Hundreds of Native Americans were murdered for their oil in the 1920s. But they’re still battling the US government for what is theirs
This week, director Martin Scorsese releases his film Killers of the Flower Moon: the true story of the mass murder of Osage Native Americans and the plot to steal the tribe’s oil wealth. The film is a powerful telling of what came to be known as the Reign of Terror, a period that resulted in the deaths of as many as 200 Osage. But the story didn’t end there. For the past 27 years, I have been reporting on what happened afterwards. My documentary Long Knife – produced by George DiCaprio, with his son Leonardo’s encouragement – recounts, in the words of the Osage people, what happened in the century since the killings portrayed in the film, from the Terror to oil thievery to today’s fight for sovereignty.
Over the past century, the Osage Nation has continued to suffer massive oil thievery, impoverishment and oil sludge poisoning on their Oklahoma reservation. “It’s not over,” Osage principal chief, Geoffrey Standing Bear, tells me. “It’s still happening.” At the heart of it is legal control of Osage native land by the US Bureau of Indian Affairs, an entity the Osage call the Ma-he-tah, or the Long Knife. Standing Bear, a lawyer himself, likens the arrangement to a military occupation.