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Ruckman: Signs of spring

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The hawks are dancing in Oklahoma.

On my way to a recent assignment, I was traveling the state’s interstate highway and practically the whole way, plumage of red tails was on full display. I wondered what it meant. Of course, the weather was brisk and windy, making a Sunday air flight probable.

I was taught that hawks dancing were good signs. And if particularly lucky and blessed, seeing eagles in flight brought with it a whole other dimension of good favor. Looking for signs is not an obsolete practice amongst our tribal people. Just like hearing an owl is sure to bring consternation.

But it’s spring and positive signs of rebirth are bursting across Indian country.

The best part of this stroke of serendipity is that it’s happenstance. Just as sure as one gets to looking or even searching for signs, the result is likely to be slim. Yet when they are unbidden, here they come.

It’s spring and positive signs of rebirth are bursting across Indian country.

In eastern Oklahoma, the slender young green shoots of wild green onions are the harbinger of spring. Never mind that they can be harvested, cleaned and cooked in eggs and served with all the aplomb of any ethnic delicacy. Ditto the huckleberries.

Over on the west side of Oklahoma, a good rain burst followed by a string of slightly hot days can bring with it a sunburst of morel mushrooms that are also mixed with eggs or deep fried. I consider it an affirmation that Indians are inextricably linked to nature and the bounty that lies therein.

The seasonal surplus brings with it all the memories that we hoard in our minds. Then they explode in a cloud of endorphins (the feel-good hormone) as we sit down to a green onion dinner. The tangy, salty, aromatic onions are a good sign that winter has passed.

On the other hand, unsettling signs abound. The foremost of them is the recent effort to proclaim English as the official language of the Sooner State. When it’s put like that, this move seems to be nothing if not predictable. Most of us in Oklahoma are the progeny of the old cowboy-Indian mentality.

The resolution and subsequent battle being waged in Oklahoma’s capitol is designed to protect the state from the apparent deluge of Latino speaking people who have migrated there, according to its proponents. House Joint Resolution 1042, which passed 66 – 32, would send a proposed constitutional amendment to state voters in November 2010. The debate now goes to the Oklahoma Senate.

Why this type of sanction is needed is unclear. State lawmakers are much like ostriches, sticking their heads in the sand and hoping if they ignore it hard enough, diversity will dissipate.

Some of our Indian leaders are taking issue with the bill, saying that in a state with 37 federally recognized tribes, this move implies classification based on race. Furthermore, these tribal leaders contend that Oklahoma is built on the foundation of being the “Land of the Red Man.” As such, passing such a declaration would diminish this designation.

This is a debate that makes one go, “Hmmmm.”

I was speaking to an anthropologist from the University of Oklahoma this week and she was adamant that such a move (to proclaim English as the “official” language) would send the wrong message to Native children. She intimated that this bill would diminish the desire by children to speak their native languages.

The English-only debate in Oklahoma is the same old cavalry rushing up over the hill.

Plus, it would give the added dimension of making Oklahoma seem intolerant to diversity, she added. By focusing on the Latino population, we are reiterating our intolerance for anything that is different than the norm. It is similar to the argument that using Indians as mascots is meant to employ respect for Indian people. That is to say: We like you (Indians) even if ya’ll (sic) have a native language, but something must be done about this other language.

So as this war of words over a war on words is carried out, those of us in Indian country continue to look for signs. Having the Anglo majority work hard to negate diversity is familiar to us. After all, many of our tribal languages have already been rendered extinct through the well-intended federal policy of assimilation.

The English-only debate in Oklahoma is the same old cavalry rushing up over the hill. That, unfortunately, is a sign Indians have learned to read a long time ago.

S.E. Ruckman is a member of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes in Anadarko, Okla. She is a graduate of University of Oklahoma’s school of journalism. She is an advocate for domestic violence, HIV/AIDS and homelessness awareness.