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Oklahoma State Senate
Communications Division
State Capitol
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
405-521-5774

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For Immediate Release: April 2, 2008


Sen. Harry Coates

Sen. Coates Shocked and Saddened After Cherokee Principal Chief Silenced
During House Committee Hearing on English-Only Bill

State Sen. Harry Coates said he was appalled that Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, was “gaveled down” during a House committee hearing on legislation to make English the “official” language of Oklahoma.

“The Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation was not allowed to share his concerns about the legislation and was treated badly,” said Coates, R-Seminole. “I believe he should have been given the courtesy of expressing his views in what is supposed to be the people’s house.”

Smith said he found it very odd that he was not allowed to speak, but that public input was allowed later in that same committee on another bill. He also said he was offended that the measure’s author, Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, was attempting to use the “awesome power” of the State of Oklahoma to forcibly assimilate people.

“We’ve been trying to resist forced assimilation for centuries. It’s probably one of the most patronizing and paternalistic insults that I’ve ever heard,” Smith said. “...what this has become is a badge and a brand of intolerance, mean-spiritedness, close-mindedness (and) cold-heartedness.”

Coates pointed to the tremendous contribution of the Native American Code-Talkers whose ability to pass on sensitive information in tribal languages aided the effort by the allies to win World War II.
Coates said despite exemptions in the bill for languages of the 39 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma, he’s also heard from other tribal members and leaders who oppose this legislation as divisive and discriminatory.

“They remember all too well a time when Native Americans were targeted by English-only school policies that were part of an effort to destroy their culture and way of life. There are many stories of Indian children who were literally beaten as punishment for not speaking English,” Coates said.

Coates said he had no doubt the bill has its supporters.

“I’m sure hate groups like the KKK applaud the actions taken today. Are these the people we really want to pander to?”

The amended bill will now go before the full House of Representatives.

“I’m certain SB 163 will pass in the House, and then it will come straight back to the Senate Floor for a final vote. But before that happens, I hope that people will think about the serious ramifications this will have for Oklahoma, putting us in an even more negative light world-wide and promoting greater discrimination against all minorities.”

For more information contact:
Senator Coates' Office:  (405) 521-5547

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