It was a historic gathering at the University of Oklahoma, when OU President James L. Gallogly invited the leaders of the thirty-nine Native Nations in Oklahoma to a reception in honor of those nation’s sovereign status and the institution-to-institution relationship the university shares with each.
Surrounded by the flags of all of Oklahoma’s Native Nations, the event was held on Tuesday at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art Sandy Bell Gallery, and was attended by leaders of 13 Native Nations, along with university executives.
Attending tribal leaders included Edwina Butler-Wolfe, governor of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma; Tamara Francies, chairperson of the Caddo Nation; Bill John Baker, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; Bill Anoatubby, governor of the Chickasaw Nation; Sara Jane Smallwood, director of Government Relations, on behalf of Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation; William Nelson, chairman of the Comanche Nation; David Pacheco, chairman of the Kickapoo Nation; Matthew Komalty, chairman of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma; James Floyd, principal chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation; John Shotton, chairman of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians; Ron Sparkman, chief of the Shawnee Tribe; Craig Harper, chief of the Peoria Tribe of Indians; and Greg Chilcoat, principal chief of the Seminole Nation.
University officials in attendance included John Schumann, president of OU-Tulsa; Jason Sanders, senior vice president and provost of OU Health Sciences Center; Kyle Harper, senior vice president and provost of OU’s Norman campus, along with many vice presidents and deans.
Following an opening prayer in Cherokee by Christine Armer, a Native American Studies faculty member, and a flag song presented by members of Sigma Nu Alpha Gamma, Amanda Cobb-Greetham, chair of the Department of Native American Studies in the OU College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Native Nations Center, said the historic event stemmed from the University’s growing efforts “to deepen and grow our relationship with Oklahoma’s Native sovereigns.” Cobb-Greetham highlighted the work of the recently launched Native Nations Center as part of these efforts, and she then introduced other OU executives and student leadership, including Acting Tribal Liaison Johnny Poolaw, Director of American Indian Student Recruitment Jarrod Tahsequah, Director of American Indian Student Life Breanna Faris, and President of the American Indian Student Association Katee Colbert, each of whom welcomed the visiting officials and shared their roles and work as part of the OU community.
Gallogly welcomed the guests to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. He began by sharing the story of his life, moving from Canada to Alaska and across the United States before completing his degree at OU College of Law.
He shared the familiar story of David Ross Boyd, who, it is said, arrived on a barren plain and exclaimed, “What possibilities!” Only, according to Gallogy, it wasn’t a barren prairie. It was peopled with Native citizens. He stated that he thought David Ross Boyd missed something. He could have looked a little closer and welcomed the people brought to this place to the family.
“Today, we’re taking the opportunity to say hello to so many Nations that have been our neighbors for so many years and embracing all of these wonderful flags and all of these dignitaries in this room. Today, we reach out to all of these neighbors.
“This is a historic event today. Our goal today is incredibly simple: turn a page, get a fresh start, be a good neighbor, break bread with some old friends and some new friends and be welcoming.”
Following his remarks, Mr. and Miss Indian OU and other student leaders presented the visiting officials with commemorative gifts made for the leaders, crafted from wood collected from the university’s grounds and sculpted by the OU College of Architecture. Following a final honor song, Gallogly and the attending officials gathered for group photos. After the event, tribal leaders were invited to an OU Native Nations Center open house to meet with OU faculty, staff and students who shared information about OU’s Native American programs and services.