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INDIGENOUS WIN: Norman becomes latest city in Oklahoma to pass Indigenous People’s Day

Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report
A tribal flag procession and drumming begins OU's Indigenous Peoples' Day celebrations in October 2015.
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NORMAN, Okla. — In what has been a three year struggle, the Norman City Council unanimously approved to recognize Indigenous People’s Day on the second Monday in October, a replacement for the outmoded Columbus Day that honors Native American and Indigenous culture and their contributions to society, with special regard to their history before the colonization of the Americas by European explorers, conquerors and settlers.

In what has been described as a “very quiet process” between the Norman city council and the Norman Human Rights Commission, the win is a bittersweet one for groups Live Indigenous OK who had been petitioning the council for years, only to have the resolution pass on the first try by the non-Native led Commission.

Still, local activists such as Summer Wesley of Live Indigenous OK are applauding the win, calling it a “first step” that “hopefully other cities around the state and the nation will take notice of and make similar first steps as well.”

It’s a sentiment that noted activist Sarah Adams-Cornell is in agreement with, proclaiming it as “certainly a victory for Indigenous People,” one that should set an example to the rest of the country, especially Oklahoma City and the OKC City Council, which has continually refused to pass a similar resolution.

“Anytime we can expand Indigenous People’s Day in our towns and states, it’s a win,” Adams-Cornell said. “We’re the capital of the state. We should be setting the bar on these kinds of issues. As much as we like say Oklahoma City is a ‘Big League City,’ that we’re on the cusp and cutting edge of everything, we still have a ways to go when it comes to social justice issues.”

In regard to Oklahoma City, however, Live Indigenous OK has decided not to pursue an Indigenous People’s Day in 2017, preferring to wait until next year when there might be more turnover not only on the city council, but in terms of the Oklahoma City mayoral race as well.

Even then, most parties are unsure how this Norman decision will affect the view of Indigenous People’s Day in Oklahoma City unless more of an “open-minded and forward thinking mindset” is elected, especially when considering that last year, the City Council made the insulting suggestion to replace the word “Indigenous” with “Native American” in what was deemed by many supporters as a “passive-aggressive” attempt to recognize only the federally recognized tribes of the United States, ignoring those Indigenous peoples from south of the United States border.

It was a proposition that was flat-out rejected by Indigenous activists in a show of solidarity.

“When asked if we were willing to let the measure 'die on that' by the council and we said ‘absolutely,’ believing that it’s of the utmost importance to include and recognize those peoples and their contributions as well,” Wesley added.

Still, in preparation for 2018, there is some hope that Oklahoma City just might be coming around.

“We’ve already begun conversations with mayoral candidates, talking to them about Indigenous issues and their take on things like Indigenous People’s Day and that is a lot more promising,” Adams-Cornell said. “We plan to revisit it in 2018, but I will say the more cities that institute Indigenous People’s Day, the more pressure it will put on Oklahoma City to follow suit.”

In addition to Norman, that pressure includes the University of Oklahoma and the City of Anadarko, as well as, nationally, cities such as Minneapolis, Phoenix and Seattle. Wesley assures that this goal isn’t done out of a politically-correct attempt to “erase history,” but rather part of a “larger effort” to “increase awareness and visibility for our community to increase knowledge and understanding of an accurate history and how it affects everything.”

“Colonization has affected everything, right up until the current day,” Wesley said. “It’s ongoing, it affects our currents political climate and how we go forward in the future. Unfortunately, there’s a very large knowledge gap and I think Indigenous People’s Day is one small component to addressing all that.”

“It’s important to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day because that’s what we’ve asked for,” Adams-Cornell added. “Honoring a community of color the way they want to be honored is important. Making sure we talk accurately about history so we don’t perpetuate myths about people like Columbus is also important. We have an obligation, as a community to right wrongs when we can. This is one simple way to do that and make our state stronger and more inclusive.”

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Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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