Brian Hardzinski / KGOU
Published February 18, 2019
Because Oklahoma’s rich identity is so closely tied to its Native heritage, it’s only natural that we should take an appropriate and lasting action to recognize the impact that tribes have on the state of Oklahoma, throughout history and in today’s modern landscape.
Cherokee Nation supports state legislation currently under consideration to designate the second Monday in October as “Oklahoma Native American Day.” This legislation passed the House and Senate last session with large majorities in both chambers, only to be vetoed by former Governor Mary Fallin. In the current legislative session, we have another opportunity, as Representatives Mike Osburn and Collin Walke have submitted HB 1040, and Senator Michael Bergstrom authored the companion piece, SB 111.
This day – Oklahoma Native American Day on the second Monday in October – will commemorate the history, culture and achievements of Oklahoma’s Native American people, a citizenry that accounts for approximately 10 percent of Oklahoma’s total population. With 38 federally recognized tribal governments located in Oklahoma, the positive and highly visible influence of Native Americans and tribal governments in our state is undeniable.
The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, representing 750,000 tribal citizens and Oklahoma’s largest tribal nations, has already passed a resolution supporting this legislation.
Chief Bill John Baker
Currently, Oklahoma observes Native American Day on the third Monday in November. However, this date is inconsistent with other such celebrations now held around the country. An observed day in October will coincide with other cities, institutions and tribal nations in Oklahoma that have already designated this day as a holiday. Those include Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Norman, Tahlequah, Muskogee, Anadarko, Okmulgee, McAlester, the University of Oklahoma and the Cherokee Nation, among others. It is important for the state of Oklahoma to formally join these communities to promote a unified statewide celebration of Native people.
Major cities around the country have also embraced this idea. The states of Alaska and South Dakota, both with large tribal populations, have recognized Native American Day on this date, and similar legislation to Oklahoma’s is currently advancing in the Kansas and New Mexico state legislatures.
These proposed bills do not eliminate any other holidays that may also share this date. It’s a nod to all Native peoples, past and present, who have contributed immeasurably to the fabric of our collective culture, and who have served with distinction in our Armed Forces at a higher rate than any other population of people in the United States. Tribal nations are economic engines in their respective communities and jurisdictions, creating tens of thousands of jobs and generating more than $10 billion in economic activity in Oklahoma. Tribes invest the dollars from their business successes into local communities by supporting education, health care, housing and infrastructure in a way that benefits all Oklahomans.
We encourage the adoption of Oklahoma Native American Day on the second Monday in October, along with appropriate educational programs and activities. We urge the state to join us in commemorating the history and achievements of Oklahoma’s Native American population.
Bill John Baker is principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.