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“Killers of the Flower Moon”: why the Osage Nation murders are still relevant

Mel Rising Dawn Cordeiro


The new Martin Scorsese movie “Killers of the Flower Moon,” is, unfortunately, based on the true story of the murders of members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma during the 1920’s. The movie itself is based off of a book of the same name which was written by journalist David Grann, a writer with The New Yorker.

The 1920’s in the United States was a financially and racially scary time, yet the Osage Nation were the richest people per capita in the world due to displacement, retributions and one of the largest oil deposits in the country. There is no doubt they were rich. The Nation built mansions, rode in chauffeured cars and even sent their children to Europe to study. Certainly, this is not the image people have of Natives during this time period.

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At this point, slowly, members of the Osage Nation were being killed off one by one. White authorities did nothing early on. Interestingly enough, authorities of any race who investigated these deaths were also killed. The death toll for the Osage nation exceeded 24 people. Worth noting, there was only one Native American agent associated with the FBI at the time, and said agent was used to infiltrate the community. This informant provided the necessary information to the finer workings of the case, including the important fact that the majority of the Nation’s wealth was controlled by one person.

If I give any more information regarding this case, it would spoil both the book and the movie. One bit of information I can divulge is where the author got the name of the book from. The “Flower Moon'' refers to the full moon during the month of May, during which the murders occurred.

We hear much about the poverty levels of Natives on the reservations. There is much data to be found regarding this, as well as access to health care services, food insecurity and other health disparities. The “typical” Native situation, created by the government creation of reservations and their regulation of resources, is the true circumstance.

The Osage Nation experienced much success and wealth during this time period. To put it mildly, they got lucky. The Nation overall was not lucky, however, due to the fact that there was corruption among the people and there were certain people from specific families who controlled the Nation’s wealth.

Here comes the plot twist. Due to the Nation’s wealth, the Osage people became targets for the white men. The families who exhibited the most control were especially targeted. Be that as it may, it was later discovered that the FBI failed to solve hundreds of Osage murders. Most of these murders were also covered up by the same agency. There were far more murders than the 20 to 30 murders everyone was led to believe.

Is this the U.S. government doing what they do best and ignoring the Natives for their gain? It can be speculated for sure, especially seeing as how Natives and the U.S. government in general have the best relationship two groups can have.

Did you learn any of this in school, dear reader? No? I’m not surprised. This is yet another incident of history being swept under the rug. The Osage murders, occuring during a time they called the “Reign of Terror,” and the true horror of the gruesome murders are nothing more than oral tradition for the people of the Osage Nation. Spoiler alert: the murders, those of which were solved, were committed by white people. According to the FBI, the “Reign of Terror” only lasted five years, but the reality of it was that these murders were occuring for over two decades. Yes, two decades. 20 years.

Not every little aspect of every culture can fit into a history book, but it is important not to let this bit of history die out. The “Reign of Terror” proves that for at least a century, Native peoples have been targeted by the U.S. government and white people. History does teach that Native oppression spans centuries going, back to the days of first contact. Unfortunately, Native peoples will always be the target of some form of oppression, be it from the government or otherwise.

Catch “Killers of the Flower Moon” on Apple TV+ and in theaters on Oct 20.


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