Sarah Adams-Cornell is an activist promoting Native American rights, education, and culture, as well as LGBTQ rights in the Oklahoma City Metropolitan area. She is a member of the Choctaw Nation. Sarah serves on the Board for the OK Choctaw Tribal Alliance, serves the OKCPS Native American Student Services Parent Committee, and is a member of Idle No More Central Oklahoma. She also co-hosts a radio program called ‘‘Womyn Warrior Talk,’’ discussing topics regarding Indian Country and news. In 2014, while attending Cottey College in Missouri, she was given the title of Young Alumna of the Year for her leadership in the community. She is very involved with Oklahoma City Public Schools; she participated in the group that removed Land Run reenactments in schools, and worked with OKCPS Native American Student Services to propose the more inclusive alternative of “Oklahoma History Day.” She was awarded the United Nations Association of Oklahoma City’s 2015 Human Rights Award.
The OU WGS Center for Social Justice had the great pleasure to welcome Sarah as the Fall 2015 Activist-in-Residence. We interviewed her about her role as an activist in the Native American community of Oklahoma.
Take Root: Where does your interest and passion in Native American activism come from?
Sarah: I think that […] because I wasn’t raised traditionally in my culture, I always felt like something was missing; so I sought out a lot of information. I worked at a Native American art gallery and soaked up a lot of information from the artists, and then learned a lot about the injustices. [I] started asking questions [like] ‘Why did this happen to Native people?’ […] The answers aren’t pretty, and they really just lead to more social justice/ human rights issues that you just naturally go to when learning about history. I don’t think there’s any way to get around feeling the hurt and the harm and the betrayal while you’re learning about our history.
Take Root: How does living in Oklahoma affect your activism?
Sarah: I think we live in a place that needs a lot of voices—strong voices asking questions. I think particularly in Oklahoma because we are such a red state that we have many lawmakers who don’t reflect what we’re about. We see we are underrepresented in every level of government: local, state, and federal. It’s important that our voices are heard because this is where they are needed. Plus, because of the unique history of Oklahoma with the removal and the way that Oklahoma was set up, we have so much diversity within our tribal nations that this is really the place that this kind of social justice movement needs to happen.
Take Root: How does being Native American impact your activism?
Sarah: I think it impacts almost every part of my activism. I don’t think there’s a part that it doesn’t touch because I understand what it means to be a Native American Woman. We see how disjointed our community is. […] Even some of our native communities are not honoring a lot of those traditions and those goals and those values, and when you see that happening, it makes you want to help bring that back, bring back the balance in our communities. You know what inspires me even more, though, honestly is being a mother, being a life-giver, and wanting something better for our kids. Wanting to make sure that […] the decisions we make today are going to be impactful and good down the road.
Take Root: Would you say being an advocate for Native American rights is your profession? What drives you to continue working?
Sarah: I think I’m doing it, honestly, [because] this is what I want to do. I think sometimes what popular culture sees as success is not what success means for me. Success for me is being able to advocate for those who are mistreated, to make sure that equality is something that we always strive for, and to make sure we are protecting our children and our elders. […] Right now, is that my profession? No, [because] it’s something that I do a lot of the time for free, and that’s how much it means to me, you know? I’ll do it no matter what; if I’m paid or not, [it’s] what I want to do because that’s success to me—being able to care for other people.
Take Root: What can we expect from your panel at Take Root?
Sarah: So my panel is called ‘Don’t be an Asshat: The Straight Persons Guide to Being an LGBTQ Ally.’ I think that, as advocates, we have to always be mindful that our issues are […] not the only issues out there; that we have to advocate for our entire community and those people who are being underrepresented and sometimes don’t have a voice at the table. I think the biggest take away from that is to give people [who] legitimately want to be an ally, and they want to be helpful to that [the LGBTQ] community; give them that space to ask those hard questions, for example, ‘When my friend comes out, what is an appropriate response?’, and have a safe place to ask those questions. Then, give our panelists the space to go ‘here’s what really helped me and what really hurt me’ so that they can [feel] empowered to be helpful to the LGBTQ family. So, ultimately, I feel like if people were to walk out of there with a little more understanding of how to love people better, I’d be over the moon! That would be great!
We look forward to welcoming Sarah back on campus for Take Root 2016. Thank you, Sarah, for your time and your inspirational activism in Oklahoma!
*interview was edited for clarity and length
Follow the links for more in our 2016 Speaker Series: