By Chris Eversole
Lancer Stephens is proud of his Native American heritage, and he enjoys educating people about it – both as a father and as a public health researcher.
When his daughter, Ahdae, was in third grade at Lakehoma Elementary School, she brought home information about the school celebrating the Oklahoma Land Run on its anniversary, Sept. 16 and making it mandatory for all students to dress in pioneer attire.
“On the back of the permission slip, I said that we didn’t celebrate that day, and that I didn’t think it was very sensitive to our native students to make them participate,” he said.
“I received a call from the principal asking if I would be interested in talking with my daughter’s class to give a discussion on the history of American Indians in Oklahoma, and I was happy to do so.”
Ahdae is now 15 and a sophomore at Mustang High School, and Stephens is still talking to the classes.
“When I ask how many of kids are part Native, I’m surprised how many raise their hands,” he said. “Some know their tribe, but others may only know that they have some native history somewhere in their family tree.”
This year, Stephens and his family went a step further and asked City Manager Timothy Rooney about having the city commission adopt a proclamation declaring that the city will observe the second Monday in October as Native American Day, rather than as Columbus Day.
“Columbus Day has long been a sore subject for many tribal populations,” Stephens said.
The council adopted the resolution at its meeting on Oct. 9. “Everyone on the council was very open to what we were doing and why we were doing it,” Stephens said. “The proclamation was absolutely beautifully written.
“It brought attention to the fact that native people were here long before 1492 and have contributed greatly to the progress of our nation,” Stephens said.
“It’s important for everyone to know their roots and to celebrate them, especially the children” he said.
Stephens is enrolled in the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes of Oklahoma on his father’s side and is half Muscogee (Creek) on his mother’s.
His wife, Aietah, is a member of the Kiowa tribe. Their four children – Mahiya, 17; Ahdae, 15; Tahlee, 10; and Waukee, 9 – all have tribal meanings behind their names.
Ahdae means special in the Kiowa language, Mahiya means teacher in Muscogee (Creek), Aietah means your daughter in Kiowa, Tahlee means boy in Kiowa and Waukee means pray in Wichita.
Oklahoma has one of the highest percentages of people with Native American heritage in the United States, at roughly 9 percent, and it is home to 38 federally recognized tribes.
In this work at the University of Oklahoma’s College of Public Health, Stephens helps tribes develop programs and research to improve the health of Native Americans, including fighting diabetes.
“The need for more physical activity and a better diet including fruits and vegetables and drinking more water is important to all Oklahomans, and there’s no better time to start implementing those healthy habits than when we’re young so that they will continue into adulthood” he said.