By Shea Smith
“We did not forget on purpose, who we are; that is not what happened. But we did in some sense go through an experience as a people, where there has been some loss of ourselves,” said Simon Ortiz, a Puebloan writer from the Acoma Pueblo tribe.
The room in Gaylord Hall, filled with Oklahoma University faculty, students, and local residents, hearing Ortiz’s words, fell silent and for a moment, it was as if everything stood still.
Almost one hundred people gathered in the Gaylord College library to listen to Simon Ortiz speak to the Native American community in Norman, Oklahoma, in celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ day.
“Today is a celebration or recognition of in terms, of the western history, here in the United States where Christopher Columbus has been honored as the discoverer of Native or Indigenous people,” said Ortiz.
Formerly known as Columbus Day, Norman and the OU campus celebrates that day as Indigenous Peoples’ day. This comes after a powerful move from Norman City council when they made a symbolic decision to change the name to celebrate Indigenous people, not someone who murdered them. This is something that has long been desired from the Native American community.
“We were who we still are nonetheless,” said Ortiz. “We are Indigenous people. We are a people who share life with one another.”
Ortiz is widely known across the Indigenous communities for his work and inspiration to Native Americans and Native American writers with his award winning poems and storytelling.
During his speech at OU, Ortiz touched on the importance of Native culture, the devastating history that happened to the people, and how to overcome the struggles and prevail against the odds.
“Please do not just live without purpose, without responsibility, and without obligation to all creating to this land and what this land has brought,” said Ortiz. “And we are part of what has been created or what has been lost.”
Ortiz spoke about the generations and elders before us, and how they helped pave our way. He reminded everyone that now it is our duty, to pave the way for the generations who come after us.
“When that grandmother or that grandfather thought into the future and thought about the granddaughters and grandsons, let us think of ourselves and be thankful for those thoughts that a long time ago those grandmothers and grandfathers thought for us,” said Ortiz. “Because they were thinking about this moment, whether it’s here at OU in Norman, Oklahoma, or New York City, or Los Angeles.”
Ortiz was honored with a blanket ceremony on behalf of Native American Studies, the University of Oklahoma, and the community.
At the end of his speech, he read aloud the poem, Return From California.