Following a September 30 meeting with Native American student leaders, University of Oklahoma President David Boren released a statement explaining his support for recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day, plans for expanding the Native American Studies program, and plans to create a Native Nations Center.
The meeting and Boren’s statement came about after Indigenize OU, a group led by four Native students, created a resolution asking the university to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day every year on October 12. The group also requested that the words “boomer” and “sooner” be abolished from OU.
Regarding October 12, Boren said in his statement: “I support the effort to use the day recognized by national officials as Columbus Day, to instead be celebrated at OU in the future as Indigenous People’s Day. When the Student Congress completes action, I will approve their resolution and work with our student leaders to hold a daylong celebration of Native culture on campus, including food, dance, the arts and culture and special lectures to more broadly educate our total community about Native American history.”
Boren also said in his statement he would work to increase recruitment and scholarship efforts for Native students, and to expand the Native American Studies program.
But the request to rid the university of “boomer” and “sooner” Boren said is not likely to happen.
First, some background: the term “sooners” was the name given to settlers who entered the “unassigned lands” before President Grover Cleveland officially opened them to settlement on March 2, 1889 when the Indian Appropriations Act was passed. The term is taken from the “sooner clause,” which says that anyone who entered and occupied the land before the opening time was to be denied the right to claim land. Let’s also keep in mind that this act was one of the acts that forcibly relocated tribes onto reservations.
The term “boomer” comes from the same time period, and refers to a white settler who felt the Native lands or “unassigned lands” were public property and open to settlement by anyone. Their thought process stemmed from the Homestead Act of 1862, which said any settler could claim 160 acres of public land.
Boren briefly touches on the history of the term “sooner” in his statement: “Sooners historically reminds us of the injustice of forced migrations of Native people. We must never forget the many injustices in our history in the treatment of Native people and never stop admiring the strength of Native people who have preserved their values and whose cultures and governments continue in the face of terrible adversities and injustices. This history will be integrated into the university sensitivity training program.”
But he continued by saying that “the words in their modern context are no longer tied to the history of the Oklahoma land settlement… They have taken on a meaning of their own, which stands mainly for strong support for our state and university.”
According to The Oklahoma Daily, Indigenize OU makes the case that the terms are offensive, and make Native students feel unwelcome on campus. But Boren said the process to change them would be a long one.
“The only way I can see it being changed is for our almost 245,000 alumni to ask for it. Given the new definition, which all of us in the OU community have established, and the pride that we have in the heritage of the university, I believe the vast majority would be opposed,” Boren said in the statement.
Indigenize OU does seem to be happy with Boren’s statement though, they left this comment on Facebook:
Indigenize OU Facebook Comment
Boren’s release also said that a tribal liaison officer will be appointed, but the university has not yet announced who that person is.
“My goal is to have somebody, in a very few weeks, setting up this new office and moving forward,” Jabar Shumate, OU vice president for the university community, told The OU Daily. “It’s somebody who has relationships and has worked at the university and has experience with working with our tribal nations.”