Osages were originally in what are now Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas and they were removed to what is now Osage County in the late 1800s. In spite of their circumstances they were able to hang onto their language and ways.
As time passed, the “pure Osage” language was diluted by European influences. Osages who were born in 1906 and later were sent off to boarding schools, while there they were forced to quit speaking Osage and speak English.
Speakers between 1906 and 1940 continued to hear and speak Osage in their homes, but they took up more English and European ways.
Osages who were born from 1940 forward had English as their first language; they heard Osage spoken. The language diluted even more and much of the meaning was lost.
Many attempts have been made to keep the language alive. These attempts have laid a foundation of words and developed an ongoing interest to learn and preserve the language. Unfortunately, no fluent speakers were developed.
Currently, there are between fifteen and twenty second language speakers and elders, who are able to speak or pray at a meeting or cultural activity.
Due to the efforts of our previous tribal council and new Constitutional government, we are on the road to preservation and revitalization. In the fall of 2003, the council created the Osage Language Program and hired Mongrain Lookout as the director.
Their efforts have proven successful. We currently have five advanced student who have made tremendous progress toward fluency and approximately 300 currently enrolled in the tribal program classes.
Mongrain is constantly evaluating and making the effort to upgrade the teaching methods and techniques in order to help students learn the language more efficiently.
We will continue to make an aggressive effort to revitalize the Osage language. Because of what we have experienced so far, we know that it can be done.
We can’t quit; our future depends on it.