’s end, another link will be added to the Osage tribal chain. Next weekend, the ceremonial will be in Pawhuska, home of tribal headquarters.

More important, the Osage will be one people during June.

Deceased elder Frederick Lookout once said it this way: “We were told that a select group . . . created an extraordinary social device that transmitted a powerful spiritual foundation. It encompassed such force that today it is the basis for the perpetuation of all of our Osage values.”

Yes, that is the way things are.

Native American Dances
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