For me, Oklahoma’s centennial celebration is an opportunity to educate my fellow Oklahomans on the full history of the state, commemorate that history and look forward to an enriched future.
Our true history includes a public school system that has oversimplified Oklahoma’s past, starting with elementary school playground re-enactments of the land run. The common sight was of small children streaking across the playground to stake their claim of Indian Territory. Rarely taught was that the land was being taken away from its American Indian owners.
Perhaps a brief historical review of our state’s history is in order. Indian nations are sovereign nations with rights that have existed for thousands of years, and these rights have never been extinguished. For instance, the Cherokee Nation executed the first of its 10 treaties with Great Britain in 1721, to be followed by another 13 treaties with the United States. What this tells us is the world community continuously recognized the Cherokee Nation as a sovereign government 176 years before the state of Oklahoma ever existed.
Each of the Five civilized tribes — Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Cherokee — signed removal treaties in which the United States guaranteed that their lands would, “never be included in any state or territory, without their consent.” it was this treaty that was often cited by the Five tribes in their arguments against placing their tribal boundaries within the boundaries of a state. In 1905 these politically sophisticated tribes proposed an Indian state, to be called the state of Sequoyah. A constitution for the state of Sequoyah was drafted, an official seal created and the legislation was submitted to the U.S. Congress. Unfortunately, the legislation to create the new state was ignored by Congress, where it languished and died in committee.
When I learned in September 2000 that the state of Oklahoma intended to create a huge bronze monument to Oklahoma’s land run, I questioned the value of this monument in correspondence to the governor. He fired back a comment that I was holding what he called a “historical grudge.” No grudge intended, but I do believe a memorial should reflect a truth and should honor a significant individual or event such as the tragic loss of life in Oklahoma City in 1995. The oft-missed truth of Oklahoma history is that there were several lands runs and lottery held for lands that already had lawful owners — American Indian owners. Instead our history has been rewritten to reflect a more romantic version of the settlement of Oklahoma Territory.
Rather than celebrate the centennial of an act intended to destroy nations, we choose to commemorate the event. The Cherokee Nation has existed as a constitutional form of government since 1827 and Cherokee people have existed on this continent for millennia. The Oklahoma Centennial is but one event in our long history of interaction with our fellow tribal nations, Britain and the United States.
We too are proud of our state. We accept the good and bad things that happened in our history. More importantly, we look forward to the next 100 years of better relations with our fellow Oklahomans. Of the 2007 centennial, we will be judicial and polite in our recognition of the ongoing activities, but will never forget Oklahoma’s history — all of it.
This article first appeared in the Muskogee Daily Phoenix and has been reprinted in newspapers across the state.