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Oklahoma’s Hope for Cashing In on Heritage Becomes a Debacle

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A picture of what the interior of the  unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum will look like one day is on display inside the Museum in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, March 4, 2014. After nearly 10 years and $90 million spent, the state’s attempt to build the tourism centerpiece – a Smithsonian-quality museum of native American culture -- has turned into a curious spectacle on full display before hundreds of thousands of motorists who drive by it every day.  (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

A picture of what the interior of the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum will look like one day is on display inside the Museum in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, March 4, 2014. After nearly 10 years and $90 million spent, the state’s attempt to build the tourism centerpiece a Smithsonian-quality museum of native American culture — has turned into a curious spectacle on full display before hundreds of thousands of motorists who drive by it every day. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

SEAN MURPHY, Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Like many states, Oklahoma wants to be a tourist destination. And leaders here believe they have an ideal attraction: Oklahoma’s heritage as the U.S. Indian Territory in the 1800s and as home to 39 tribes.

But after nearly 10 years and $90 million spent, what was to be the centerpiece for a tourism magnet, a Smithsonian-quality museum of Native American culture, has become a costly debacle that had yet to lure its first visitor and is stirring sour feelings among the Indians whose traditions would be portrayed.

Strategically located at the crossroads of two major interstates, and next to Oklahoma City’s glitzy redeveloped downtown entertainment district, sits a modernistic complex of C-shaped buildings that is large enough to fit 30 football fields but only half finished and out of money.

Another $40 million is needed for the project, but the Legislature is balking at paying, in a head-on collision between the state’s tourism ambitions and its increasingly conservative, anti-spending politics.

“The state was too aggressive here and bit off more than it could chew,” said Republican Rep. Jason Murphey, one of many legislators in the GOP-controlled House who opposes more state money for the museum. “And we’re paying for that mistake, but this isn’t the time to double down.”

Even the support of the state’s Republican governor, Mary Fallin, and the state Senate and an earlier pledge of $40 million in mostly private funds haven’t broken the stalemate, which will confront the Legislature when it reconvenes next month.

In another twist, the recent swoon in oil prices may now make any appropriation harder to get, even though the price drop has underscored the need to diversify the state’s energy-dependent economy.

“Our caucus has brainstormed on some different ideas, and I don’t have an answer today about what that looks like,” said House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman.

The vision for the Indian attraction began in the 1980s when oil prices collapsed from more than $35 per barrel to below $10. Oil and gas production taxes accounted for more than one-third of the state-appropriated budget at the time.

Studies projected that a Native American cultural center could bring in up to 225,000 visitors and $190 million annually. The Legislature approved a series of bond issues to pay for it.

The museum would weave together the stories of the dozens of tribes forced by the U.S. government to move out of the path of white expansion in other regions to the remote prairies of what is now Oklahoma. The forced removals included the notorious “Trail of Tears,” in which more than 17,000 Cherokees were marched overland from their ancestral home in Georgia. An estimated 4,000 died during the trek.

About 120,000 Indians overall were resettled here before the territory itself was gradually opened to white settlers in a series of land runs beginning in the late 1880s.

Oklahoma — named after the Choctaw word for “red people” — has a story ripe for presentation to visitors, according to historians and museum experts.

“Because of the unprecedented and unequalled assemblage of Indian nations in Oklahoma, it’s a very unique story and one that is national in scope,” said Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian has offered a major loan of artifacts from its huge Native American collection.

The museum’s ambitious design features several huge galleries, a multipurpose theater and a gathering space dubbed the Hall of the People. Towering stone walls at one entrance were built with thousands of individual stones that symbolized the tribes’ journeys to Oklahoma. The site includes a 90-foot-tall earthen mound visible for miles, inspired by the mound building Native American cultures.

But the project didn’t get the federal funds its backers expected, and the Legislature, which grew more conservative in recent elections, wouldn’t approve another bond issue.

Although the Indian history portrayed is one of struggle and loss, many Native Americans in Oklahoma welcomed the tribute and have been put off by the political fight, especially suggestions that the tribes themselves put up the needed money — beyond the $20 million they’ve already kicked in — to finish what was always a state project.

“I don’t understand why it hasn’t been completed,” said Kelly Haney, a renowned Native American artist and former chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. “I’ve never lost my faith in the fact that the cultural center will be built. I still think it will. I just don’t know how.”

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

 

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Activism

After Wood Street Clearance, Homeless People Stay

Advocates claim about a dozen of them showed up on November 8 to support residents. One of them, Annmarie Bustamente, said their presence “definitely helped the residents block the eviction” and that the residents were “tired of displacement and said no” to a member of Oakland’s Public Works Department encouraging them to move. 

