Point of view: Imagine this: Oklahoma is Native America, too
The state launched its new branding logo and message about Oklahoma. We desperately need to tell our story, our identity as a blended and inclusive culture, vibrant, Native American heritage and pioneer legacy. A story of cultures and people working together through a difficult history. United now as Oklahomans.
Frankly, I am concerned our new branding falls short and fails dramatically to capture and to recognize the strength of our Native American heritage and blended cultures including African Americans, Hispanics and peoples from all corners of the world. We are unique because of our heritage together. We are unique because of our stories.
Native Americans are given glancing mention in the new Oklahoma brand descriptions for future tourism, economic expansion, cultural focus and messaging that should better portray us. Forged from difficult pasts, we were forced to come together as a state. And we did. We are one state, one people, united for our future. The crossroads of America, Oklahoma is in a great geographic location for economic development. But it takes all of us. Neighbors. Partners. Inclusive and accepting. No exceptions.
The launch came at a time Gov. Kevin Stitt is engaged in a dispute and legal battle with the tribes for fees paid from gaming. It is not lost that in his State of the State speech, Stitt upheld the sovereignty of the state but did not recognize the sovereignty of out tribal neighbors. Why? Do he and state leaders consider our tribes equal and federally recognized sovereign governments? They left them out of the principle message in the brand launch — only corrected after outcries from citizens and organizations as reported in The Oklahoman. The governor wants us to be a top 10 state. That cannot be achieved unless our blended heritage and tribal economic engines are also recognized.
Thirty-nine tribes were forcibly removed to Indian Territory in the early decades of the 19th century. Over time, each enduring their own trail of tears. This land was given by treaty to be theirs forever. Forever lasted barely 60 years. Tribes suffered discrimination, persecution, alienation as all minorities have. But from the depths of suppression they rose to be powerful nations in their own right, generously contributing $13 billion annually to Oklahoma's economy, supporting rural Oklahoma and creating 96,000 jobs and paying wages in excess of $4.3 billion statewide. Through gaming revenue, the tribes are second in the nation with revenues to the state. They are self-sufficient, reducing federal funding and investing in our collective future. The tribes are willing to compromise but is the governor’s agenda include commercial gaming?
Our economy cannot grow without tribal partners. The governor and supporters must embrace the power we have together — recognizing, embracing and building upon our blended cultures is our future. The governor’s assault over tribal gaming fees, with misinformation and in the face of facts, may result in irreparable damage. And now, ignoring our rich tribal and blended cultures in state branding should make us wonder. Do our elected understand who we are — really?
Busey is chairman and CEO of The Busey Group of Companies, and a member of the Cherokee Nation and Delaware Tribe.