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By Gus Bode

Columbus Day signifies American culture for some people, but for Jean Dennison, it reminds her of the struggle for Native American freedom.

Dennison, professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina, visited SIUC on Monday to address Native American citizenship as part of Indigenous Peoples Day.

Dennison is member of the Osage Nation and said the Osage are the only Native American tribe in Oklahoma that still has a federally recognized reservation.


In January, the state of Oklahoma refused to recognize the reservation and insisted on collecting taxes from Osage citizens, which Dennison said states are not allowed to do in Native American territory.

The Osage argued Congress never formally disestablished the reservation, and all of Osage County should be considered Indian Country, according to Tulsa World newspaper.

‘What is fundamental about being part of an indigenous nation today is culture, community, political association and something biological,’ Dennison said.

Roberto Barrios, assistant professor of anthropology at SIUC, said people with different cultural values shape our system, and recognizing indigenous people on Columbus Day is an important part of diversity.

‘Here we have a huge nation (where) the first settlers ‘hellip; are actually being excluded through legal and political policies.’

Dennison said while there are struggles, the Osage Nation continues to thrive despite the ruling. It no longer defines citizenship by blood but by something biological passed down from ancestors, she said.


Dennison said sovereignty at its most basic is the ability to govern one’s own affairs, which is why the Osage need the ability to govern their own land.

Barrios said he looks forward to celebrating Native American Heritage Month in November and is always impressed by the beauty and resilience of Native Americans.

‘We can’t forget the great diversity of the people who live here,’ Barrios said.

Christina Spakousky can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 258.