Oct 10, 2015 - Indigenous Peoples’ Day OKC, The Time Has Come by Summer Wesley

“Perhaps your campaign would be taken more seriously if there were also non Natives speaking on your behalf…”

“Your leadership is so ‘matriarchal’. ‘Some people’ might receive your message better if you had men speaking for you…”

“Some of you seem to have a chip on your shoulder” and “this issue is divisive”…

Those are paraphrases of the primary criticisms directed towards the community leaders who have proposed Oklahoma City adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day (#ipdOKC).

Note that the “divisiveness” claim is the only one even remotely related to the actual issue.

It is problematic, however, to conceptualize the proposed resolution to establish Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Oklahoma City as truly divisive, when no one has formally opposed it. Over the course of the last month, I have interacted with thousands of individuals through social media, and have seen overwhelming support for this step towards inclusivity, contrasted by the sum total of two individuals who stated they were against the proposition. This matter has been discussed in two separate, public City Council meetings and no member of the public has spoken in opposition, not one.

The criticism that our movement is somehow lacking because it is led by women, has been one of the most frustrating for me, personally. Most of our organizers are from matrilineal cultures, wherein social issues of this nature are within the realm that is the responsibility of our women. Therefore having this movement led by women, with the men playing supportive roles, is entirely appropriate in our ways, just as we, women, are supportive of the leadership of men in their roles. However, the cultural ideas of others have been projected onto us, in a way that causes some individuals to dismiss our proposal simply because of such personal biases, which is unnecessary and unfortunate. Perhaps the cultural exchange that Indigenous Peoples’ Day could provide could help members of the larger community to become more comfortable with increased equality in leadership and other social realms.

Likewise, media coverage has been intriguing. Our leaders have consistently been labeled as “activists” in the press, despite our consistent avoidance of the label and preference for the term “leaders”. Of course, it’s not that the “activist” label is inherently incorrect. By definition, anyone who works for social change is an activist. However, the connotation of the word tends to evoke feelings among that masses that are not necessarily warm and fuzzy. After informally polling people, mostly using social media, about which word associations come to their minds upon hearing the word “activist”, the results were interesting. Even among the individuals who routinely interact with activists, the answers were almost exclusively images that are often perceived negatively by the general populous: protestor, radical, militant, revolutionary, fanatic.

This is important to recognize when examining the way in which the label is often used as a tool for dismissing and silencing advocates. This phenomenon of applying such biasing labels to minority issues, and not to others, has been illustrated very clearly in our efforts when one considers the fact that we have been labeled as activists for working on this innocuous issue, while individuals on either side of a truly controversial issue (OKC’s proposed anti-panhandling ordinance) have not.

I am empathetic, however, to the assertion that we seem bitter or have chips on our shoulders, because there has been a lot of talk about atrocities that have occurred over the centuries. Those facts are unquestionably difficult to hear and, naturally, it can be difficult to grasp for those who don’t face these continuing issues on a daily basis. However, we ask that people adopt an open minded approach and examine the issue without their preconceived ideas.

We don’t bring up the tumultuous history–whether it’s the crimes against humanity that began with Columbus, Manifest Destiny, Indian Removal under Andrew Jackson, the horrific abuses that my grandparents’ generation suffered in boarding schools, or the continued stereotyping and marginalization that Indian Country faces at present–because we enjoy talking about it, or to illicit some sort of guilt in the majority population. We do it by way of explanation for current relations. History isn’t relegated to past; it forms the present.

Oklahoma City has a relatively high population of Indigenous People. According to the 2010 census, upwards of 20% of people identified as having Indigenous ancestry (Native American, Latino, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander). This number excludes individuals who identified as multi-racial, making it possible that the accurate statistic could be considerably higher. However, working with the public, I regularly hear Indigenous citizens of OKC state that they feel like they exist on the fringes of the city, rather than being part of the fabric of the city’s rich tapestry. How tragic to live in a city for your entire life, but feel like you are viewed as an outsider.

It is true that OKC has Red Earth, and various tribal businesses exist in the metro area, but in many ways it feels as if we simply exist alongside one another, rather than working together to strengthen that community. The resolution for the establishment of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an opportunity for City Council to take a proactive step to show the Indigenous community that they seek reconciliation and accept the offer of unity, in order to build an even stronger future together.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day has the potential to be a revenue generator for the city, while also allowing the Indigenous community to educate the broader population about our rich culture and current issues in our community, to build inclusivity and community. We see this as a mutually beneficial opportunity to promote unity and cohesiveness in the city and hope that Council, with the encouragement of citizens, will see this potential and make the right decision, when they cast their votes on October 13th.

Summer Wesley is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a graduate of the University of Oklahoma School of Law, a Legal Research & Writing Consultant, and the media relations contact for the Indigenous Peoples’ Day OKC campaign. For more information on this movement, check out the #ipdOKC hashtag on social media or go to www.facebook.com/ipdOKC

Last Real Indians