OKLAHOMA CITY – For the second straight year, city leaders have rejected an attempt to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday in October.
The city council voted down the proposal 6-3.
Just as they did last year, supporters of the proposed holiday packed city council chambers to promote a holiday that honors Native American populations.
Proponents say a cultural celebration would bring buzz and tourism dollars to Oklahoma City, and called on city leaders to follow in the footsteps of places like Albuquerque, Portland and even Anadarko.
Other minority groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Black Lives Matter showed up at the council chambers in support.
“We always stand with our allies in situations that speak toward injustice and unfairness,” said Rev. T. Sheri Dickinson, director of Oklahoma’s Black Lives Matter movement. “In that situation, the hues of our skin are different, but our fight is the same. We’re saying that we don’t need to be disrespected, we don’t need to be erased from history and history needs to be corrected.”
Supporters also feel it would remove the pain of a holiday that honors Christopher Columbus, a man whose treatment of native populations has been condemned.
“Columbus was a murderer, a rapist, a sex trafficker,” said David Hill of the American Indian Movement Oklahoma. “He started those things in America. And these people who want to keep holding him up as a hero, that shows where they’re coming from. That shows who their hero is and that shows they perpetuate racism.”
Council members contend Columbus Day is a federal issue – a holiday that is not formally recognized in Oklahoma City. City offices do not close and there is no parade or festivity.
“I don’t view our role on council as putting Christopher Columbus on trial, addressing really his legacy at all,” said Ward 1 Councilman James Greiner. “To me, if we have it on the second Monday in October, all we’re doing is causing conflict. Instead of being inclusive.”
Greiner authored a competing resolution to place Indigenous Peoples Day on Aug. 9 – which coincides with United Nations World Indigenous Peoples Day. The compromise also failed by a 6-3 vote. Oklahoma City supporters said an August holiday does not recognize local, native populations.
“I can’t support something that’s divisive,” said Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher, specifically wondering about the reaction from Italian-Americans. “I can’t support something that’s going to offend another group.”
Supporters point out that in their two years of lobbying and advocacy, no one has showed up at the meeting in opposition of Indigenous Peoples Day. They call the council’s vote offensive in its own right.
“It’s just a continued form of racism,” said Hill. “They want to keep it going.”
But supporters vow they will return to council chambers again next year — and every year until they see change.
We are resilient; we have this tenacity within us,” said Sooner Davenport, a boardmember with Live Indigenous OK. “It motivates us and we understand some things may be a marathon but some things are worth guarding.”