CPN Director of Housing Scott George is the first Osage tribal member to be nominated for an Oscar after composing “Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)” for Killers of the Flower Moon.

By: Tina Bridenstine, Citizen Potawatomi Nation Public Information Department

Scott George has worked in Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Housing Department since 2005. Day-to-day, he works to help Tribal members as they navigate housing issues such as buying a home. This year, George also became the first Native American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Music (Original Song) and the first member of the Osage Nation to be nominated for an Oscar.

George wrote and composed the music and lyrics for “Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)” from Killers of the Flower Moon, a Martin Scorsese-directed film based on a book by David Grann about the Osage Reign of Terror. The movie has garnered 10 nominations at the Oscars, including one for leading actress Lily Gladstone, who made history as the first Native American actress to be nominated.

Being nominated

The song was originally on the Oscar’s shortlist, and George didn’t expect it to go any further from there. In fact, when the Oscar nominations were announced Tuesday, Jan. 23, he was on his way to work.

“I was supposed to be at a meeting, and I had all my stuff, getting ready to walk out the door, and my wife said, ‘Wait, they’re supposed to announce it.’ I said, ‘I can’t wait, I’ve got to go,’” he said. “I got on the road, and my phone started blowing up.”

When asked what his thoughts are on being nominated, he said he still hasn’t quite grasped the reality of it. “At this point, it’s just shock and thankfulness,” he said. “It’s a weight I haven’t felt yet. It hasn’t really sunk in.”

However, he did express gratitude that the song is being recognized the way it is.

“There’s no orchestra. There are no string instruments or anything involved in this. It’s just our voices and the drums. For somebody to sit there and think we’re worthy of even being considered, that’s pretty cool,” he said.

Getting involved with the film

It all started with the Osage Nation Language Department, which worked with filmmakers to incorporate the Osage language into the movie. Director Martin Scorsese and actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Gladstone had all attended ceremonial dances while filming. Scorsese decided he wanted to bring that element into the movie at the end.

George’s friend in the language department, Vann Bighorse, contacted him to let him know what the filmmakers wanted, and they started to discuss how to go about making it happen.

Initially, he said, they didn’t plan on being involved with the filming.

“What they saw was our dance, and our dances are ceremonial,” George said. “So there was no way we were going to recreate that. Not for the movie.”

In addition to the ceremonial nature of the dances, many of the Osage songs are borrowed from the Ponca Tribe, and many songs include names of individuals who have family still living.

“We knew those songs weren’t appropriate for this situation,” George said.

However, in talks with Scorsese’s team, they decided on an idea that would work.

“We couldn’t use the songs we sing all the time, so we had to create something,” George said. “We went back and forth and talked about what we wanted to say in the song, making sure we had the words right, coming up with a tune that would carry it. And then we created two songs. Vann composed one and I composed one.”

Ultimately, it was George’s song that ended up in the movie.

Following the movie’s release, George also found himself enlisted to help with the nomination process.

“There’s a lot of paperwork I had to fill out to even get the song submitted. It had to be in written music, like notes and the whole works. I haven’t read sheet music since fourth grade,” George said. “We don’t really regard ourselves as musicians. We’re referred to by our people as drummers and singers, and that’s pretty much how we identify ourselves.”

Fortunately, a friend of his knows how to write music, and he was able to get the music in written form so they could submit it for consideration to be nominated.

Filming and premieres

As singers for the tribe, George and his wife Taveah were also involved in the filming of the scene where the Osage sing “Wahzhazhe” at the end of the movie.

He described practicing the scene the night before, then spending the next day filming.

“That same song we sang probably a dozen times, and the dancers danced around like it was the first time they’d done it, so they were getting tired,” George said.

Once the movie was released, Osage tribal members also attended multiple premieres in Tulsa, New York and Los Angeles.

“Pretty much all of us caught ourselves looking at the people we knew,” he said. “In New York, the second time we saw it, we got to really see it.”

For the premieres, George said Apple Studios sent limousines to pick everyone up and take them to the airport, then had staff at the hotels to greet them all and assist them during their stay.

“Apple treated us like kings,” he said. “It was really amazing.”

The Los Angeles premiere took place during the Hollywood Writer’s Strike, so none of the actors were allowed to be present. However, George estimated that about 70 members of the Osage tribe were invited, and they were asked to sing on the red carpet and again inside the Dolby Theatre.

As for the movie itself, he said he thought they did a great job telling the story to the world, and he praised Gladstone especially for her role.

“As a Native American, you have feelings about what was done to us or how we were treated, and sometimes how we’re still treated. I expected the movie to ignite that again and leave me with a bitter feeling, but it really didn’t,” he said. “I think Lily, to me, she captured what I remember that generation to be. I wasn’t alive during that generation, but the generation after that, they still retained the way they responded to things and acted, how they talked and their mannerisms. I don’t know how she captured it, but she did.”

Overall, he said it has been an eventful summer with activities such as premieres added to his already busy daily life of family, full-time job, and singing at powwows.

It helped, he said, that the premieres were quick, one-day events. Still, he said after so much going on, there were days he and his wife just wanted to stay home.

“This morning, I needed to take my laptop down to a meeting, and I walked down there with my drumsticks instead of my laptop,” he laughed. “I don’t need my drumsticks until tomorrow. I’ve been a little scattered.”

Regardless of how the award ceremony turns out, George said the song will continue to be used by the Osage people.

“We have every intention of using that song later on,” he added. “It serves two purposes, I guess, in that regard.”

This year’s Academy Awards, which takes place at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood, will air Sunday, March 10, on ABC. George and other Osage singers will perform during the awards ceremony.