$143-million museum in Oklahoma City to celebrate Indian culture

Monday, October 31st 2005, 6:18 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahomans on Tuesday celebrated the start of construction on the $143 million American Indian Cultural Center, which will tell the story of Oklahoma's 39 federally recognized Indian tribes.

Gov. Brad Henry said the center, being built on 300 acres along the Oklahoma River southeast of downtown, will underscore the diversity of Oklahoma, the final destination of many tribes removed from other states, beginning in the 1830s.

"More languages are spoken within the borders of Oklahoma than in all of Europe," first lady Kim Henry said at a "groundblessing" luncheon at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

Bill Anoatubby, governor of the Chickasaw Nation, said the center will symbolize the "great things we can do" through cooperation of Indian tribes, state government and the federal government.

Anoatubby said the center will be a place for education and its construction will recover land that has been "used and abused" during drilling for oil.

The land, he said, "will be healed and it will be healed in a positive and constructive way."

He said he was recently asked how Indians can feel good about a museum that depict events during a sad time in their history. "I said, because we are still here. We are a part of this great state, making thing happen."

The luncheon, which also included talks by Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin and U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, preceded the dedication at the museum site. That "groundblessing" included a grand processional of the 39 tribes, dancing and a fireworks display.

Officials expect the museum to draw visitors worldwide. "The stars are aligned to make Oklahoma the center of Indian country," said Gena Timberman Howard, deputy director of the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority, which is overseeing the project.

The center's location will be at the southeast corner of Interstate 35 and Interstate 40. Planned features include a Hall of the People, a Promontory Walk and a Community Forum.

The exhibits will reflect overarching themes important to Indian culture such as community, memory and sovereignty, officials said.

Land for the center was donated by Oklahoma City, and the Oklahoma Legislature approved a $33 million bond issue for the project earlier this year. The federal government has pledged $29 million toward construction.

The center will be built in stages with final completion expected in 2009.