PAWHUSKA — The Osage Nation Congress unanimously adopted a resolution Friday calling for the repeal of an Oklahoma law limiting instruction on race, gender and history.
“History’s ugly,” Osage Nation Congresswoman and resolution sponsor Whitney Redcorn said. “I don’t know how you avoid any emotion attached to it. This started out as pursuing a gentle ask, but the deeper we dove, the more apparent it became a soft ask wouldn’t work, as there’s no way to make the bill (House Bill 1775) better.”
Along with several of her colleagues, Redcorn expressed concern Friday about the chilling effect House Bill 1775 has had for teachers when it comes to covering certain topics, including the Osage Reign of Terror, when Osages were systematically killed by non-Osages for their oil money in the 1920s.
“There has been public concern that this law prohibits the school system from teaching about history when it contains racial issues, such as slavery and the war waged on Native Americans by the United States government. The vague nature of the law has created anxiety among Oklahoma educators,” the resolution states.
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“The Osage Nation, being fully aware of the positions both for and against this legislation, and being aware of the confusion surrounding HB 1775, both real and manufactured, urges and supports the repeal of HB 1775 by the Oklahoma Legislature at the next legislative session for the benefit of the school districts of Oklahoma, and the children they serve.”
According to Oklahoma State Department of Education official student counts, more than 130,000 Native American students attend public schools across the state.
House Bill 1775 is a controversial new state law that prohibits teaching that one race or sex is inherently superior to another and that anyone, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
It was co-authored by Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, and Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant.
Consequences for failure to comply with HB 1775 include the downgrading of a school district’s state accreditation status and the suspension of the license or certificate of involved school employees.
Alleged HB 1775 violations in Tulsa and Mustang recently led to the downgrading of those school districts’ state accreditation.
Concerns about breaking that law have also been publicly cited by individual teachers.
A teacher at Dewey High School told The Oklahoman in August that she would not use “Killers of the Flower Moon” in her classroom out of concern that it could be construed as a violation of that law. Dewey Public Schools’ attendance area includes a portion of far northeastern Osage County.
That same month, a Norman High School English teacher resigned after a parent complained about her decision to provide students with a QR code to the Brooklyn Public Library, which is offering students nationwide access to its full library of e-books to counter book banning at some schools.
During floor debate on the measure, Congressman Eli Potts mentioned that some area school districts have canceled guest speakers scheduled to address the Osage Reign of Terror, the subject of David Grann’s best selling book, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” and a soon-to-be-released movie by the same name, out of concern that it could be construed as a violation of HB 1775.
“Those who don’t learn from their history are doomed to repeat it,” Potts said. “Our teachers are scared to speak the truth about what happened. Our education advocates are scared to speak the truth because of what this bill is.”
A federal lawsuit filed in October 2021 by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, on behalf of multiple organizations plus individual teachers and students from the Edmond and Millwood districts, claims that HB 1775 violates both the First and 14th amendments and is unconstitutionally vague, too broad and racially discriminatory, and has had a chilling effect on teachers’ lesson plans.
Tulsa World Opinion podcast: House Bill 1775 is a dumb law, but we’re dealing with it