Sara Adams Cornell has two daughters in the Oklahoma City school district. Last year her daughters participated in a reenactment of the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889.
As members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Cornell said her daughters didn’t understand why anyone would want to reenact that occasion. Cornell contacted the school and was told by her daughter’s teacher and the school principal they could sit in the office or miss a day of school with an unexcused absence.
Cornell found these alternatives unacceptable, so at a Native American Student Services parents meeting, Cornell brought up the land run reenactments.
“Their reaction was really what I think inspired us most to do this,” Cornell said. “They talked about feeling singled out, and they talked about feeling embarrassed. These are a lot of emotions that equated to what children feel when their being bullied.”
She next contacted Dr. Star Yellowfish, Executive Director for the Oklahoma City Public Schools Indian Education program and together they drafted a letter to take to a meeting of school administrators.
“A lot of it was historical information that maybe they weren't aware of and then on the flip side we gave them a personal perspective,” Cornell said.
“Most importantly what that means to the children in their district, their native children. Also the importance of historical accuracy in education,” Cornell said.
“So we presented that and we took it to a meeting. There were about three people from administration for the district and it wasn't very well received,” Cornell said.
“It was very disappointing; I think we were both very surprised,” Cornell said. “We thought it would be very well received.”
Yellowfish and Cornell thought just hearing how the re-enactment made the kids feel would be enough to get the administrators to at least consider making a change.
Their objections were met with “We've always done it this way” and “this is the way we like to do it, kids like to get out of the classroom" and finally, "it happened so we should talk about it."
“Of course we should talk about but should we re-enact it? Learning it and re-enacting it are two very different things,” Cornell said.
The two women went back to the drawing board, looking for that compromise that would be acceptable to all parties.
They presented their ideas at October’s Indian Education Summit.
Yellowfish began with talking about the school district.
“We are a very large school district. We have about 2000 native students with about 81 schools. That's a whole bunch of elementary schools,” Yellowfish said. The compromise or alternative to land run reenactments that Yellowfish and Cornell came up with was an “Oklahoma History Day.”
“That would start pre-statehood, pre-contact really, about what was happening here in this area before contact. So that's where we start,” Cornell said.
“Kids travel through stations, so it’s a hands on, first-person narrative. There's somebody out there engaging with them, talking about it as if they were in that time period, dress in the clothes that they were wearing at that time and they would speak in a storyteller fashion,” Cornell said.
“We will offer perspectives from different voices, so not just government perspective but also the native perspective and the immigrant perspective,” Cornell said. “Anyone that was participating in that time period will have a voice so it’s more well-rounded.”
“They'll also have a time to ask questions and participate in some kind of hands on activity to really engage them,” Cornell said.
The stations would start off with the pre-contact period and go through the Trail of Tears, the Land Runs, and ending with statehood and pioneer life.
“I think what's important, we want your kids to think, we want our kids to think,” Yellowfish said. “We want them to have both perspectives. We want to have those common core critical thinking skills to process what actually happened and for them to articulate it themselves.”
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