On Aug. 1, 2008, the Oklahoma Tax Commission approved a new license plate design featuring the "Sacred Rain Arrow" sculpture by the late Allan Houser. That art, now at Gilcrease Museum, has been described by a museum spokesperson as "depicting a young Apache warrior who was selected in a time of drought to shoot a 'rain arrow' into the sky, to bring his people's prayers to their gods so that they would get rain."
This interpretation comes from Apache literature, which describes the legend of a boy-god who shoots an arrow that kills a dragon, immediately after which, "storm clouds swept the mountains, lightning flashed, thunder rolled, and the rain poured." The religious symbolism of this sculpture is undeniable.
The commission missed the spiritual meaning imprinted on its new license plates. It probably never considered that the design promotes the polytheistic religion of a Native Americans tribe.
So, notwithstanding further action by the ACLU, as you drive around the state Capitol next year to admire the new Ten Commandments structure, especially the commandment that reads, "You shall have no other gods before me," just remember that somewhere on the rear-end of your vehicle is a grand tribute to polytheism.
Herb Van Fleet, Tulsa
For starters, the "Apache literature" describes simple cause-and-effect (arrow triggers natural phenomena) with no references to the supernatural. There's also the issue of Houser's intent. He based the statue on a legend, but he may have intended a generic message such as hope or reaching for the sky.
More to the point, few people know about the statue's link to religion. Banning the plate would be like banning a Biblical phrase--"lion's den," "wages of sin," "good Samaritan"--from government documents. Even though many people wouldn't recognize the phrase's origin, someone might impute a religious meaning to it.
Apache = polytheistic?
I don't know if the Apache religion is truly polytheistic. Some Natives might say that the supernatural beings in their religion are all aspects of one "Creator" or "Great Spirit." Would Van Fleet feel better if an Apache assured him there's only one God?
But okay. I wouldn't want Oklahoma's license plate to indoctrinate Van Fleet the way conservative Christianity tries to indoctrinate everyone. If he'll agree to removing every mention of God from our coins, seals, statues, buildings, and the Pledge of Allegiance, I'll agree to removing Houser's image from the plate. Deal?
For more on the subject, see Indian Chosen for Oklahoma Plate and Allan Houser's Art.