TAHLEQUAH, Okla. -- The 53rd Cherokee National Holiday, celebrated since
1953 in commemoration of the signing of the 1839 Cherokee Constitution,
will be observed Sept. 2 -- 4 this year. The holiday has grown into one of
the largest events in the state of Oklahoma, attracting more than 70,000
people from around the world. More than 100,000 are expected to attend the
Labor Day weekend event in Tahlequah, where the theme of this year's
celebration is "Cherokee Communities Celebrating the State of Sequoyah."
Holiday events will include arts and crafts; bingo; band concerts; rodeo
events; traditional blowgun, stickball and cornstalk shoot contests; a
fishing derby; fiddling, quilting and numerous sporting tournaments;
historical exhibits; a Miss Leadership pageant; a parade and pow wow; and
many events for elders, children and veterans.
The highlight of this year's celebration will be the "State of Sequoyah
History Conference," scheduled to take place Sept. 4 -- 5. The conference,
which will be open to the general public, will dramatize the story of the
state of Sequoyah, the historic bid for a separate statehood for Oklahoma
Conference keynote speakers will include Cherokee Nation Principal Chief
Chad Smith; Dr. Richard Allen, Cherokee Nation policy analyst; University
of Oregon law professor Rennard Strickland, Cherokee/Osage; and University
of Arizona American Indian studies professor Tom Holm, Cherokee/Creek. Holm
will speak on the history and background of the state of Sequoyah, and
Allen will discuss the spirit of Sequoyah through art, literature,
philosophy, and family and tribal biography and storytelling. Strickland
will speak on the legal lessons learned from the state of Sequoyah
experience and will deliver a luncheon address entitled "The Surviving
Power of Sequoyah: Challenges for the Second Century."
In response to public clamor for admission into the Union, a statehood
convention was held in Oklahoma territory in December 1891. Less than six
weeks later, the first bill for statehood was introduced in Congress,
providing for the admission of Oklahoma and Indian territory as one united
Leaders of the Five Civilized Tribes bitterly opposed the bill. As a
result, many of the supporters of the statehood movement began to advocate
statehood for Oklahoma territory alone.
By 1894, the demand for separate statehood grew in force and influence. Yet
supporters found themselves facing powerful opposition from both
As the bitter struggle continued and Congress was flooded with petitions
from both sides, a bill was finally passed in May 1902 through the House of
Representatives, which admitted Oklahoma territory as a state. However, the
measure, which was not scheduled for action in the Senate until the
following December, was overlooked due to other pressing business, and the
movement for separate statehood was eventually defeated.
In the summer of 1905, the principal chiefs of four of the Five Civilized
Tribes united to call for a constitutional convention to meet in Muskogee,
Okla. on Aug. 21. Their goal was to create a constitution for a state
composed of Indian territory. One hundred and fifty delegates attended the
sessions of the convention. Pleasant Porter, principal chief of the Creek
Nation, was chosen as convention president; Alexander Posey, a Creek poet,
was elected secretary. The constitution called for the state to be named
Sequoyah, and the question was framed for voters of the Indian nations.
The proposed state of Sequoyah was to be divided into 48 counties, and a
constitution was submitted to Congress; however, no action was taken in the
matter. Hopes for a separate statehood diminished as the union of the two
territories became a reality when Congress passed the "Hamilton Bill" or
the "Enabling Act" on June 14, 1906 and President Theodore Roosevelt signed
the bill into law.
A constitutional convention consisting of 112 delegates -- 55 of whom
represented Indian territory, 55 from the organized counties of Oklahoma,
and two from the Osage Nation -- was scheduled. The town of Guthrie was
designated as the temporary state capital. The new state would have five
congressional districts as defined by the Enabling Act.
Today, few people are even aware that a separate state was initially
proposed. In 2003, Smith appointed a State of Sequoyah Commission to
address this historical event as a positive response to the Oklahoma
Centennial scheduled for 2007. He believed that the important story of the
state of Sequoyah should be told.
Five state of Sequoyah commissioners have been appointed, including
Cherokee author and former Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller; Holm; professor
and Director of the Sequoyah Research Institute at the University of
Arkansas Daniel F. Littlefield; Strickland; and Russell Thornton, Cherokee,
professor of anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles.