5 minute read

Native Americans and other allies gathered on the south edge of Bricktown in Oklahoma City Saturday for a day-long sit-in that ended with a peaceful protest of the Centennial Land Run Monument.

The Centennial Land Run monument is made up of 45 bronze pieces depicting different individuals who were involved in the run that opened the Unassigned Lands in the central part of what became Oklahoma and includes the modern-day OKC metro.

S.P.I.R.I.T. which stands for Society to Protect Indigenous Rights & Indigenous Treaties along with Black Lives Matter OKC – Oklahoma City were sponsors of the event.

A recently organized group called WAR or Whites Against Racism also came to the event in solidarity and to help provide a shield against anyone who might try to disrupt the meeting.

They and Black Lives Matter members were instrumental in keeping the all-White counter protesters from massing up and interfering with the peaceful sit-in.

SPIRIT sit-in
SPIRIT Sit-in near the Centennial Land Run Monument (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Focus on Land Runs

The purpose of the sit-in was to focus on the problems of the land runs as a form of theft from the tribes that were promised to have the lands in perpetuity when they were relocated from other parts of the United States.

While early publicity on Facebook had said they would demand Oklahoma City take down the “monstrosity” there was little said about removal of the monument on the day of the sit-in.

Instead, most of the speakers offered remembrances of the tragedy of the already-uprooted tribes losing land again to the greed of the rest of American culture at the time.

Most of the speakers did demand an end to the “89er Land Run Day” re-enactments and told of their own painful childhood as native children being forced to participate.

“Wrong”

One such speaker was Isabella Aiukli Cornell, a Choctaw from Oklahoma City.

Isabella Aiukli Cornell, a Choctaw from Oklahoma City, told about the pain and difficulty of being required to participate in Land Run reenactments in school. (BRETTDICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Her first encounter with a land run reenactment was in the first grade where they were told to go out on the playground and plant their flag to symbolize claiming land during the land run.

“To all of the other kids, this was a fun game,” said Cornell. “But for me, it made me feel really, really upset. Even when I was young, I knew that what they were doing wasn’t good. It wasn’t right.”

“I felt a lot of different things. I felt confused. I felt angry, I felt sad and embarrassed. It just felt wrong.”

Variations of her comments on the common public elementary school practice were repeated throughout the day.

Others told of American Indian students being made to sit in the school office – usually associated with being in trouble – while the rest of the students participated in the activity. They talked about how that practice further isolated them from their classmates.

Counter protesters

Various White individuals showed up in the area, some armed with handguns and two with rifles. They said their intent was to protect the bronze figures of the monument from being defaced or torn down.

Several in that group told Free Press that they didn’t think the Native Americans would do it but that Antifa or Black Lives Matter might show up and attempt it “the way they did in Seattle.”

Organizers had said for days before the event that they had no intent to deface or damage the figures or any part of the massive monument to the Unassigned Lands land run that stretches across the south end of the Bricktown Canal.

As the day wore on, those who may have had fantasies of fighting it out with Antifa to defend the statues were reduced to mere hecklers on the sidelines of a peaceful event.

Some of those concerned for the statues attempted to group up and interfere with the speeches but they were kept at a distance by volunteers from a group called Whites Against Racism or W.A.R. and members of Black Lives Matter.

The most heckling occurred once the Reverend T. Sheri Dickerson, Executive Director of Black Lives Matter began to speak.

After she spoke back to them and continued to speak the counter protesters became more animated seemingly frustrated that they were being held at a distance and not allowed to walk up in the middle of the sit-in.

The day came to an end as planned with no violence or damage to the monument.

SPIRIT Sit-in
Counter protesters argue with WAR and Black Lives Matter volunteers. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

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