Nov. 11, France celebrated the 100th anniversary of the American intervention in World War I on the Western Front. In celebration of this year’s Armistice Day, State Representative Travis Dunlap and I lead a delegation from Oklahoma to France that attended several celebrations.
French President Emmanuel Macron invited the two of us to attend the Armistice Day ceremonies at the Arc de Triomphe.
The delegation was also invited by the Mayor of Paris’ 17th Arrondissement to its commemoration events.
During those celebrations, the delegation handed over a proclamation in support to both the City of Paris and Oklahoma City against terrorism, following the terrible Nov. 13, 2015, terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 137 Persians.
The delegation trip was funded by the Institute for Cultural Restitution, a 501(c)3 in Norman, Oklahoma. The institute hosted the Oklahoma City remembrance ceremonies for the November 2015 Paris attacks.
We also attended the celebrations to encourage our continuing diplomacy with and support of France as well as to honor the families of the 2,735 soldiers from the State of Oklahoma who died during World War I. A wreath was laid at the Oklahoma graves.
Below is the speech I delivered to the citizens of Paris at the mayor’s office, which incorporated Potawatomi history:
“Armistice Day is commemorated every year on 11 November to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany in Compiegne, France.
“The cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I took effect at 11 o’clock in the morning — the 11th hour of the 11th month of 1918.
“This somber holiday and celebration is also observed in America as Remembrance Day and Veterans Day.
“The body of an unidentified solider from the battlefield of the citadel of Verdun was buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Nov. 11, 1920.
“This soldier serves as a symbol of all those who died in World War I. An eternal flame was lit on this tomb three years later and still burns today.
“In America, we, too, have The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, who was killed in World War I.
“The United States of America and the great nation of France are allies, militarily and otherwise, and have been friends throughout
“As a combat veteran of the first Persian Gulf war, Desert Storm, I am grateful to the citizens of France.
“The second-largest European contingent in Desert Storm was from France, which committed 18,000 troops operating on the left flank of the US XVIII Airborne Corp. The French force was the Division Daguert, including troops from the French Foreign Legion.
“And of course, if not for France, we would not have won our independence from England in 1776.
“In my house, above my fireplace, is displayed a Charleville flintlock musket dated 1776 from France. This musket is only one of thousands shipped to America from France. My Charlievillet is one of my prized positions.
“However, my family and ancestors share a history long before 1776. I am also Native American. That is, I am American Indian, a blue-eyed Indian at that.
“You are probably thinking, he does not look like an Indian. Well, that is because of centuries of intermarriage between American Indians and white people.
“The fact is that I am a Potawatomi Indian and my ancestors’ history with the French goes back to the 1500s.
“The French in Canada and the Potawatomi Indians were business partners. We Indians would trap beavers, those cute chewing creatures, and trade their pelts to the French, who would sell them to merchants who would use their pelts to make beaver hats for men and beaver coats for women.
“The French and Potawatomi were also military allies, and my ancestors fought along with the French against their enemies in numerous battles in the 16th century.
“So, when other American Indian tribes were killing buffalos and white men in order to survive, we Potawatomi were prospering along with our French friends and partners in lucrative commerce.
“Please allow me to say one more thing: Paris and my home city of Oklahoma City, although not technically sister cities, are twin cities in a very deep sense, emotionally and spiritually.
“My city, Oklahoma City, was the target of terrorism that took the lives of 168 innocent people in 1995, and Paris was the target of terrorism in 2015 that took the lives of 137 innocent people.
“So, as you can see, our shared history forms a bond — a bond that will never be dissolved.
“Our nations may not share a common language, but in many ways we share common values and aspirations. America and France have been one in the past, and today, we are one.”
Representative, District 9