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### Sharing Osage Knowledge and Native American History: A Graduate Student’s Impact on Honors Students

Aaron Valentine is captured in a photograph. Image credit: Valentine.

Unpacking his ancestral treasures from plastic tubs and engraved wooden chests, Aaron Valentine reveals a collection of cherished regalia items – soft leather moccasins, intricately beaded bandoliers, and a heart-shaped neckerchief buckle. Periodically, Valentine transports these containers to campus to educate and captivate the students at Wichita State University.

In instances where transporting his traditional attire is not feasible, such as when Chelsea Redger-Marquardt’s class journeyed to the Grand Canyon, Valentine imparts a wealth of knowledge acquired through cultural narratives and extensive research.

Osage Nation

Since childhood, Valentine has been immersed in Osage and American customs and traditions.

“I always assumed, as a child, that everyone… would visit their respective places and engage in similar activities,” Valentine reminisced. “It wasn’t until middle school, when you start sharing your summer plans with others, that people question, ‘What do you mean you’re going to go dance?’”

Valentine is a proud member of the Osage, or Wazhazhe, nation, spanning from Oklahoma to Ohio in the Midwest. The present-day Osage reservation lies just north of Oklahoma, approximately a two-hour drive from Wichita.

Within this region, four Osage towns or districts – Pawhuska, Hominy, Fairfax, and Gray Horse – thrive.

Annually, Valentine and his immediate family journey to their district, Pawhuska, to partake in , a month-long ceremonial event featuring singing, drumming, and dancing. During In-lon-schka, Osage men engage in traditional dances like the Southern Straight, performed twice daily – once in the afternoon and again at night.

Priceless: Osage Traditions and Crafts

As an Osage Nation member, Valentine adorns his traditional attire each year to participate in In-lon-schka. The components of his regalia, mostly handed down through generations, hold immeasurable value to Osage tribal members, symbolizing their pride in representing their heritage and culture.

“These are items that hold a value beyond measure,” Valentine emphasized. “We would never trade or sell them because they connect us not only to our Osage culture but also to our ancestors.”

During In-lon-schka ceremonies, dancers encircle the drum counterclockwise. Wearing the regalia of an ancestor while circling the drum is a tribute to their legacy. These inherited items also serve to preserve the memories and spirits of departed loved ones.

“By encircling the drum, you carry that person with you,” Valentine explained. “Receiving an item from someone is a great honor. It signifies their care for you and reflects their perception of you.”

When these items no longer fit or require preservation, Valentine collaborates with skilled members of the Osage community proficient in traditional beadwork, leathercraft, or yarn work to fashion new regalia pieces. After outgrowing a set of streamers, a prominent element of Osage attire, Valentine enlisted his grandmother’s assistance in creating his own set.

“Like many things, crafting these items takes considerable time… it demands a significant investment of time,” Valentine shared. “She told me, ‘I’ll assist you, but you’ll handle the majority of the work and tackle the challenging parts.’”

Valentine and Osage Education Today

Valentine’s efforts to preserve his native culture extend beyond learning words and phrases. As a staff member at the Cohen Honors College, Valentine has been invited to speak on Native American cultures in various classes, including Kevin Harrison’s “Black Lives Matter and Other Marginalized Perspectives” and Redger-Marquardt’s “Parks, People and Place: Exploring Our National Parks.”

“I co-facilitated discussions on how indigenous voices within Zion National Park relate to the… and how showcasing Native American and First Nations cultures underscores their continued relevance,” Valentine remarked. “It’s not a thing of the past,” he reiterated.

Historically, national parks have been established on lands traditionally inhabited and utilized by indigenous peoples for sustenance and spiritual purposes. Valentine frequently engages students in dialogues about the paradoxical nature of these parks being revered as natural wonders while disregarding the significance of their original inhabitants.

“If the Native American way of interacting with nature didn’t align with the European perspective, they were essentially displaced,” Valentine highlighted.

Valentine actively participates as a co-facilitator in the Honors College’s , a service-learning initiative that educates students on leadership, stewardship, and partnership in national parks across the country. In January, Valentine accompanied Redger-Marquardt and 30 honors students to the Grand Canyon, contributing significantly to the program’s planning and educating students about the native cultures of the region.

From managing charter bus contracts to educating students about the tribes native to national parks, Redger-Marquardt commended Valentine for his dedication, emphasizing his role in fostering students’ appreciation and respect for these lands that were once home to others.

“We could assign readings on the topic… or we could offer firsthand knowledge from a remarkable representative of the Osage Nation in real-time,” Redger-Marquardt expressed.

On a broader scale, Valentine aspires to cultivate critical thinking skills among students and encourage open dialogues when making impactful decisions.

“Facilitating a dialogue between different perspectives is crucial to reaching solutions that benefit all parties involved,” Valentine stressed.

This May, Valentine will graduate with a master’s degree in engineering management. As he strides across the stage to receive his diploma, he will proudly display his Osage Nation cord and showcase some of his great-grandfather’s ribbon work. While his professional path remains uncertain, he aims to leverage his Native American heritage to advocate for unity and acceptance.

“Our way of life may differ in certain aspects from regional norms, but there are similarities that bind us together,” Valentine reflected.