Oklahoma officials alter language excluding Native Americans

February 18, 2020 GMT

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma officials were forced to revise the language on a new state branding website after backlash over its exclusion of Native Americans’ historical roots in the state.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars, coming from the state and private groups, were spent on the attempted rebranding of the Sooner State as a place of opportunity that best represents its heritage, history and people, Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell said.

But officials failed to recognize the ties one crucial group has to the state: Native Americans.

On the website that provides information on the advertising endeavor, a paragraph described Oklahoma’s history as beginning with the 1889 Land Run,when thousands of Americans took over what the U.S. government at the time called unclaimed territory and what has become known as the Oklahoma Land Rush.

“This is a place that was built from scratch, made by people who gave up everything to come here from all over the world to create something for themselves and their families,” said the statement on the website, which has been revised. “We started this place with a land run in 1889 — and honestly, we’re still running, still making, still pioneering.”

But Native American tribes have been living in Oklahoma for hundreds of years, well before the Land Run.

Democrat Rep. Collin Walke from Oklahoma City, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation and co-chairs the House Native American caucus, criticized the omission of that detail.

“If you start to lose pieces of those historical perspectives, then you’re marginalizing Oklahomans, marginalizing our history and undoubtedly, in the future, people will wake up and say, ‘Wait, I didn’t even know that was an issue,’” he told The Oklahoman.

That paragraph was rewritten to honor Oklahoma’s pre-Land Run heritage, Pinnell said Monday.

“It came to our attention that this specific paragraph was not inclusive of Oklahoma’s rich Native American heritage and was not in line with the other brand elements that did embrace indigenous cultures,” he said.

The revised paragraph now says: “This is a place that was built from scratch, starting with Indigenous cultures that learned how to survive and thrive in changing conditions, to those who gave up everything to pursue new opportunities in the land run of 1889. However you got here, whenever you got here, however long you stay, you’re invited to exhale and bring out the pioneer inside yourself — to make something of your time, your opportunity and your future — and be part of something special. Our roots run deep, and we’re still running, still making, still pioneering. ...”

The revised wording did little to appease Ryan RedCorn, an Osage Nation citizen and a graphic designer who said it was clearly an afterthought and part of a longstanding pattern of Oklahoma leaders ignoring Native American voices.

“It sounds like they’re trying to fold the story of indigenous people into the story of pioneers,” RedCorn said. “It’s like they’re trying to say indigenous people were pioneers too. And that mindset is not the same.”