A group of local Native American advocates wants to use the renaming of White Settlement Road to educate the public about the history of Native Americans in Fort Worth.
To help choose an inclusive name, they want to be a part of the process. The road is named for a time that sought to exclude them from life in Fort Worth, and Mayor Mattie Parker has suggested it’s time for it to be changed.
“This would give our organization an excellent opportunity and Fort Worth an opportunity to educate a lot of people about the name,” Pat Petersen, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and a founder of the Intertribal Community Council of Texas, told the Fort Worth Report.
Her organization aims to provide a conduit for the Native community to bring about positive changes. She believes getting involved in the renaming of White Settlement road fits into that vision.
Before Fort Worth was established, Choctaw, Kickapoo, Cherokee and other nations lived throughout the region. Petersen said many members of her organization may be descendants of the very Native Americans that White Settlement sought to exclude.
“Then, they didn’t have a voice,” said Keith Pahcheka, a member of the Comanche tribe. “We have one now, and we have the right to say, ‘This is what we want to do for our community and be proud of it.’ ”
Mayor Parker has offered an opportunity to get involved, and the group plans to take advantage.
“The time to do it is now, and, in the process, we can educate people about why we want it changed,” Petersen said.
The group wants the name changed, they said, because it’s an opportunity to educate non-Native residents about the tribes that existed in North Texas and their descendants who still call the region home.
A history of exclusion
Yolanda Blue Horse, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, moved to North Texas while serving in the military. She was struck by the exclusionary terminology and racial stereotypes still present in the area that would not be acceptable in her home city of Denver.
“It’s not right to make a mockery of another race of people. It’s not right to forget that we even exist,” Blue Horse said.
Native Americans are constantly fighting battles against being portrayed as school mascots and miseducation about their history and culture, she explains. Having to drive on a stretch of road called “White Settlement” is one of the more obvious ways Native Americans are reminded of a painful past, she said.
“It’s like walking back in time,” she said.
Petersen refers to Native Americans as a “silent minority.” In the 1970s, Peterson was one of 20,00 Native Americans in North Texas. Today, she estimates there are more than 100,000 Native Americans.
“This is our one opportunity to establish some type of presence,” Petersen said. “If we end up naming that street, I think it will elevate the Native American community and bring the awareness that we are here.”
A new name
The group plans to get together with other members of their organization to decide on a couple of names to bring to the City Council.
“All we want to do is have our voices heard, be included and be taken seriously,” Peterson said. “If we have an opportunity to rename it, let’s do it. It’s the fair thing to do, and it’s the right thing to do.”
The group said the impact of renaming the road will be felt deeply by the Native community, but they hope it will extend to everyone in Fort Worth.
“Renaming this… will not only be beautiful to us, but it will educate others,” Blue Horse said.
If the group members get the opportunity to be included in the process of renaming, they have big plans to include all of Fort Worth in their traditions.
“I can just envision how our community would come together and really, really be proud to be a part of this process,” Peterson said. “I would love to have spiritual leaders involved to bless the opening of that street. Wouldn’t that be beautiful?”
City staff is looking into how to involve the public in the renaming process and will present its findings to the City Council in September.
Regardless, Pahcheka said, the group is excited to get involved, and “this is just the beginning,” of Native American voices being taken seriously in Fort Worth.
Rachel Behrndt is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.