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Kudos to those who stand against racism

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day has come and gone this year, but the ideals for which the great man fought require constant application. The scourge of racism, arguably one of America's original sins, remains very much with us. We congratulate here all people who stand up against racial prejudice and, more directly, racial hatred. In America, every day should resonate with the values of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

We salute as heroes the Native students from the Wyoming Indian High School, in Riverton, Wyo., who led a march against racism on the birthday of the great civil rights leader (Jan. 15). The World Church of the Creator, a self-avowed white supremacist hate group, had announced its intention to move its national headquarters to that small Wyoming town, which is the center of the Wind River Indian Reservation. This is the group whose intense message of hate led one of its members to go on a rampage in the Chicago area some years ago, killing at random several Jewish and African-American people. The so-called Church of the Creator still considers the murderer - who committed suicide when police closed in on him - a hero.

Hoisting high their school's Eagle Staff, the Sand Creek Staff, the United States flag, the Northern Arapaho Tribal flag, the Wyoming State flag, and a POW flag, the Indian students led a march of over 650 people, who declared themselves resolutely against racism and against the announced new headquarters of the World Church of the Creator. In support, the Northern Arapaho Tribal Council donated 400 T-shirts with an "all my relations" message, under the design of the four colors of humankind. Declared high school senior Stephanie Sankey, "There isn't any room for hate in Wyoming."

In Oklahoma, Cherokee Chief Chad Smith also appropriately chose Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday to announce his decision to oppose a proposal to fly the Confederate flag at Oklahoma's Capitol Plaza.

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A Republican state representative, Wayne Pettigrew, had proposed a law to display the "Cherokee Brave" flag, carried by Cherokee soldiers who fought for the South during the Civil War. He wanted it to replace the Confederate flag, which was displayed at the site for 20 years prior to 1988, when it was taken down. Pettigrew pointed to the involvement of Cherokees in the Confederate Army and offered that the flag was in fact a Cherokee Nation flag. Chief Smith, much to his credit, saw through the motion and disagreed. Smith pointed out that while Cherokees fought on both sides of the Civil War, most supported the North. In any case, he argued, the flag in question, although of historical value, is not properly a Cherokee Nation flag. Chief Smith, elected in 1999, is noted for his work of reconciliation and unification within the large and diverse Cherokee Nation.

As with the controversy over Senator Trent Lott's veiled remarks that praised Strom Thurmond's segregationist platform, the Oklahoma proposal on the flag reflected one of the many ways that racial ideologies are constantly re-introduced in American life. It is important to be on guard against any such efforts, which are constant and which tend to provide the background of social acceptance that encourage more overtly hateful groups such as World Church of the Creator.

Racial hate is the scourge of humankind and is, unfortunately, one of the pillars upon which America was founded. It is a purely negative condition that can infect any racial or ethnic group, including Indian people. It needs to be replaced by the pillar of racial tolerance and the possibility of cooperation in solving the many real problems peoples and their governments face together.

We honor Chief Smith's decision to deny the use of his nation's name in this deceptive infamy that seeks to constantly re-introduce itself on our national life. We stand firmly with him and with the Wyoming Indian students that led the rally they called the March for Equality against the so-called World Church of the Creator. They both did well to make their anti-hate arguments on the day dedicated to the memory Martin Luther King Jr. - who lived and gave his life in the service of justice, tolerance and love for all peoples.