Many, even outside of Oklahoma, are aware that once upon a time, there was a Land Run held here in 1889. Most may not know the exact date off the top of their heads, but they will probably recognize the cry of “Boomer Sooner” and might have an inkling of where that cry gets its origins.
According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, “April 22, 1889, was a day of chaos, excitement, and utter confusion. Men and women rushed to claim homesteads or to purchase lots in one of the many new towns that sprang into existence overnight. An estimated eleven thousand agricultural homesteads were claimed.”
It was effectively the beginning of the end of Indian Territory – an end punctuated by Oklahoma’s statehood in 1907.
Fast forward to 2015. There is a stew brewing in Oklahoma City because at the behest of American Indian parents and students, the school district has decided to nix the tradition of staging Land Run reenactments as an educational tool for school children.
School board member Bob Hammack told NewsOK he thinks it’s a bad idea to stop the celebrations because the Land Run is a colorful and unique part of Oklahoma history.
“This is political correctness run amok, promulgated by a handful of people who certainly don’t represent the vast majority of Oklahomans who are very proud of our history,” Hammack said. “Any attempt to minimize what is a historical fact is flat-out wrong.”
The Tulsa World newspaper agrees.
A Jan. 5 editorial states, “That’s too bad. It’s throwing away a valuable means of teaching youngsters about an important and colorful part of the state’s history. Instead of learning about Oklahoma heritage in an active, fun way that they will never forget, we’ll sit them down in the classroom and give them a politically correct lecture. Anyone who thinks that’s going to be more effective, raise your hand.”
I’ll bite. My hand is up – but not in defense of political correct lectures. I'd argue the point these detractors are making is that it is OK to minimize the facts of my family history with a game. It's not about teaching history. It's about teaching THEIR history as opposed to OUR history.
Hammack and the Tulsa World need to consider that Oklahoma is home to the largest tribe in the country, the Cherokee Nation. Oklahoma is second only to California in American Indian population and 38 tribes are headquartered here. We may not be the majority, but we are your neighbors. Tribal nations contribute vastly to the economic and cultural landscape of Oklahoma. Respect is in order.
American Indian parents aren’t asking for history to not be taught. They are asking that the feelings of their children be considered. They are asking that a game not be used to teach children about taking land and staking a claim in Indian Territory. Parents are not asking for a “politically correct lecture” - they are asking the losses suffered by their great grandparents not be celebrated with a game.
Who honestly thinks that those elementary age children who are eagerly racing to stake a claim will take away a genuine history lesson from the activity? Will they remember the ramifications of the Land Run? Will they care? Will they even remember the date? Or will they remember dressing in costumes, pulling wagons and trying to beat their classmates to the spot they have picked out?
Let’s see a raise of hands.
I read and hear the term “politically correct” bandied about whenever a minority group takes a stand and dares question anything in the dominant society. Whenever we say “enough,” the mainstream deems it a call for “political correctness.”
American Indians aren’t chastising anyone to be “politically correct” – we are saying it is not acceptable to marginalize us. We are here, we matter, and most of all, our children matter and our history matters. Just as much as yours.
– Lisa Snell is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She has owned and operated the Native Times since 2008. She also publishes, edits and writes for Native Oklahoma magazine.