Heritage Elementary School Board:
My name is Brian King. I was primarily raised in Maryland, but as an adult I have lived in Utah, Arizona, Wisconsin, Vermont, Texas, and now Oklahoma. My wife and I purchased a home in Tahlequah, and we now consider ourselves Oklahomans. I have previously shared my reservations about Heritage Elementary School’s tradition of standing for the Oklahoma Salute every morning, and was asked by Principal Davenport to share my view on this matter with the board.
Oklahoma’s history sets itself apart from other states in this great country. My wife and I were drawn to Oklahoma in great part because of its Native American tradition. My wife and children are members of the Navajo Nation, and we both work for Northeastern State University which was founded by the Cherokee Nation as a female seminary. Cherokees still contribute to the decision-making of the university, and NSU hails the largest Native American population of any non-tribally-run institution of higher learning in the U.S. Tahlequah is the home of two bands of Cherokee nations, and many non-Cherokee Native American individuals reside within the city and surrounding area. Many of these Native American children attend Heritage Elementary School.
Oklahoma was originally set apart as a land for Native Americans. The state’s name literally means red people in Choctaw. President Andrew Jackson forcibly removed thousands of Native Americans from all over the United States to Oklahoma. One out of four Cherokees died on the Trail of Tears, which turned out to be a foreplanned death march. Because of Oklahoma’s literal translation, for some Native Americans its name is a reminder of the blood that was shed in their journey to this land.
For a short time Native Americans experienced some freedom from the American government as they established themselves on their newly allotted land. When oil was discovered in Oklahoma, Washington desired to renegotiate (or break) their treaties with Native Americans. The Dawes Act (1887) dissolved Indigenous claim to the land by forcing individuals to become individual landowners of small lots. Native Americans in Oklahoma do not have reservations as they do in other states (other than the Osage who are the original inhabitants the land).
Oklahoma land was stolen from Native Americans and given to the Sooners in a race for land. In 1889 white settlers literally raced to occupy land which was then deeded over to them. Native Americans have were murdered and had their land stolen from them. Could you imagine why it would be difficult for some families in Oklahoma to salute the Oklahoma flag every morning?
State pledges and salutes are not common, and are a recent phenomenon. Oklahoma only adopted its salute in 1982. Only nineteen states have salutes or pledges, and not all states recite them in public schools. Although the Oklahoma’s salute is legally on the books, there is no law that requires administers and principals to allot time to have students recite it in public schools. Its recitation is up to the discretion of the school district, and Tahlequah Public Schools does not require the practice.
So, why does Heritage Elementary School recite the Oklahoma Salute? According to Principal Davenport, she has never given the matter much thought, which is why she has kindly asked me to address this board. I think that this is a common reaction. For those raised reciting the Oklahoma Salute, it would be hard to imagine a school not reciting it. However, tradition alone is not a good argument to justify continuing any given practice. Traditions reflect our values.
I have read over the Oklahoma Salute, and I admit that I like the words in it. I like that it is short, and it emphasizes peace and unity. I think that these are values that our state needs. So why get rid of it? I believe that state pledges are not a proper place to instill these values; instead, we can teach these values through our actions. How many of you know the names of the two U.S. Senators who represent Oklahoma? How many of you can name of your elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives? Can you name your representatives from the Oklahoma State House and Senate? When is the last time you or your children have contacted a representative, a senator, or your governor to discuss an issue that will benefit, beautify, or improve Oklahomans? When is the last time that you took your children to Oklahoma City to teach your children about how government works? Who has visited the Tahlequah city council? When is the last time that you and your child have volunteered to give service?
I’d suggest an activity that would literally unite Heritage Elementary with the community. Sidewalks are sorely needed along Southridge Road to ensure the safety of walkers. Such a trail would also connect walkers, runners, bikers, and commuters from all over the Southridge to Heritage School, extending to the main highway. I would love to see a child-led effort to petition the Tahlequah government in order to ensure public safety and unify the Southridge neighborhood with Heritage Elementary School.
Are state pledges intrinsically evil and bad for society? I don’t think so. I am not offended by them, but I am uncomfortable with them because I feel that they are not needed. I believe that they are wasteful aggrandizement of state arrogance, and that they distract from the Pledge of Allegiance. Ultimately, before I am an Oklahoman, I am an American, and the American flag is the only symbol to which I am willing to pledge my allegiance. I recognize that people and symbols change over time, and that Oklahoma is not the Indian-killing state that it used to be. I am proud to be an Oklahoman, and I hope to make Oklahoma a better place than where I found it. I do not believe that it is not OK to force a pledge of unity to Oklahoma children when not all Oklahoma families feel particularly united with what the Oklahoma flag stands for. My children may not be compelled to recite the Oklahoma pledge, but because it plays on the loudspeaker they cannot escape it. They also cannot escape the possible scorn that comes with being the only child who chooses to not recite the salute or pledge. With this pretense, that I would encourage Heritage Elementary School to cease the quotidian recitation of the Oklahoma Salute.