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While not officially recognized, OKC's IPD supporters march forward

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
Marching in support of Indigenous Peoples' Day in downtown Oklahoma City on Monday.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – With both Italian and Arapaho blood coursing through his veins, Oklahoma City resident John Antonelli said it was the Native side of his upbringing that his family heartily embraced, noting that he was also a descendant of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado where U.S. soldiers brutally and indiscriminately killed and mutilated over 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho people, including many women and children.

“I was always raised with Native ways,” Antonelli told Red Dirt Report Monday morning in front of Oklahoma City’s municipal building. “My father (of Italian descent) was in tune with our Native ancestry.”

Antonelli was one of dozens of Oklahoma-based Native Americans and their allies who were marching around City Hall to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of the 80-year old Columbus Day federal holiday, which celebrates the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, a man whose name and history are despised by growing numbers of Native people in Oklahoma and around the nation for his well-documented, genocidal ways.

John Antonelli participated in Monday's Indigenous Peoples' Day march. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

While Columbus is credited for “discovering” America, these Native activists are reminding all Oklahomans that Native communities had existed here many centuries prior to Columbus’ arrival in 1492.

Noting that his mother had just returned from a trip to Italy, he said that most Italians don’t care for their countryman, viewing him as a thief and murderer.

And it’s an accurate portrayal, as historians have noted Columbus’s role in the burgeoning Trans-Atlantic slave trade at that time.


Making signs at Monday's Indigenous Peoples' Day march in OKC. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

For the past two years, Native American advocates living in and around Oklahoma City have spoken before the City Council in hopes that they would officially recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day. Each time their efforts were shot down, with Mayor Mick Cornett the deciding vote.

And as Cornett ramps up his run for governor in 2018, Natives we spoke to said that his consistent refusal to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ Day would not be forgotten by voters in their communities.

“We will make a point of remembering that,” said Okmulgee resident and Native activist Brenda Golden, who was helping lead Monday’s march.

Added Beverly Isaac, a Comanche from Lawton: “We’re not being silent anymore.”

Isaac’s friend, Phyllis Nacomey, also a Comanche who was holding a Comanche Nation flag, agreed, saying that she was glad more people were taking a second look at Columbus Day and realizing it is a holiday that hurts, rather than uplifts, Native people.

Growing up, Isaac said, she and other Native children were not told about their indigenous heritage. Thankfully, she said, this is changing, as the Information Age has increased access to historical records and documents.A And, resultingly, members of different tribes are coming together in solidarity in an increasingly united effort to make their desire known - that Columbus Day has to go, and that Indigenous Peoples' Day must take its place.

Brenda Golden speaks to the media during OKC's first (unofficial) Indigenous Peoples' Day celebration. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

While Tulsa, Lawton, Anadarko, Norman and other towns and universities have officially embraced Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oklahoma City has remained the lone holdout amongst Oklahoma’s largest communities to not pass a resolution marking the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day – or in Tulsa’s case – Native American Day.

“I heard the mayor of Tulsa (GT Bynum) is actually speaking at their march,” one sign-holding activist noted. Meanwhile, no representatives from the City Council of Oklahoma City, nor the mayor, were on hand to join in the celebratory march on this breezy October day, which was to be followed with speakers both young and old, and representing different tribes, until late in the afternoon.

With drumming and chants, the large group – many holding signs and banners, some reading #Killumbus and #Resist, for instance – wanted to make its presence outside City Hall known, since Monday was not a holiday for city workers.

Taking their fight to the steps of City Hall. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

“You would think in the state’s capital city, where the (American Indian) Cultural Center is … you think they would recognize us. I just don’t understand,” another activist said in passing.

But with each passing year, more and more cities around the United States and Oklahoma are seeing the importance of recognizing the important role indigenous Americans have played and continue to play in daily life and society. On the national level, Los Angeles, California is one of the latest large American cities to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples' Day, while locally, advocates for IPD are appearing before the city council of The Village in hopes of Indigenous Peoples' Day being recognized there.

“People are opening up,” Nacomey said with a smile. 

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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