Tribute to Charles Lohah (1934 – 2012)

By Meredith D. Drent

Former Chief Justice Charles Lohah had an old school sensibility about him. With his unique blend of knowledge, passion and wit he could rile you at the beginning of the sentence and charm you by the end of it, peppering the dialogue with enough laughter to defuse tense moments often created by speaking difficult realities. He spoke plainly, mixing intellect with irreverence and honor with orneriness. Knowing that sovereignty could be a messy business, Charles applied both subtlety and spectacle, using actions where words would not suffice. He had a way of making us painfully—and comically—aware of our imperfections, seizing them as opportunities to take action in positive ways.

Charles ushered in beginnings in great and small ways. As one of the Native American Rights Fund's founding board members he was part of the legal movement to reassert the sovereign rights of Native Nations. As a founding member of the Osage National Organization, Charles joined like-minded Osages in one of the first cognizable movements to return Osage governance to the Osage people where it belonged. And as the first Chief Justice of the Osage Nation Supreme Court, he oversaw the beginning of a justice system established by the 2006 Osage Constitution, enduring the fits and starts the constitutional movement faced and experiencing its relative success. He wore many hats and held numerous achievements under his belt, yet he remained profoundly humble of his accomplishments.

He and his contemporaries inspired generations of Native lawyers who wanted to advance the interests of Native Americans and their communities in meaningful ways. Without the efforts and dedication of pioneers like Charles, we would miss the heart, soul and occasional hilarity of the work we do.

For his contributions to the Native legal profession and to our Native communities, I remember Charles Lohah with affection and respect and will always be grateful for his encouragement, honesty and cleverness.  I will remember him for insisting that we build the Osage Nation on our own terms no matter how difficult it may be; behind the seriousness and the silliness of it all, it is our burden to bear.  I hope we can honor Charles’ memory by carrying that burden with dignity and with our own blends of knowledge, passion and wit.