Chief Speaks Out Against Language Bill

Sunday, April 6th 2008, 9:58 pm
By: News On 6

The leader of the largest Indian nation in Oklahoma is speaking out against a plan to make English the state's official language.  Chad Smith of the Cherokee Nation tells News On 6 reporter Dan Bewley the bill amounts to cultural bigotry.

The Principal Chief of the Cherokees calls the bill mean spirited and worries it could lead to a repeat of history that tried to rid his tribe of a language he loves.

Chief Chad Smith has a deep devotion to the Cherokee language.

"Well there's great wisdom in our language. When people talk Cherokee they are always laughing," said Chief Smith.

But there's worry from what's brewing at the state capitol. Representative Randy Terrill has proposed making English the state's official language.

"We need to encourage all immigrants, all people to learn the history the culture, the tradition, and most importantly the language, the common language of the U.S., which is and should be officially declared to be English," said Rep. Randy Terrill (R) Moore.

"His bill is mean-spirited, close-minded, cold-hearted and it's unnecessary," said Chief Smith.

While the bill exempts the state's Native American languages, Chief Smith says Representative Terrill's plan of assimilation and claims that the use of more than one language for state business would divide residents is going down a dangerous path.  

"It's not bi-lingualism that's divisive. It's the cultural bigotry that is divisive. That there's no tolerance for cultures other than his own," said Chief Smith.

One of Chief Smith's biggest concerns is history repeating itself. Specifically future Oklahomans facing the same type of abuse his father faced in the early part of the 20th century.

Nedsin Smith was schooled in a Cherokee boarding school. Chief Smith says his father was severely punished for speaking Cherokee.

"Beaten, isolated for speaking their own native languages," said Chief Smith.

He calls it the slippery slope, if English is made the official language and wonders, 'What's the next step?'

"We know the results of English only, the official language. What it does is relegate all of our tribal languages to second class and I can tell you Indians are not second class people. Our culture is not second class, our language is not second class," said Chief Smith.

Representative Terrill says his bill is about saving the state money.  He says if the state were forced to print the same document, several times in different languages it would be an undue burden on taxpayers.

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