An OU graduate student and Indigenize OU founder is bringing her activist background to politics by running for Norman City Council.
Ashley McCray, who is Absentee Shawnee and Oglala Lakota, is a lifelong activist for indigenous peoples’ rights. This past year, McCray led several movements in the Norman and Oklahoma City areas, including the formation of Indigenize OU and its connections with other on-campus organizations, and the beginnings of a statewide movement, as well.
Her actions have not gone unnoticed. McCray was honored as a “Champion of Change” by the White House in September and awarded the 2015 Norman Human Rights Award. Last fall, OU President David Boren and the Student Government Association signed a proposal to recognize Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a movement put forward by Indigenize OU.
Though activism is still important to her, McCray wants to make a difference as a politician by running for representative from Ward 6 of the Norman City Council.
“People like me have been left out of the political process, and I feel like it’s really important that we see ourselves represented in those political leadership positions … We bring a lot to the table, and we have a lot of experience and a different perspective on the political process that can make it deviate from the status quo that is upholding right now,” McCray said.
McCray said her campaign is centered on “building bridges,” specifically connecting east Norman to local government. As a person of color living in a poorer part of town, McCray said she has seen and lived disparities regarding access to, treatment from and representation in local government, and she wants to act as a voice for those who feel unheard or unrepresented.
Heather Shotton, a Native American studies professor and McCray’s mentor, said she is constantly inspired by McCray’s devotion to those around her.
“I think Ashley would make people think," Shotton said. "I think that she would challenge people, but, most importantly, would make sure she was a voice for those who are often marginalized and unheard and rendered invisible in politics."
“I’m very proud of her for taking that step and being so active and being such a strong advocate for her community.”
Though the issue of marginalized groups not finding a voice in local government is a larger, systemic issue, McCray said, she believes it is a disservice, not only to minorities but to all citizens, to ignore Norman’s complicated history with racism and Native Americans.
“There’s a lot of difficulties building bridges between different communities whenever we don’t acknowledge the hurts of the past … ” McCray said. “We can move forward from that once we acknowledge that.”
McCray’s bridge-building extends past her neighbors and fellow people of color, however. McCray also wants to open a public dialogue with the police department so that citizens can address issues with officers in a comfortable setting.
McCray said, along with discussions about race, economics and “hyper-policing” on the east side of Norman, she would like part of this dialogue to be focused on police responses to sexual and domestic violence, which she sees as insufficient.
“The way (the police) consider domestic violence is really outdated. It blames the victim and really doesn’t afford much space for justice to occur for the survivor of the assault ... ” McCray said. “I’m hopeful that they are wanting to change when they realize that this is a problem.”
Sexual violence is one of several issues important to McCray. Focused mostly on environmental and social issues, McCray also wants to address fracking and the local environment, as well as reproductive justice and respect to elders, she said.
At this point, McCray is enthusiastic about her campaign and looking forward to the election.
“I feel more energized and charged after talking to people who are like, ‘We’re so glad you’re going to be here. We need you. We need your voice of resistance and criticism.’ And they know I will always hold people accountable,” McCray said.
“I will always be a champion for the issues that my community raises because that’s who I’m accountable to.”
This article was corrected at 12:50 p.m. Feb. 4 to correct a pronoun error in an info box.