Peaceful protest promotes dialogue

Activists Ashley McCray, Sydne Gray and Ashley Morrison express their concerns Thursday regarding the 89er Day Parade during a parade planning meeting in downtown Norman.

The 89er Day parade committee welcomed visitors to speak on the concerns of Indigenous people at the luncheon meeting on Thursday. 

“Thank you for inviting us to the meeting,” said Ashley McCray, a university Ph.D. student and a Native activist. “I’m glad you gave us the time and space to talk about these things.”

McCray identified herself as a member of the Absentee Shawnee tribe and a tribal historian. She said there are records from witnesses of the land run who talk about the atrocities experienced when Native persons were displaced. They had been displaced from their homeland to come to Indian Territory, then were displaced again when the future state of Oklahoma was opened up to white settlement through the land run.

In Norman, some tribal members were displaced again when Lake Thunderbird was built.

“About 40 Absentee Shawnee families were displaced,” McCray said. “My ceremonial grounds are in Little Axe.”

McCray told parade organizers that if the parade is about history, Native Americans should be represented in that time frame.

“I lament the fact that our culture was not brought in,” McCray said.

She said because the history presented in the parade begins with 1989, it leaves out the Native people who were already living here. She said most of the federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma were not here originally — they came on the Trail or Tears or afterward but prior to the land run. She does not believe that tax money should support a parade that doesn’t represent everyone in town.

“We don’t have anything in our parade that is commemorating the land run … other than the name itself, we don’t have anything celebrating the land run,” said committee co-chair Stefanie Brickman.

The parade receives funding from the city so that entries can be free for anyone who wants to participate. Brickman said the Christmas Parade and the Mardi Gras Parade charge for entries. The 89er Day Parade does not because they wanted to include everyone. Brickman said the parade committee would welcome the Native population representing history preceding 1889.

Sydne Gray of the Alligator Clan said the parade celebrates the day that land was stolen from Native people, and they would not want to be a part of a parade named after 89er Day which represents oppression and displacement.

“That celebration is the celebration of the conditions that our people are experiencing every single day,” Gray said.

Her family was removed from their original land and endured the travesty of the Trail of Tears then were displaced again because of the land run.

“This is very new history for a lot of us,” Gray said. “We existed on this land for generations.”

She said her people suffer from high suicide rates and high domestic violence rates because of the genocide and displacement endured by Native peoples. They do not want to be part of a parade that “celebrates the theft of the land.”

“It’s unacceptable,” Gray said.

Brickman said this year the parade plans will go ahead as scheduled as the parade is only a month away, but the committee will discuss renaming the parade in the future.

“We’ve tried to make sure this is tied to Norman’s history, and there are no land run re-enactments,” Brickman said. “We are a very inclusive parade. We want to include everybody.”

Parade committee member Laura Cooper said she felt the speakers were very abrasive in their presentation.

“We’re all volunteers and we’re just helping,” Cooper said. “My great grandmother is pure blood Cherokee.”

Some parade committee members asked if the protestors, many of whom are university students are also making their voices heard at OU and if this protest were new.

The group said they have spoken with the university about several issues and were successful in getting Columbus Day replaced with Indigenous Persons Day.

“Some people have protested this parade for a decade,” McCray said.

The end goal is to stop the parade which they associate with genocide because of the name.

“It actually invokes and triggers a lot of trauma,” McCray said.

Brickman said the committee might consider having a May 15 Norman Founder’s Day Parade in the future, and that the parade committee is open to all parts of history.

“We are very receptive to an open dialogue,” Brickman said. “We welcome everyone. We seek funds from the city of Norman so that we can be a free parade and include everyone.”

Joy Hampton


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