NORMAN, Okla. – Ashley Nicole McCray, a local activist for Native American rights in Oklahoma, talked to Red Dirt Report on the recent events regarding protests against oil pipelines in Oklahoma, and also the unsuccessful attempt for the City Council of Oklahoma City to officially recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
McCray, co-founder of “Stop the Plains All American – Red River Pipeline” protest group said due to the numerous oil pipeline projects in Oklahoma (the one going through Norman is only one) it makes the fight against it more complicated for the tribes. She added the state legislation in place in Oklahoma is also in favor of oil companies.
“The reason why we [Native Americans] are so involved in this is because it is an issue of sovereignty. And pipeline companies have not consulted any of the tribes that are in a path of a pipeline,” McCray said. “There [are] federal regulations set-up to protect these tribes and their sovereignty.”
McCray, who was at Norman’s Groovefest this past Sunday, also said the absence of consultation with the tribes by the pipelines companies make these pipelines traversing tribes’ territory illegal. But because of the energy companies’ intense lobbying of legislators, the rights and concerns of Native Americans are often ignored.
“Cleveland County commissioners made it very clear that they are not interested in consulting the communities that are going to be affected by the pipeline,” McCray said, noting that the oil interests have the support of the commissioners.
The issue is complicated by the fact that only a few tribes in Oklahoma are indigenous to the state, including the Caddo nation saying, “It is why we think they should be definitively consulted in this fight.”
She added that even if most of the tribes in Oklahoma are unified to fight oil pipelines, it is not enough because of the lack of recognition of indigenous rights.
“We don’t have actual sovereignty, we just have a name not actually in practice. Even when they tell us we have rights, that is not exactly true,” McCray said. “The American government, our occupier, refused to recognize our sovereignty as an individual government. There are 39 different nations in Oklahoma.”
As none of the numerous protests against the oil pipeline and other lawsuits couldn’t stop oil companies, for now, McCray said she is favoring the education of the communities about oil issues and indigenous rights in Oklahoma.
“It is important they know that their rights are under attack. It is not just an indigenous issue, it is a human issue,” McCray told this reporter.
Continued push for Indigenous Peoples’ Day
McCray is also co-founder of “Live Indigenous OK.” She said she is not all that surprised about the City Council of Oklahoma City’s recent rejection of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution for the second year in a row.
Despite drawing support from a variety of different individuals and groups who support the push for Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October, “the OKC Council refused to listen to its constituents,” she said.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day advocates say holding the day on the day traditionally held for the federal Columbus Day holiday would send a message that indigenous issues and concerns really matter, while highlighting the truth about Christopher Columbus’s genocidal legacy, which was forced upon indigenous Americans after Columbus’ arrival to the Americas in 1492.
McCray attributed this continued reluctance to embrace Indigenous Peoples’ Day to the fact that many council members are extremely conservative and resistant to change. Red Dirt Report has been unable to get the council to seriously articulate their refusal to pass this resolution. Activists, we have learned, have refused to give up on this fight.
McCray said the Indigenous People’s Day resolutions have been voted on and approved in numerous communities across America, including several cities and universities in the state, which include Anadarko and at the University of Oklahoma, for instance.
“Christopher Columbus [was] an awful person. We shouldn’t celebrate him,” McCray said.
McCray concluded that the most important issue for her today is to inspire and educate people while encouraging them to work on controlling their own destiny and become the leaders of tomorrow.
Red Dirt Report was launched on July 4, 2007, as an independent website covering all manners of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state.