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After years of resistance, Indigenous Peoples' Day finally arrives in OKC

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Noting that he was the first Native American to serve as mayor of Oklahoma City, David Holt, a member of the Osage Nation, read a proclamation early Monday afternoon at Oklahoma City University’s Chickasaw Native Garden before a large gathering of people there to hear him read a proclamation making October 8, 2018 Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the city.

With a steady wind blowing, seemingly symbolizing the winds of change blowing across the Oklahoma prairie, Holt read his proclamation as OCU students and faculty, local citizens, members of various Native tribes and activists with Live Indigenous OK, listened and nodded and/or clapped in approval. This was a big day for Oklahoma and Oklahoma City's Native population. After so long, they were finally being recognized by the city for all they have done and continue to do for the betterment of the entire community. The fancy dancing and other ceremonial celebrations done before the speakers spoke highlighted that fact.

And Mayor Holt seemed to be warmly greeted by all in attendance.

“We value the many contributions made to our community by the knowledge, labor, technology, science, philosophy, art, and culture of indigenous people,” Holt said as he addressed those present on what is also known as the Columbus Day federal holiday, although not recognized by the City of Oklahoma City.

Holt noted how important it is that Oklahoma is home to 39 federally-recognized tribes and that he and the city value all people, whether one is called “Indigenous, Native, Native American or American Indian, we value the contributions made by our citizens of Indigenous heritage.”

And as Holt told Red Dirt Report's Heide Brandes last month: “Oklahoma has a unique history and Oklahoma City is inextricably tied to that history.  We are proud to be the capital city of a state that is the home of 39 tribes. We are proud that our city’s history is preceded by many, many centuries of Indigenous history.”

OKC Mayor David Holt presented with Osage Pendleton blanket at Monday's Indigenous Peoples' Day ceremony. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

While Holt has embraced the notion of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, activists, since 2015, had been knocked down as they tried to convince the OKC City Council to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. After all, with Oklahoma City’s sizable Native population, it was a no-brainer, right?

Wrong! The city council, made up primarily of reactionary Republicans led by Mayor Mick Cornett, were unmoved by Native people who reminded the council of the barbarism brought against indigenous people who already lived in the Americas when European explorer and noted “genocidal maniac” Christopher Columbus arrived in this part of the world in 1492. Only intellectually-dishonest people can ignore Columbus's sinister history. Many still do, even with all of the historical information out there.

Back in 2015, Sarah Adams-Cornell, a tenacious and key figure in the fight for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, had told Red Dirt Report (which had officially called for Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Oklahoma City a year earlier) that even when their voices were dismissed by the council, she promised she and others would “come back again and we’ll come back again and we’ll come back again” … “because we are resilient.”

Indigenous activist efforts paid off after years of defeat in the face of OKC's reactionary rulers. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

Indeed! Their patience and resilience paid off! And with GOP golden boy Mick Cornett having left his mayoral post and fading from the political scene after his failed shot at the Governor’s Mansion, a younger, wiser mayor, David Holt, sensed those aforementioned winds of change and did the right thing – proclaiming this day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

And while he seemed to wince ever-so-slightly at some critical words rightly shared by Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk, with Live Indigenous OK, about this day being about "representation" and how the people - including Native people - were not represented by the council, having outrightly rejected Indigenous Peoples' Day over and over, until Holt stepped up and issued the proclamation. Lyons Echo-Hawk added that it was important that the city solidify the proclamation so future administrations cannot overturn it.

Holt seemed to take her words to heart, saying later: “I further encourage our citizens to recognize this day by celebrating the history, contributions, values, and thriving culture of indigenous people." He then added: “And I assure you, for as long as I am mayor, we’ll have Indigenous Peoples’ Day."

Other cities that recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day include: Anadarko, Lawton, Tahlequah, Norman and Tulsa, as well as universities like University of Oklahoma and, of course, OCU.

At 6 p.m. Monday, there will be a celebration and an educational panel held in OCU’s Great Hall inside the Tom & Brenda McDaniel University Center, 2501 N. Blackwelder Ave. in Oklahoma City.

With a number of panelists expected to speak, highlighted on this first official Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Oklahoma City will be issues impacting Native people and exciting and new developments within the community at large.

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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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