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Osage Nation Congress calls for repeal of Oklahoma's so-called 'critical race theory' ban

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The Osage Nation Congress unanimously passed a resolution last week, calling on the Oklahoma legislature to repeal House Bill 1775, the so-called critical race theory bill.

The proposal was introduced after a high school English teacher in Dewey, Okla., said she would not assign her students to read Killers of the Flower Moon, a book written about the Osage Reign of Terror when many citizens were kidnapped or killed. The teacher said she feared the stories might upset students and could be a violation of recent state legislation.

Osage Congresswoman Whitney RedCorn told the Osage Congress she has been hearing concerns from citizens that public schools in Oklahoma are forbidden to teach students about slavery, history about racism and war waged against Native Americans.

The resolution states that, "the vague nature of the law has created anxiety among Oklahoma educators" and that there has been public concern about the law.

State lawmakers could clarify the language when the Oklahoma Legislature reconvenes in February 2023, but it’s unclear what effect the Osage Nation resolution will have.

Amid work approving bylaws and discussing gaming operations, the Osage Congress had a passionate debate about the resolution directed at the Oklahoma Legislature about HB1775. Nearly every member of the Osage Congress took the podium to support it.

"This bill (Oklahoma HB 1775) is a solution to an imaginary problem," said Osage Congressman Billy Keene, during his comments supporting the Osage resolution. He also called on other tribes to support and pass resolutions calling on state legislatures to clarify or repeal similar laws.

"The purpose of education is to make you feel uncomfortable, to have hard conversations," said Keene. "I'm proud to serve on a tribal body that is standing up to such ignorance and stupidity."

Keene said the vague nature of the bill's language could jeopardize a teacher’s license if they cause a student to feel uncomfortable.

Osage Congressman Eli Potts said he's personally heard from schools that have rescinded speaking engagements related to Killers of the Flower Moon because they were scared of the consequences. He said this restriction of teaching could cause history to repeat itself.

RedCorn, the sponsor of the resolution, is a preschool teacher and was emotional at times when she spoke.

"We know that when we learn history in a factual manner, it stirs feelings of compassion, injustice and unfairness. It shows us moments in our past where we did not respect our fellow human beings," said RedCorn. "History is emotional, as it should be."

Two schools in Oklahoma — Tulsa Public Schools and Mustang Public Schools — have already had their accreditations called into question because of House Bill 1775.

More than 30 states have adopted or introduced laws or policies that restrict teaching in public schools on race or racism.

Earlier this year, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. called out Texas State Rep. Matt Krause for asking the Texas Education Agency to declare whether children have access to about 850 books, including The Indian Removal Act and The Trail of Tears by Susan E. Hamen.

The Fort Worth lawmaker, who is running for Texas Attorney General, said the books on the list could “make students feel discomfort”.

Hoskin Jr. called Krause’s demand from schools a 'hysterical effort' and a further effort to suppress Native people.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs desk.
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