April 19, 2014

Oklahoma schools reenact Land Run

Elementary School Alternative To Land Run Reenactments Offers More Sides Of The Story

By Susan ShannonSara Adams Cornell has two daughters in the Oklahoma City school district. Last year her daughters participated in a reenactment of the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889.

As members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Cornell said her daughters didn’t understand why anyone would want to reenact that occasion. Cornell contacted the school and was told by her daughter’s teacher and the school principal they could sit in the office or miss a day of school with an unexcused absence.

Cornell found these alternatives unacceptable, so at a Native American Student Services parents meeting, Cornell brought up the land run reenactments.

“Their reaction was really what I think inspired us most to do this,” Cornell said. “They talked about feeling singled out, and they talked about feeling embarrassed. These are a lot of emotions that equated to what children feel when their being bullied.”

April 22nd is Land Run Re-enactment Day: Students & Teachers Race to Stake Their Claims

By Joyce Griffin OberlyEven though we were the original inhabitants of Oklahoma, we were not allowed to participate in the Land Run events. This separation of Oklahoma society, still echoes today. For example, we have little say on the organization and culturally appropriate education for students in public schools, including but not limited to the Land Run celebrations.

Earlier this month, I received a note from my son's school stating that on April 22nd, students and staff will re-enact the Land Run of 1889. The re-enactment will include students grouped into "families" to race across the playground and stake their claims.

As a kid raised in Oklahoma, I remember participating in a similar event in first grade. I went to a school with a significant Indian student population. My teacher specifically asked that the Indian children wear their Indian clothes to school that day. I can only surmise this added to the dramatic effect for our re-enactment.

Thirty years later, I assumed Oklahoma public schools taught this subject without the Land Run re-enactment. I am not the only one with this viewpoint. Beginning in 2007, the Society to Preserve the Indigenous Rights and Indigenous Traditions attempted to petition the state to ban these land run re-enactments at public schools. From my perspective, re-enacting the Land Run of 1889 only serves to physically demonstrate one side of history.
In contrast to the schools' happy reenactments, some actual history:

Native History: Land Rush for Oklahoma Indian Territory Begins

Comment:  I'm not sure kids should be reenacting any part of US history, including the uncontroversial ones. Take the signing of the Declaration of Independence, for instance. What educational value does it have to reenact it--as opposed to reading about it?

The reenactment is mostly propaganda--sending a message about how great and glorious the American enterprise is. Well, what would the British loyalists say? What would the Indian tribes, who mostly sided with the British, say? The reenactment sends the message that this history matters and other histories don't.

The first school eventually instituted an Oklahoma History Day, which includes a Native perspective. It sounds like that perspective is only one of many, so it's not as if they're seriously trying to counteract the settler story.

And we don't know how this one day compares to the Land Run festivities in scope. I'm guessing the Manifest Destiny narrative still predominates.

The school's initial response is telling. As with the Pledge of Allegiance, if you challenge the government propaganda machine, you get punished or shamed. Message: Conform and submit!

Anyway, play-acting the Land Run contributes to several stereotypes: that the land was empty and free for the taking. That Indian nations weren't using it "productively." And that conquest and land theft is something to be celebrated rather than condemned. For these reasons, these news items are a Stereotype of the Month entry.

For more on the subject, see Empty Land in True Grit.

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