American Indians Urge Oklahoma State Lawmakers to Oppose 'English Only'
OKLAHOMA CITY - American Indian leaders, citing a desire to preserve
their native languages, urged state lawmakers Thursday to defeat
"English only" legislation that would declare English Oklahoma's
In a letter to lawmakers, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith
said the measure, approved on Wednesday by the House General Government
and Transportation Committee, "is really just an ugly symbol of
"The kindhearted people of Oklahoma do not need to watch politicians
create an artificial divide in our state," said Smith, who voiced
opposition to the bill before committee members voted 9-7 to send it to
the House floor for a vote.
"Our great state has been blessed with more than 35 Indian nations, each
of which has a unique culture," Smith said. "Part of that culture comes
from the richness of native languages, which have been spoken here for
centuries before Oklahoma became a state."
In a separate statement, George Tiger, a member of the Muscogee (Creek)
Nation and chairman of the United Indian Nations of Oklahoma, said
tribal governments support school language preservation programs that
could be harmed by the measure.
"It is sad that in 2007, even as the state makes plans to celebrate its
centennial year, that people of color are still being targeted for
using their language," Tiger said. "It seems like we're taking steps
Meanwhile, the bill's author, Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee, said he is
working with other lawmakers, including members of the Legislature's
Native American Caucus, to resolve concerns.
"We're exploring that right now," Faught said. "I've obviously walked
into a hornet's nest. I didn't realize this was going to be this
"What concerns me now is the lines have been drawn, maybe a little
prematurely and unfairly. I hope this thing will simmer down a little
bit," Faught said.
Among other things, the measure would require official state business to
be conducted in English and official documents, regulations,
publications and meetings to be in English.
Faught said the bill could eventually end bilingual driver's license
tests and other state government documents.
The bill also says it should not be used to discourage the use of or
prevent the study or development of American Indian languages.
"I saw it as a pretty simple thing," Faught said. "There may be some
maneuvering we can do to maybe solve some of the problems."
But lawmakers of Indian heritage said they will work to defeat the
measure. It has not been scheduled for a hearing on the House floor.
"I'm embarrassed to be a part of a Legislature that takes part in
legislation like this," said Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, a member of
the Creek tribe. "I am sure that this piece of legislation is nothing
more than political fluff, designed to scare people."
Rep. Scott BigHorse, D-Pawhuska, said the measure would have a negative
impact on the state's economy. Big Horse is affiliated with the Osage
"It would decrease tourism and send a message to everyone outside the
state that Oklahoma does not embrace diversity," BigHorse said.