Miss Indian Territory
In this photo from the Oklahoma History Center archives, Lee Bennett poses in a different dress than she wore as Miss Indian Territory for the inauguration's symbolic wedding. (William W. Savage III)

On Nov. 16, 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th of these United States. Somebody thought it would be a swell idea to have some sort of ceremony to symbolize the melding of Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory to form the new state.

Say, how about staging a mock wedding? You know, Miss Indian Territory marries Mr. Oklahoma Territory? Dress up a white man to look like a cowboy, and dress up an Indian girl like an Indian.

And so it came to pass. A white cowboy groom “married” an American Indian bride. She was Cherokee and must not have looked “Indian” enough, because somebody decked her out in Plains Indian attire for emphasis.

The mock wedding was both sexist and racist. Why did the Indian need to be female? Why not “marry” an Indian man and a white woman? Because the male is the dominant one, and Indians need to know their place? Whatever the case, the ceremony became part of Oklahoma’s heritage and was repeated every 25 years thereafter.


OkiesBetter to be Okies than Boomers and Sooners by William W. Savage Jr.

If, indeed, the rest of the country in 1907 was racist and sexist to one degree or another, then the “wedding” was politically and socially acceptable, even if a bit quaint. But jump ahead 75 years and there are different fish in the kettle.

We have the Oklahoma Historical Society to thank for an account of the “Diamond Jubilee” proceedings, published in a thin book entitled, You’re Doin’ Fine, Oklahoma! in 1983. Once again, the white groom “married” the Indian bride, who was yet another Cherokee, albeit less bedecked with inaccurate raiment.

But, whereas the 1907 “event” was presided over by an actual preacher, the clergyman in 1982 was a complete phony. It was then-U.S. Sen. David L. Boren, dressed in frock coat, string tie and flat-brimmed parson’s hat, doing the usually religious (a marriage is between a man and a woman because the Bible says so) honors, which is to say that the champion of multiculturalism and opponent of discrimination in any form who is now the president of the University of Oklahoma (where “Native American Studies” is a big deal too) appeared as the centerpiece of a still racist, still sexist “ceremony” in 1982. Perhaps there’s a fraternity somewhere that might have a comment.

Well, having done that, had the State learned a lesson? Had there been any public criticism? Had anybody in government re-thought plans for further such celebrations?

Apparently not.

Because, in the Oklahoma centennial year of 2007, the powers that be — well, by golly — they up and did it again by holding another reenactment of the racist wedding.

Please, whoever you are, spare us from this crap in 2032. Oklahoma may be a red state (!), but the red should come from party affiliation, not from blushing brightly.

Or from skin color either, come to think of it.