Cherokee National Principal Chief Chad Smith has said he plans to continue to fight any legislative proposals that would make English the official language of Oklahoma.
Speaking at a luncheon held Wednesday by the Greater Tulsa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Smith referred to failed attempts by the state Legislature this year to place a proposal for a constitutional amendment about the subject on the November election ballot as mere political posturing.
Smith said that instead of legislation that he believes would restrict other languages, lawmakers should consider measures to encourage children to learn other languages and about other cultures.
“Language is identity,” Smith said. “It’s how you see the world. Allowing different languages is a competitive intelligence.”
He said the value for Cherokee people in language is that “it brings activeness, it brings fulfillment, it brings depth.”
He called the concept of an English-only law in Oklahoma “myopic.”
The author of the failed proposal, state Rep. Randy Terrill, said the proposal would prevent the state from having to deliver taxpayer services, such as driver’s license tests, in a language other than English.
The Moore Republican has said the bill would have excluded American Indian languages from its provisions and would constitutionally protect them. The proposal was similar to laws passed in 30 other states.
The bill passed the House, 70-28 but failed to come to a vote in the Senate because of a parliamentary move by a Democratic leader in that chamber.
During a House committee meeting about the bill, Smith was denied the opportunity to . He interrupted Terrill during the meeting when the lawmaker said the law’s purpose was to encourage immigrants to assimilate into American society.
“What do we assimilate to?” Smith said Wednesday. “We assimilate to Mr. Terrill’s mind, which is spooky in itself.”
Smith said the English-only issue “is not going away. It will be back next year.”
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