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Indigenous Peoples' Day resolution fails to pass, 4-4

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
The way the Indigenous Peoples' Day vote went down on Tuesday afternoon.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – After sitting through a brutally long meeting of the City Council of Oklahoma City on Tuesday – lasting over four hours – Native American activists pushing for a resolution to have the establishment of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Oklahoma City were dealt a blow when the council voted 4-4, resulting in the resolution’s defeat.

Councilwoman Meg Salyer of Ward 6 was not present during today’s meeting.

The irony of today’s loss was apparent to those who worked hard to lobby the council in the days leading up to the vote, as they noted the state flag, city emblem and the council lamps all festooned with Native American imagery. And this in a city and state known by the Choctaw word “okla” and “humma,” translated as “red people.”

Today’s council vote comes a day after the City of Anadarko, a far smaller community in Caddo County, officially signed a proclamation recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday of October, in place of the divisive (and long-ignored) Columbus Day.

One of the council co-sponsors of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution, Councilman Pete White, explained that the resolution was “straightforward” and that since Oklahoma City does not officially recognize Columbus Day, a federal holiday, it would be an easy vote for the council members, considering Oklahoma’s long-established relationship with the Native American community.

TAKING A STAND

Several Native American activists took three minutes each to argue in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Frances Danger, a Muscogee Creek and Seminole, explained how Native Americans face “small indignities” all the time and that the city embracing the indigenous community is important.

“Everyday you get into a car with a  license plate emblazoned with ‘Native America.’ It is time to stand behind those words,” Danger said.

From Indigenize OU in Norman was Ashley McCray, who is a member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe and also an Oglala Lakota.

“(Supporting Indigenous Peoples’ Day) is a positive and proactive way to begin a larger conversation about restoring justice to indigenous communities,” McCray said, adding that were the council to pass Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it would tell Native Americans that Oklahoma City is home and a place where they truly belong.

“This is about taking a stand against racism and discrimination,” added McCray.

One of those to speak was a member of the Caddo Nation, Tracy Newkumet Burrows. She said that Christopher Columbus has long been divisive, particular in indigenous communities.

“Natives find him to be offensive,” Burrows said, adding. “Honor the natives that you so liberally use to create tourist dollars and to honor us in a way that is an outward expression of an inward belief.”

Also speaking in favor of the resolution was Choctaw Nation member Sarah Adams-Cornell, who explained that replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day would show that Oklahoma City was progressive and forward-thinking enough to recognize Columbus for the genocidal exploiter that he was.

Asked Adams-Cornell of the council: “Why wouldn’t we want to change this? What part of this story are we holding onto that’s deserving of a holiday?’

SURE, THERE WERE ATROCITIES COMMITTED, BUT …

Three hard-right councilmembers – Larry McAtee, James Greiner and Mark Stonecipher,  along with Mayor Mick Cornett – explained why they weren’t on board with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“I think you guys make a passionate stance and bring up a lot of indignities,” Cornett said. “And we of European descent can’t possibly know what you and your ancestors have gone through.”

That said, Cornett offered a defense of Columbus Day by explaining that the origins of the holiday came from Italian-Americans who were persecuted in the late 19th and early 20th century. He went on to explain that the city already does a lot to celebrate Native American culture and that regarding Columbus Day, well, he sees the holiday in a broader sense, essentially defending Manifest Destiny and settler-colonialism, while couching it with what an "inclusive" nation the United States is now.

Cornett added that a vote against Indigenous Peoples’ Day should not be perceived as an attack on Native American culture and that, frankly, this whole issue “is a trial about Christopher Columbus.”

“I’m not there yet,” the Big League City mayor said of his decision to vote against the resolution. “And I hope no one feels insulted by my unwillingness to support it.”

“I’m not there either,” harrumphed Stonecipher, who incongruously transitioned into a long story about his grandfather fleeing the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire 100 years ago. Acknowledging the “divisive” Indigenous Peoples’ Day would be looking backward and not forward.

Avoiding the issue of Indigenous Peoples’ Day all together, ardent Christian nationalist McAtee said supporting the American Indian Cultural Center and the Red Earth festival and righting earlier injustices by the federal government by sending money to the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations are fine with him. For McAtee, however, endorsing Indigenous Peoples’ Day was simply going too far.

Councilman Larry McAtee (Ward 3) voted against Indigenous Peoples' Day. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

The main sponsor of the resolution was Councilman White. 

Clearly aiming his comments at anti-Indigenous voices Cornett and Stonecipher, White said: “I just think it’s wrong to postpone justice just because you’re not ready yet.” This received wide applause from the gallery audience.

Councilman David Greenwell was another supporter of the resolution who felt that the name “Indigenous” was too obscure for the citizenry and that, perhaps, “Native American Day” would be better.

“I think we have a responsibility for bringing forth the truth,” Greenwell said, noting that there seems to be “a chip on some of the proponents’ shoulders” in pushing this resolution.

AFTERMATH

Red Dirt Report spoke to a few of the proponents of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, including council co-sponsor Councilman Ed Shadid, along with Native American activists Ashley McCray and Sarah Adams-Cornell.

"I'm proud we had the discussion. It's a healthy conversation to have. I'm proud of those who voted in favor of it. We didn't lose, we tied. We'll certainly bring it back every year until it inevitably does pass," Shadid said. "It's a testament that the dominoes are going to fall."

The Native Americans were clearly disappointed by the vote.

“I think it’s very clear that they are uneducated and misinformed about what we were trying to accomplish,” said McCray. “And I really was disappointed the mayor wasn’t on board because he felt like he wasn’t ready.”

“I think Councilman White put it really well when he said you can’t postpone justice because you’re not ready,” Adams-Cornell said. “Those are exactly my sentiments. We must push forward. We’re on the docket again in two weeks and again next year if we have to.”

Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid speaks to Sarah Adams-Cornell after the vote on Indigenous Peoples' Day. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

Adams-Cornell continued, saying the mayor and three council members “will be held accountable for the way they voted today. Our indigenous people hear them loud and clear and we vote and we’re making sure we work together. We don’t want it to be a pitted-against each other situation. They’re making it hard by not listening to why we want to do this. They’re making it difficult by putting up a wall and being defensive about what we want.”

She said that she is disappointed that the council didn’t vote in a united manner to fight the injustices that the indigenous communities have faced by passing this resolution.

And regarding Councilman Greenwell’s comment about the activists having “chips on their shoulders,” Adams-Cornell said: “I think those chips are about 600 years old. And I think that they’re valid. And that they’re not chips, it’s historical genocide. Genocide is a big chip.”

The next City Council meeting is Tuesday, October 13th.

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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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