Proposal to Make English Official OK Language

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02-09-07 Four bills on the table at the State Capitol call for English to be declared Oklahoma's official language. But some Native Americans fear it will overshadow the same principles the state was founded upon.

Terry Ragan is proud of his heritage, proud to be a Choctaw, proud to be an Oklahoman.

"My name is Terry Ragan I am the director of the Choctaw language program I believe it is the language my heritage is grounded upon," Ragan said.

It is his mission to keep that spirit alive.

"If we go to English only, what are we going to call Oklahoma? Oklahoma is Choctaw name meaning red people," Ragan said.

As the director of The Choctaw Nation Language Program he carries on the Choctaw tongue in 56 public high schools, five colleges, and 21 elementary schools.

So when Oklahoma lawmakers proposed four bills this session to make English the official language of the Sooner State, Ragan took notice.

"How are we going to keep French... Spanish in our schools," Ragan asked.

The measure, approved Wednesday by the House General Government and Transportation Committee would require official state business to be conducted in English and official documents, regulations and meetings to be solely in English, as well.

"The U.S. what unites us is English for us as state so it's important we keep that commonality.... doesn't mean people have to lose their heritage," said Rep. Greg Piatt, (R)-OK Dist. 48.

Opponents fear the bill is meant to target the growing Hispanic population, but hurts Native Americans in the process.

"When it comes down to it, what makes the state great was diversity of language of people that came here," Ragan said.

The bill does state it should not silence Native American languages. But no matter what language is declared to be "the one" in Oklahoma, you can be sure this Choctaw will make sure his native tongue is never forgotten.

Cherokee Chief Chad Smith wrote a letter to lawmakers condemning the bill, Choctaw leaders have not gone to those lengths, but say they feel the same way.