Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
August 26, 2000 - Issue 17

Capitol Dome: Indian Statue Selection Gains Support from Tribal Leaders
by By ROB MARTINDALE TulsaWorld Senior Writer
artwork: artist rendition of new Capitol dome

Placing an American Indian statue atop the Capitol dome will increase the appreciation of Oklahomans for the historical role Indians have played in the state, Wilma Mankiller said Monday.

The former chief of the Cherokee Nation was one of several American Indian leaders in the state to speak out in favor of a decision last week by state officials that the to-be-built capitol dome will be crowned with the likeness of a generic male Indian, representing the state's unique heritage.

Mankiller, former chief of the Cherokee Nation, called it "a marvelous idea."

Many Oklahomans, she said, think the state's history started with the Land Run in the late 1800s "and they have little idea of the rich Native American history that predates that."

Calling it a tribute "to all of the Indian people in the state," Mankiller said the statue also will increase "an appreciation for tribal governments and the contributions they have made to the state."

She said the statue might trigger an education campaign in Oklahoma into the histories of the 37 federally recognized tribes in the state.

It could also, she said, be a big step toward mending fences between those tribes and state government.

State and tribal governments, she said, have had a track record of "troubled issues" ranging from taxes to gaming to "a lack of respect for tribal government."

The statue, she said, will be symbolic, "but I hope it translates into greater respect" from and for both state and tribal governments.

Mankiller's remarks in part echoed those of Greg Pyle, chief of the Creek Nation, who said the selection of an Indian statue is a "great turning point" in state and tribal relations.

Pyle said the selection made him extremely proud.

Chad Smith, chief of the Cherokee Nation, said relationships between tribes and state government have been in the growing stages in recent years and are to the point that partnerships are possible. The proposed statue, he said, is a sign that the state recognizes a need to embrace the sovereignty status tribes contend they have.

Noting that the past homelands of many Indian tribes in Oklahoma were the East, he suggested that the statute face in that direction.

Creek Nation Chief Perry Beaver said his tribe has had good relations with the state and the statue should build on that.

The 20-foot tall, bronze statue was the unanimous selection of the state's Capitol Preservation Committee, which heard from scholars and art historians.

The $20 million dome is scheduled for completion in 2002. The cost of the statue has been projected as about $300,000, which will be funded by private donations.

The statue design won't pay tribute to any specific tribe or individual.

Several famous American Indians from Oklahoma, including humorist Will Rogers, athlete Jim Thorpe and Sequoyah, who developed the Cherokee alphabet, are featured at the Capitol.

There was a push in some quarters to have a statue of Rogers placed atop the Capitol.

Michelle Lefebvre-Carter, director of Will Rogers Memorial Museum at Claremore, said Rogers was one-fourth Cherokee and "very proud of that heritage."

She said she would have liked to have seen a likeness of Rogers' face on the statue. It would have "rolled it all into one," honoring the Oklahoma Indian and the late humorist, she said.

Nonetheless, she said, even without the likeness of Rogers, the statue of an American Indian on the Capitol "is something that we can be proud of."

"Canku Ota" question---do YOU know what the word Oklahoma means and what language it is?

Rob Martindale, World senior writer, can be reached at 581-8367 or via e- mail



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