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Politics and Government

Oklahoma City Celebrates First Indigenous Peoples' Day

Sarah Adams-Cornell holds the Mayor's proclamation that declares October 8 Indigenous Peoples Day in Oklahoma City.
Caroline Halter
Sarah Adams-Cornell holds the Mayor's proclamation that declares October 8 Indigenous Peoples Day in Oklahoma City.

Sarah Adams-Cornell, a citizen of Choctaw Nation, is one many activists who has worked for over three years to get Indigenous Peoples' Day officially recognized in Oklahoma City.

“It helps to solidify our sovereignty as indigenous people,” Adams-Cornell said. She’s part of a group called Live Indigenous OK.

The Oklahoma City Council previously rejected two measures establishing the holiday, but Mayor David Holt bypassed the council in September when he signed a proclamation establishing the holiday on October 8.

At a ceremony with tribal members and supportive citizens at Oklahoma City University, Holt read the proclamation aloud.

“Whereas, the first inhabitants of what is now known as Oklahoma City were indigenous peoples who knew this as their homeland,” Holt read. “And whereas the 129 year history of Oklahoma City is rich, but overshadowed by the many centuries of indigenous history that preceded it.”

The proclamation also acknowledges the longstanding presence of tribes throughout the state, something tribal members hope to bring into focus.

“Oklahoma's own origin stories are often tied up with the land run, which was also the dispossession of Native American tribes in Oklahoma,” explained Amanda Cobb Greetham, who chairs the University of Oklahoma’s department of Native American Studies. “I think that it's time that we as Oklahomans learn how to embrace our whole history. And I think celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day in Oklahoma City is a wonderful step on that path.”

During his time in the state senate, Mayor Holt sponsored legislation that would have moved Native American Day, which is celebrated in November, to coincide with Columbus Day. Though it passed with bipartisan support, the measure was vetoed by Gov. Mary Fallin.

Oklahoma City joins Norman, Tulsa, Tahlequah and Anadarko in recognizing the day. Chuck Charleston, 94, a member of the Choctaw Nation who attended the ceremony, said he hopes more cities will follow suit.

“Hopefully it will spread all over Oklahoma,” Charleston said.

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