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Rosalea Barker: Oklahoma


by Rosalea Barker

The word “Oklahoma” conjures up musical theatre, dust bowls, domestic terrorism, and the final corralling place of many of North America’s native tribes displaced during the United States’ relentless westward expansion during the 19th century. From just 16 states at the beginning of that century, the US had swollen to 45 by the end, largely through the acquisition and settlement of vast areas of the continent formerly laid claim to by Great Britain, France and Spain.

This article on the Oklahoma Historical Society’s website, explains how the process of allotting parcels of land to individual members of tribes paved the way to admission as the 46th state in 1907:

“Allotment, the federal policy of dividing communally held Indian tribal lands into individually owned private property, was the culmination of American attempts to destroy tribes and their governments and to open Indian lands to settlement by non-Indians and to development by railroads. It was a necessary prelude to statehood for Oklahoma and Indian territories. Tribes were removed from other parts of the country to Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) from the 1830s through the 1870s. They signed treaties with the U.S. government. These generally guaranteed that they would be undisturbed on lands the government granted them from those it had acquired by treaties with other tribes. Following a congressional initiative for a transcontinental railroad in 1849, pressure began to build for the extension of federal jurisdiction over Indian Territory.”

Initially, there were hopes for two states—Sequoyah, formed from Indian Territory, and one formed from Oklahoma Territory. However, the issue was complicated by plans to admit the territories of Arizona and New Mexico as one state. In the end, Congress decided the latter would only happen if the residents of both those territories voted in separate elections to be one state. The residents of the Oklahoma and Indian Territories got no such opportunity: Congress passed an Enabling Act in June, 1906, that provided for the admission of a single state called Oklahoma once a constitution was written and ratified by the people. The vote on the state constitution took place on September 17, 1907—120 years to the day after the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia had signed the U.S. Constitution.

I spent a few days in Oklahoma City in the summer of 2003 and was not impressed by it; a friend recently drove through the state and when I asked what she thought of it, replied, “You can see why they moved all the Indians there.” But it’s not what’s on the surface of the land that’s important—Oklahoma is home to a huge energy industry that provides about 25 percent of the state’s tax base.

One last thing—for your entertainment rather than your enlightenment. A couple of years back, the Oklahoma state legislature authorized an on-line vote for the ten finalists in a competition to find the official state rock song of Oklahoma. According to Wikipedia,

“out of 21,000 votes cast, nearly 51 percent were for Do You Realize?? [by the Flaming Lips]. The Oklahoma Senate approved this choice unanimously. However, on April 23, 2009, a vote in the Oklahoma House of Representatives fell three votes short of the 51 votes necessary to ratify the resolution: one state legislator attacked the band for its use of offensive language, while another said he opposed the song because band member Michael Ivins had worn a red T-shirt with a yellow sickle and hammer when the band came to the state Capitol for the announcement in March. Governor Brad Henry subsequently announced that he would issue an executive order in lieu of the resolution rejected by the Oklahoma House.”

To read about and listen to the ten finalists for official state rock song, go here. It’s an eclectic little playlist. The official state (non-rock) song is, of course, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!



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