People to Watch

Former Owasson Ahniwake Rose, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute for People to Watch in Tulsa. 


Former Owasson Ahniwake Rose might not be the last person you’d expect to see directing the Oklahoma Policy Institute, but she may well have been the last person to apply for the job.

Rose says she found out about the opening just hours before applications closed last year. It was so close that Rose’s first call was to find out if the listed cutoff was in Central or Eastern time.

“I got my cover letter, my resume, my references in within 30 minutes of the deadline,” said Rose.

Apparently, the OK Policy directors are glad she did. They hired her to succeed founding Executive Director David Blatt, now at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, who built the organization into an influential force in state policymaking.

Rose, whose first name is pronounced Ah-na-wake, has spent more than 20 years in public policy; her credentials include five years as legislative analyst and policy director for the National Congress of American Indians and six years as executive director of the National Indian Education Association.

More recently, Rose was interim executive director of the National Congress of American Indians.

Rose was born in Tulsa and spent most of her childhood in Owasso. She finished high school in Phoenix, where the family moved because of her father’s job. For more than a decade, she has lived in Washington D.C.

“You turn around and it’s been 15 years and haven’t really been home in a very long time,” said Rose. “My dad passed away a few years ago and my daughters just didn’t know him or the community the way that I wanted them to. ... I decided it was time to come back and give directly to both the state that helped me establish who I was and then, in general, to the community that was really responsible for making sure I had the choices and opportunities I had in life.”

OK Policy’s efforts have often run counter to what one might expect in a conservative state, but over time it has achieved success and acceptance at the state Capitol and elsewhere.

“The work that we’re doing isn’t political work,” said Rose. “It’s policy work. Take red and blue out of the conversation. We can take Medicaid expansion as an example. It’s not a red or blue issue. It’s ensuring that all Oklahomans have health care and that all Oklahomans are healthy. If you provide that information to the day-to-day Oklahoman, they get that.

“That’s the key to success,” she said. “You remove those color streams from behind it. You talk specifically about what’s best for our local communities, and then folks are going to make the best decision.”

Randy Krehbiel


Twitter: @rkrehbiel