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Homeless Oakland Jessie Parker stands on Wood Street in West Oakland on November 10. The city of Oakland had planned to move Parker and dozens of others from this location between November 8 and 10, but residents refused to move and remained on site after the attempted closure operation. Photo by Zack Haber.
Homeless Oakland Jessie Parker stands on Wood Street in West Oakland on November 10. The city of Oakland had planned to move Parker and dozens of others from this location between November 8 and 10, but residents refused to move and remained on site after the attempted closure operation. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

On the morning of November 8, members of both Oakland’s Encampment Management Team, Public Works, and Police Department came to an area encompassing about 1/5 of a mile from Wood Street and Grand Avenue to Wood Street and 26th Street with the stated goal of clearing the location of homeless people. But after the attempted clearance, homeless people remained in the area.

“The objective was to move as many people as possible,” wrote Oakland Communications Director Karen Boyd in an e-mail. “But that could not be accomplished without the full cooperation of the community.”

“You can’t push us back any further than this,” said homeless resident Jessie Parker, a 63-year-old lifelong Oaklander who came to live on Wood Street after being shot in the leg. The injury prevented him from being able to do the physical movement required for the construction and electrical work he had done in the past. On November 4, the city put up pink notices informing him that starting in four days they would force him to vacate the area he’s lived in for about nine years, but he, like dozens of others living in vehicles, tents or makeshift homes along Wood Street, didn’t leave.

Parker’s statement references the fact that Wood Street is one of the westernmost streets in West Oakland. A little further west from where Parker lives is land owned by Caltrans under the 880 overpass where still more homeless people live, as well as a 1.5 acre plot of land belonging to a company called Gamechanger LLC. To the east are businesses and residential areas.

After about two years in delays, Gamechanger agreed to lease its land to the city for $1 a year and the city opened a Safe RV Parking site on July 7 on the company’s land through the non-profit Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency.

In the Safe RV Parking site, residents who own RVs and trailers can legally live in them and receive services. It’s unclear how long this service will last, as the lease between GameChanger and the city can expire by November of next year. That same lease laid out plans to allow 75 RVs or trailers space to park, but while walking through the site on November 10, this writer counted 29 RVs while half of the site sat vacant. The site is not available for many residents, like Parker, who don’t have an RV or a trailer.

“I never received an offer to move in,” said Parker, who lives in a truck. “It’s for RVs only.”

The site opening has put other residents at risk of displacement who can’t or don’t want to access it. Since Oakland’s City Council unanimously passed its Encampment Management Policy in October of last year, despite protests and critical public comments during five hours of a meeting, city policy now states those living within 25 feet of such sites can face clearance.

Although their policy now allows it, the city had not attempted to move nor even encouraged people who are living near the Safe RV Parking site to leave the area until the November 8 operation. But recent communications from Justin Tombolesi, who is the constituent liaison for District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife, have led advocates and homeless people to believe the company is now pressuring the city to force people to leave the area. In a text message to a homeless resident who lives near Wood Street, Tombolesi wrote “Gamechanger is suing the city because people are too close to the RV site.”

Gamechanger denies suing or pressuring the city. When asked if the company was suing or threatening to sue the city, the company’s lawyer, Pat Smith of Smith LLP, responded in an email, writing “Not at all — no thought of suing the city. The city is solely in charge of the site and ownership has no involvement or concern over how the city is handling things.”

In an e-mail, Boyd wrote that “No filings or actions to terminate the lease have been served upon the city,” but that the city has “spoken with legal counsel representing GameChanger’s lot regarding the city’s plans to create compliance.”

In another text message to the same resident, Tombolesi also claimed the city would allow residents living on Wood Street to move to a vacant portion of land off the street and just north of the Safe RV Parking site during the November 8 closure operation. No residents have moved into that location and residents, as well advocates who were on site that day, claim no one was invited to do so. Boyd said the city offered nine spaces in the city’s Community Cabins, and five spaces in a rapid rehousing program called The Holland. One resident accepted a space in the Community Cabins, which is a program that offers small, unheated shelter in shed-like spaces made by the Tuff Shed company.

Advocates claim about a dozen of them showed up on November 8 to support residents. One of them, Annmarie Bustamente, said their presence “definitely helped the residents block the eviction” and that the residents were “tired of displacement and said no” to a member of Oakland’s Public Works Department encouraging them to move.

Although the closure operation was originally slated to occur over three days between Monday November 8 and Wednesday November 10, no one from the city came back after the first day.

“The ability to proceed Monday impacted the entire operation,” wrote Boyd in an e-mail, “and activities for the following days were cancelled.”

Although homeless residents did not leave Wood Street, Oakland’s Police Department’s Public Information Officer Kim Armstead said the department did tow six vehicles for long expired registration on November 6 and 7 in the area in preparation for the closure.

