Principal Chief Chad Smith: "Language is identity," he tells his audience.
By CLIFTON ADCOCK World Staff Writer
Last Modified: 5/29/2008 3:02 AM
The Cherokee chief says he'll fight any legislation that will restrict other languages.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith told a luncheon crowd on Wednesday that he will fight any future attempts to make English the state's official language.
He also said this year's failed attempt in the Legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the issue on November's ballot was mere political posturing.
Smith addressed the monthly luncheon of the Greater Tulsa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at the Crowne Plaza Hotel downtown.
He said rather than passing legislation to restrict other languages, the Legislature should focus on measures that would encourage children to learn other languages and about other cultures.
Such a measure, Smith said, not only would help youngsters broaden their horizons, but show the state is open to other cultures, languages and points of view.
"Language is identity," Smith told the group. "It's how you see the world. Allowing different languages is a competitive intelligence."
Because of forced assimilation, such as punishment at Indian boarding schools for speaking the Cherokee language, fewer than 5 percent of tribal members speak the language, Smith said.
"The value for us in language, it brings activeness, it brings fulfilment, it brings depth," he said.
Smith said showing tolerance for other languages and cultures takes a broader view of the world.
"To me, that's what revitalizing a language is, thinking in color instead of black and white," Smith said. "When you capture the concept of English-only, what you're implying is ignorance; it's myopic. You stay confined in this little box."
This year, a measure sponsored by Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, would have put the issue of English as an official language on November's ballot as a constitutional amendment. But it failed to come to a vote in the Senate after language in the bill was deemed unclear.
In previous years, when bills promoting English as an official language came before the Legislature, Smith often was allowed to speak. However, at a committee meeting this year on Senate Bill 163, he was denied the opportunity to speak, and interrupted after he heard Terrill speaking about how the bill's purpose "was to assimilate and acknowledge that bilingualism is divisive."
"What do we assimilate to? We assimilate to Mr. Terrill's mind, which is spooky in itself," Smith said Wednesday.
"This year, there's no question, it was placed for a constitutional referendum vote not because they wanted it to pass, but because they wanted to get Republicans to the polls. They believed they could pander to the lowest common denominator of the Republican Party and of the general public by saying 'We're tired of hearing Spanish.' Then you drive public policy by pandering to the lowest common denominator and prejudices of people, prejudices born out of fear of intelligence."
Forced assimilation is not the answer, Smith said, and the issued is unlikely to remain dormant for long.
"If we want to assimilate, it's not by force, but because we choose to adapt," he said. "This issue is not going away; it will be back next year."