Golden: Slow progress for Oklahoma Indians
"“Many of the educated Indians, as well as the ignorant ones, are depressed and downcast.” This is a statement made in the report titled, “Our National Problem – The Sad Condition of the Oklahoma Indian” made in 1912. In this report, Warren K. Moorehead, Member of the Commission on Indian Affairs, goes into great detail on the deplorable conditions that the Oklahoma Indians are living under because of lies, greed, manipulation and murder. Almost 100 years ago, this report gave illustrations of case studies documenting these conditions and made recommendations on how to make life better for the Oklahoma Indians. But were those recommendations followed and did the report accomplish what it was supposed to do?

In the last couple of years a group of us travelled Oklahoma holding town meetings to gather information from Indians across the state. Something that is widely known but hardly acknowledged is the number of American Indians in our prison systems. It may be racial profiling, but for whatever reason, Indians are stopped and arrested for minor crimes. A tactic used in many of the rural towns is that when there are a number of counts charged against someone, they will plea bargain with the Defendant. Most of the Indians cannot afford decent representation and so will take the plea bargain. Oklahoma is one of the worst for locking people up; our state is well known for having a high prison population, which includes one of the highest rates of women in prisons as well. Our Indian youth are highly affected by this environment, growing up with someone in their family incarcerated is common. It is no surprise that they end up in legal trouble themselves not only because of the racial profiling, but also because of their low income and unable to pay for a lawyer, plus the prevailing “lock ‘em up” attitude in this state.

Another recurring theme that we heard was from concerned parents who gave story after story of their child or children facing discriminatory acts in the public schools. Depending on the area or part of the state it was acts that on their own would not be considered discriminatory, but taken as a whole a pattern emerged. The American Indian is still considered inferior to succeed in the education system in some places. That is what led me to go to an Indian Boarding School for my high school years in the 70’s. However, it was not a choice for many Indians from 1879 to the 1979. During that time thousands of Indian children were forcibly removed from their homes as young as five years old and bused hundreds of miles from their families. Abuse and mistreatment of the children was extremely common at the hands of the administration. The wounds – physical, emotional, physiological, and psychological - inflicted on these children as they were in their formative years has led to what we call intergenerational trauma. It has trickled down from their time to now and will continue to trickle down for generations to come."

Get the Story:
Brenda Golden: The Sad Condition of the Oklahoma Indian (The Washington Examiner 6/14)

Related Stories:
Brenda Golden: What change means to an Indian person (4/25)