According to Armstead, the department avoided towing vehicles that served as people’s homes, as the department, following the cities’ direction, has “agreed not to tow vehicles where there is clear evidence they are being used as shelter.” Armstead also said on November 8, OPD supported the city operation with two officers, one sergeant, and six police service techs who provided traffic control and security for city workers.

One homeless resident named Evangeline said the towing of her and her husband’s vehicle has made it difficult to go grocery shopping and to visit her mother, who just had a heart attack. The couple can’t afford to pay the fees to get the car back, so it will remain in the tow yard.

“We’re really stuck,” she said.

Although residents like Parker avoided being moved from Wood Street, it’s unclear when or if the city will come back to move them. According to Parker, a member of the non-profit Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency has been working to secure some form of permanent housing for him, and he’s hopeful that the person will be successful.

“I’m a little older now so my peak interest is getting back into housing,” said Parker. “If I get into housing, I’m sure I won’t go back to this. I can’t take these harsh elements no more.”

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Activism

African American Sports & Entertainment Group (AASEG) helps support 25th annual turkey drive in East Oakland

Assembymember Mia Bonta said,”I am excited and fully in support of the City Council’s decision to prioritize an African American-led, Oakland rooted, development group to negotiate how we can reimagine the Coliseum site. This represents a promise of development without displacement, and amenities and entertainment that East Oakland once had and deserves again. This is also the kind of community-led, wealth building opportunity l will fight for at the state level, and I will continue to support initiatives like these here in the 18th Assembly District.”

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The African American Sports & Entertainment Group came out to support the 25th annual Community Giving Foundation Turkey drive at Verdese Carter Park in East Oakland.

Hosted by founder and organizer Marlon McWilson, the turkey drive that started in 1997 has now donated over 35,000 Turkey’s through McWilson’s foundation. In attendance were Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, Oakland PAL, California Assembly Member Mia Bonta (AD-18) along with husband and Attorney General for the State of California Rob Bonta. Assembly Member Bonta also congratulated the AASEG on their recent unanimous 8-0 approval to enter negotiations with the City of Oakland on an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) to purchase the city’s half interest of the coliseum land, and looks forward to working with the team.

Assembymember Mia Bonta said,”I am excited and fully in support of the City Council’s decision to prioritize an African American-led, Oakland rooted, development group to negotiate how we can reimagine the Coliseum site. This represents a promise of development without displacement, and amenities and entertainment that East Oakland once had and deserves again. This is also the kind of community-led, wealth building opportunity l will fight for at the state level, and I will continue to support initiatives like these here in the 18th Assembly District.”

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Bay Area

Get Booster Shot, Celebrate Thanksgiving Holiday Safely, State Officials Say

Officials are encouraging people who took both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least six months ago to get their boosters now. People who took the one-shot Johnson & Johnson primary dose at least two months ago, should also schedule their booster shot.

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According to Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, the booster shots are being administered under an “emergency use authorization.”
According to Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, the booster shots are being administered under an “emergency use authorization.”

By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

Golden State public health officials are recommending that Californians take COVID-19 booster shots to prevent a resurgence of the disease and to celebrate the holidays safely with their loved ones.

“It’s not too late to get it,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Department, referring to the COVID-19 booster shot. He was speaking at a vaccine clinic in Los Angeles County last week.

“Get that added protection for the Thanksgiving gatherings you may attend,” he said.

Last week, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine boosters for all adults in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) followed with an endorsement of the booster vaccine, recommending it for people over age 50, and anyone 18 and older who is at higher risk.

The CDC loosened the language for all other adults, saying anyone over age 18 “may” take the shot.

California officials say the booster shots are plenty and available throughout the state.

“If you think you will benefit from getting a booster shot, I encourage you,” said Ghaly. “Supplies are available. There are many sites across the state – thousands in fact.”

On Saturday, the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup completed a separate review of the federal government’s approval process for the booster shots and also recommended that “individuals 18 or older who have completed their primary vaccination series,” take the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna boosters.

California, Oregon, Nevada and Washington state came together last year and created the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup. The group, made up of scientists, medical professionals and public health experts, is charged with reviewing COVID-19 vaccine safety.

Over the last two weeks, COVID-19 infections across the United States have increased at a rate of nearly 33%, according to the CDC.

Officials are encouraging people who took both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least six months ago to get their boosters now. People who took the one-shot Johnson & Johnson primary dose at least two months ago, should also schedule their booster shot.

“COVID-19 boosters are available to all Californians 18 [and over]! Walk-in clinics are open statewide with no appointment necessary – like this mobile clinic in Avenal. Find a clinic or pharmacy near you and get yours today,” Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office chimed in on Twitter.

Newsom has pushed hard for the vaccine booster since he received his last month.

“Great news for the rest of the country. The holidays are here — make sure to keep your immunity up and protect yourself and your loved ones. Get your booster,” Newsom tweeted on November 18.

According to Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, the booster shots are being administered under an “emergency use authorization.”

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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