Oklahoma City, OK 73105
For Immediate Release:
April 2, 2008
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
“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
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 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