Natchez’s David Kelley ‘takes seat’ with Osage Nation

Published 10:28 pm Sunday, July 2, 2023

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Special to The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — After years of wondering about his Native American heritage, David Kelley is now officially recognized — and embraced — as a member of the Osage Nation.

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On May 27, while visiting Pawhuska, Okla., the nation named him, Wah-shin Sah, which means “Black Bird.”

“It’s black bird, but it’s more than a black bird,” said Kelley in a recent interview. “It’s a spirit bird, more along the lines of the ‘intangible shadow of the eagle’ — a spirit bird, as it was explained to me.”

Kelley said the experience of being named was so exciting and so meaningful, it is hard to put into words. “It was amazing,” he said, noting his wife, Kelsey, received the honorary name, Hein Kin Pi, which means “Has seen and understands” (Treasure for the People).

His daughters, Kylin and Kaylin, are “legitimate natives” and received Osage names, Kelley said. Kylin was named Maun-Tseh Tsey Key, which means “Sacred Arrow Staff” (Entrusted by the People), and Kaylin was named, Hein-Keh Maun-Key. Her name means “Plume Falling into Nest” (Mother’s Love Always Present).

On June 22, on his second trip to Oklahoma, Kelley took his seat with the Osage tribe in Pawhuska during the I-Lonschka, an important ceremonial gathering in Osage culture. “It’s the great ceremony of the Osage nation,” said Kelley.

“I am now known,” he said, explaining the seating gives him an official connection with his Osage family. “Before, when I attended dances, I was only a visitor, but now, wherever I go, no matter what dance, I will be seated with Osage. I am Osage.”

Osage seating

Kelley said he had to be named before he could be seated. The seating occurred on the first day of the dance ceremony. Kelley said he was seated at the 2 p.m. dance on Thursday, June 22. It was a moving experience, he recalled.

Kelley was standing outside the arbor, which he described as a big pavilion, when an Osage man, the town crier, approached him. Kelley covered the man with a Pendleton blanket as a gesture of respect.

The man led him inside the arbor while speaking loudly in a Native American tongue. Along the way the man cried out Kelley’s name, saying, “Wah-shin Sah! He is Osage! Wah-shin Sah! He is Osage!” “He is one of us!”

Kelley went inside and presented five blankets to his Osage brothers, which included the head men and drum keepers.

The committee man stepped up and gave a presentation on Kelley’s family lineage “so that everyone could understand my history and know that I was legitimate and eligible to be seated,” Kelley said.

The head committeeman took an immature golden eagle feather and placed it on Kelley’s headdress, after which, the whip man came over and placed Kelley in a seat.

At that moment, Kelley officially took his seat as Wah-shin Sah.

As a sign of his acceptance, his brothers granted him the right to wear the roach, a traditional Native American male headdress made from the soft quills of a porcupine.

Dr. Charles Borum’s help

Kelley credits Dr. Charles Borum, director of the Natchez Powwow, with helping him to learn about the ways of Native Americans in general and the Osage Nation in particular.

“Without him none of this would have happened,” Kelley said. “He led me in the right direction, and he assisted me in many other ways. I’ve learned a lot from him, and I am so grateful to him for everything he’s done.”

According to Borum, Kelley has been involved with the Natchez Powwow for the past couple of years. “It was really neat to see him go through the process and be seated,” said Borum. “I was honored I was able to be a conduit. I’m proud of him.”

Back in March, Borum said in an interview that Kelley had approached him seeking information on the Osage people. “He was Osage, but he did not know about the Osage ways,” Borum recalled. “Since then, he’s gotten connected with the Osage family.”

Borum said that he and Kelley were attending the Lone Star War Dance in Granbury, Texas when he introduced Kelley to Otto Hamilton, a legislator in the Osage congress, and he in turn helped connect Kelley with his relative, Jodie Revard, who is also a legislator with the Osage legislature.

“Jodie was my first connection to my family out there in Oklahoma,” Kelley said.

Osage history

When Kelley initially thought about receiving his Native American name, he thought the process would be quick. It was not. Kelley met with Eddy Red Eagle Jr., the designated name-giver for Kelley’s section of the family. Red Eagle said that Kelley’s family was part of the Eagle Clan known as Tzi-zho wah-shah-keh.

“Mr. Red Eagle had a big TV and slide projector that he used to tell our story,” Kelley said. “His objective was to make us understand the old way.”

Red Eagle urged Kelley to read David Grann’s book, “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” (Doubleday, 2017) and to watch the movie by the same name. The book and the movie tell the story of the Osage people.

Kelley said that in the early 1900s, the Osage people “hit it big time” with oil on their reservation. “The Osage men became rich during the great depression. Mr. Red Eagle said a lot of people thought we got lucky because of the oil,” Kelley said. “But we weren’t successful because of what people brought to us, but it was because of who we are.”

After sharing the history of the Osage Nation, Red Eagle began to name each member of Kelley’s family. He began with David. Red Eagle explained that he didn’t just choose a name. Instead he selected a name that was handed down through generations, a name that belonged to other people in history.

“The name, black bird, is connected to the spirit world,” Kelley said.

Red Eagle explained, “Where other people can’t function in the night or in the darkness, you can see in the darkness. You’re very spiritual. You have no fear of the night.

“Your name is Wah-shin Sah.”