Oklahoma governor combines Columbus, Native American days
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – A bill that a broad coalition of Native American groups endorsed to celebrate a day for Indigenous people on Columbus Day was signed into law on April 25 by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, the first governor in the U.S. to be enrolled as a citizen of a Native American tribe.
The Republican said the bill was a fair compromise that gives Oklahoma residents an opportunity to celebrate the 15th century explorer Christopher Columbus and the state’s Indigenous people.
The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, which represents more than 750,000 tribal citizens, passed a resolution earlier this year urging Stitt to sign the measure.
“I think moving it to Columbus Day, I don’t see any downside to it at all,” Stitt said. “It just gives us one opportunity to celebrate Columbus, but also the Indigenous people here in America.”
Oklahoma is home to 39 tribes, and more than 7 percent of the population identifies as Native American, one of the highest proportions in the nation.
Unlike similar measures approved in several other states, including New Mexico earlier this month, the bill does not replace Columbus Day. It moves Oklahoma’s current Native American Day from November to the second Monday in October.
Several Oklahoma communities, including Oklahoma City and Tulsa, have already approved similar citywide resolutions.
Oklahoma’s ex-Republican Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed a similar bill last year, saying in her veto message that combining the two holidays “could be viewed as an intentional attempt to diminish” support for Native American Heritage Month in November.
But Fallin’s veto last year upset many Native Americans who felt she was insensitive to the issue, said Brandon Scott, a Cherokee Nation citizen and the editor of the tribe’s newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix. For many Native Americans, Scott said, Columbus is symbolic of the colonial movement that led to the death and forced assimilation of Indigenous populations.