Vital Relations

How the Osage Nation Moves Indigenous Nationhood into the Future

By Jean Dennison

236 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 6 drawings, 1 halftone

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7697-5
    Published: April 2024
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7696-8
    Published: April 2024
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7698-2
    Published: April 2024

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Relationality is a core principle of Indigenous studies, yet there is relatively little work that assesses what building relations looks like in practice, especially in the messy context of Native nations' governance. Focusing on the unique history and context of Osage nation building efforts, this insightful ethnography provides a deeper vision of the struggles Native nation leaders are currently facing. Exploring the Osage philosophy of moving to a new country as a framework for relational governance, Jean Dennison shows that for the Osage, nation building is an ongoing process of reworking colonial constraints to serve the nation's own ends. As Dennison argues, Osage officials have undertaken deliberate changes to strengthen Osage relations to their language, self-governance, health, and land—core needs for a people to thrive now and into the future.

Scholars and future Indigenous leaders can learn from the Osage Nation's past challenges, strategies, and ongoing commitments to better enact the difficult work of Indigenous nation building.

About the Author

Jean Dennison (Osage Nation) is codirector of the Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies and associate professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington.
For more information about Jean Dennison, visit the Author Page.


"Dennison's book takes an important place among Indigenous and institutional ethnography, showing the fine details and complex negotiations of tribal governance as they unfold in both ordinary and official settings. Dennison paints a highly contoured and complex picture of the Osage Nation as a site of struggle, contestation, cooperation, and care."—Clint Carroll, University of Colorado

"In this intimately observed ethnography, Dennison engages with the history of colonization, its many legacies, and attempts to rebuild relationships of respect within colonial structures to provide much-needed care for Indigenous people. Her work here should be a model for other Indigenous studies scholars."—Darren Ranco, University of Maine