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Published: Monday, 3/28/2005

Work walkout called to enact Indian holiday

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Danielle Willmott wanted to help get Congress to establish a holiday for Native Americans.

The 22-year-old liberal studies senior at the University of Washington and a member of the Choctaw tribe began sending e-mails about an idea she had: that workers would walk off their jobs for 15 minutes one day in support of the national holiday.

The e-mails turned into Web sites and media interviews. On April 11, Miss Willmott hopes her dream, National Work Walkout Day, will come to fruition.

At 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, workers are asked to walk off their jobs for 15 minutes, the equivalent of a break, and stand outside in support of a holiday for Native Americans.

Phyllis Davis of Van Wert, an activist for Native Americans, and Joyce Mahaney, longtime president of the Toledo American Indian Intertribal Association, both said of the protest: "It's about time."

Mrs. Davis, an officer with the Ohio Native Ancestral Association, said she believes a holiday for Native Americans is long overdue, but she doesn't believe people will respond to the protest right away.

"I hope a huge majority will take part in it but I doubt that they will," she said. "A lot of Americans will think this is a bunch of hogwash. Money is tight, and people are fearful for their jobs. I hope, though, that it will bring some kind of attention to the holiday."

Ms. Mahaney said she is not as familiar with the walkout day, but bringing any national attention to Native Americans has been a long time coming.

"We still struggle for recognition," she said. "I think it's a great accomplishment that we have survived all these years."

In February, U.S. Rep. Joe Baca (D., Calif.) introduced a bill to create a federal holiday honoring Native Americans.

"This resolution would provide the recognition Native Americans deserve for their contributions to the United States," Mr. Baca said at the time. "Native Americans are the original inhabitants of the land that now constitutes the United States. They've helped develop the fundamental principles of freedom of speech and separation of powers that form the foundation of the United States government. They've served with valor in all of America's wars, beginning with the Revolutionary War and through Operation Iraqi Freedom."

News of Ms. Willcott's symbolic gesture has been run in the Native American media and on several web sites. She was interviewed on WBAI-FM radio in New York this month.

"I really didn't have any expectations when I started this," she said in a phone interview. "I really don't expect a big following at first but as we do this annually, people will start to take part."

Miss Willmott said she even thought about organizing a protest more than once a year.

"I asked my mama and she said that's probably not a good idea," she said with a laugh.

Weona Brown, one of the Native American activists who has joined Miss Willmott and others around the country, said she hopes the walkout will provide a starting point around which Native Americans and others can rally to push for a holiday. "I remember getting an e-mail on this and I thought, 'What a great idea,' " said Ms. Brown, who lives in North Little Rock, Ark.

Ms. Brown said this is a crucial time for Native Americans, with various groups challenging American Indian sovereignty.

"You have people out there now trying to take the little that was given to [Native Americans] and rewrite treaties," Ms. Brown said. "[The national holiday] is very important, at least to the people I talk to. It means recognition for people who have been considered second and third-class citizens for a long time."

Ms. Davis said a holiday honoring Native Americans is the least the government could do to recognize their contributions.

"We celebrate Columbus Day for discovering America when America was already discovered," said Mrs. Davis, whose late husband, Larry Davis, was a Shawnee. "[Native Americans] were already here."

Contact Clyde Hughes at: chughes@theblade.com or 419-724-6095.



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