Oklahoma Needs Better Native History Curriculum
On May 19, I went to the Oklahoma Capitol Building to present Governor Mary Fallin with an 8,000 signature and 90 plus page petition I created for Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry (EONM), a group of Native American parents and allies along with RH Reality Check, a daily publication providing news, commentary and analysis on sexual and reproductive health and justice issues, sponsored online. The petition called on Governor Mary Fallin to support the creation of a Native American History and Culture curriculum, to support reinstating the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission, and to make a position for a Secretary of Native American Affairs in her cabinet. On the South Plaza of the OKC Capitol Building I was standing in front of Allan Houser's [the first free-born Warm Springs Chiricahua Apache] "Spirit of the Wind" sculpture that is on loan and, I felt inspired by all the people who came and joined me. They had also blown in from the internet. We represented mothers and daughters, like Frances Danger [Mvskoke-Creek and Seminole] and her daughter Abbie Rice. We represented fathers and sons, like Spirit Cry musician Anthony "Tong-Yah-Day" Williamson [Choctaw, Chickasaw and Wyandotte] who is a dad with four kids and one that served in the U.S. Army in Iraq. We represented writers and journalists committed to keeping Native American issues to the forefront, like Louis Fowler [Choctaw] and Andrew Griffin of Red Dirt Report.
I had been up for hours earlier that day, and even spent weeks before gathering support for our petition. A petition that we believe needs implementation in order to repair what the people in the Governor's Mansion and others in the Oklahoma legislature had been systematically destroying for the last four years. I had not been alone. So many from EONM had been pushing this issue forward by letting people know just how far things had gotten in Oklahoma. EONM founders and members like Jackie Keeler [Yankton Sioux and Navajo], Maggie Hundley, [Mvskoke-Creek] Johnnie Jae, [Otoe-Missouria and Choctaw] and Toby Vanlandingham [Yurok], along with so many others from EONM, like Mercedes Montgomery, a Native Rights activist, writer, and radio producer. Most people unfamiliar with what was going on and who took the time to listen to why we were upset came to realize that how we felt was rooted in something deeper than in the short-lived and cruel acts perpetrated by Christina Fallin and her pal Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips. Yes, we are still asking for a full apology for what they did and seem to continue to do.
We didn't meet many Oklahoma politicians. The few suited people that happened into the vicinity of the Houser's stunning bronze sculpture quickly told Tong-Yah-Day, "I'm not interested in it." The tourists and out-of-staters I talked with seemed dumb-founded that the state of Oklahoma loved to embrace it's settler history on the land in Oklahoma, but had no mandates to teach Native American History and Culture to all the children in the state. I remember how ignorant my teachers were as a child growing up in Oklahoma. They would let me stand in front of the class and lecture to the other children about the Trail of Tears. When I told my children about how I wanted to have Native History and Culture curriculum introduced into the public schools here, they were elated. We started talking about how they felt it was up to them to teach many of their non-Native friends about Native American history and culture. This only impassioned me more. The entirety of the Oklahoma public school system is placing a hefty burden on the small, but growing, population of Native children. Native children are also struggling to learn their own culture and history in varying stages. They face the interference of the constant reinforcement of Oklahoma's settler history that is touted by many politicians.
Political relationships have always been strained in Oklahoma between Native American Tribal Nations and the Oklahoma state government. However, as many people point out constantly, it's 2014 and it is time to build lasting good relationships with all the governments here and not just the Oklahoma settler-based city and county governments. Our Tribal Nations are leading by example when they donate millions of dollars to education and other community projects that benefit everyone, both Native and non-Native. In contrast, the state mostly teaches the history of the white settlers and has little to offer in communicating with Native American leaders in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma public schools re-enact "Free Land Runs" and so do the adults. Native American children are taught to "claim their land" like the other students. The truth is Native Americans were already here in Oklahoma. The land they inhabit to this very day was not free. Our nations and ancestors had been forced to give up everything and come to Oklahoma. The only thing that was kept in some cases, besides the clothes on their back, was their citizenship in their Tribal Nations. The trust land we have today we protect for our children, just like our ancestors did for us. My Creek-Cherokee ancestor "Old" Beaver told the Indian agent by translator, "No Sir, I have never filed upon any land. I am opposed to the allotment of land among the Indians. If my name appears upon either the Creek or Cherokee Roll, I am hedged about with corner stones..." and if he had been given a choice, he stated he would rather his name be stricken from the rolls, but he like many other Natives were forced to have an allotment.
Unlike the Land-run settlers that came to Oklahoma in 1889, my ancestor, like Jennie Bearpaw, had already been born in Georgia and died in Indian Territory, later Oklahoma, during the course of the Civil War. When Oklahomans start the history here by their standards alone and ignore these people that are my family, it is a discrimination. Oklahomans that claim it is equal and fair here are ignoring the "salient" members of Oklahoma society that act otherwise. Christina Fallin is looked to as the example of the best education that Oklahoma has to offer, either directly or indirectly. I feel that how Christina Fallin acted by wearing our "beautiful things" and then mocking the shawls we wear as Native American women speaks volumes about how far Oklahomans have gone in failing to be inclusive in our communities.
"We are called on to be protectors!" Tong-Yah-Day told me today on the phone about why he came out to support EONM after reading Alicia's Facebook post in the "Support of Indigenous People" group.
"I am here for her," Frances Danger said, then she rested her hands on her daughter Abbie's shoulders when she was asked why she came out and stood in front of the "Spirit of the Wind" with the full sun beating down, and the high winds whipping around us.
"I really want to bring all these injustices to the forefront...Ever since that first report I wrote of the Norman Music festival, I've been blacklisted in OKC and been sent so many death-threats." Louis Fowler told me later.
I know exactly how all these people feel as I listened about why they bravely came off the internet and are willing to stare-down racism and discrimination. We face our pain and anger straight on, and ask the spirit of the wind to blow another way. We ask all the people in Oklahoma, and in this nation's American borders, to usher in the winds of change with us. Winds of change that can clean the debris of destructive discrimination away so we can build something less divided and more whole.
Jennie Stockle (Cherokee and Mvskoke Creek) is an Indigenous Rights activist and serves on the Executive Committee of EONM (Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry). Most Recently, she has written for ICTMN, eonm.org, and RHrealitycheck.org on local and national issues of discrimination and rights of Native Americans. She lives in the jurisdiction of the Cherokee Nation where she grew up picking strawberries and pestering her fluent Tsalagi-Mvskoke speaking grandmother for more stories about what life was like before her grandmother learned to speak English.
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