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First Americans Museum opens in Oklahoma

An aerial view of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City. (Courtesy photo)

The First Americans Museum (FAM) opened Sept. 18 with the mission to serve as a dynamic center to promote awareness and educate the public about the unique cultures, diversity, history, contributions and resilience of the 39 Native American tribes in Oklahoma.

It took nearly three decades of planning and overcoming delays to finally open the Oklahoma City museum. The debut featured speeches, dance exhibitions, fashion shows and hundreds of visitors. Representatives from every tribe in the state were present for the ceremonies.

“The Tribal Nations honored in the First Americans Museum come from all parts of the United States,” said the governor of the Chickasaw Nation, Bill Anoatubby, during the grand opening ceremony. “Our stories, of our people, are embedded in the fabric of this continent and our state. This world-class museum showcases to the world tribal history, culture and progress respectfully.”

Only a few tribal nations were Indigenous to what is now Oklahoma. All others are descendants of tribes who were forced to move from their homelands to Indian Territory in the early 1800s. In 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state to enter the union. Its name comes from two Choctaw words: “Okla” and “Homma” meaning “red people.”

The interior of the museum’s glass half-dome. (Courtesy photo)

The concept for the 175,000-square foot museum originated in 1994 and ground was broken in 2005. But funding evaporated in 2012, further delaying construction until more was secured from the state, private donations and the city. Construction resumed in 2019.

Museum staffers, including the all-Native curatorial team, consulted with each of the 39 tribes about the design, exhibits and programming for the museum. FAM CEO and director Pepper Henry (Kaw Nation) said the museum is committed to telling the truth from the Indigenous perspective.

“Many museums were and still are extensions of colonization, serving as repositories for the spoils of war and conquest by European nations over indigenous peoples throughout the world,” Henry said in an interview with The Oklahoman. “For many Native peoples, museums are reminders of what has been taken and what has been lost. As First Americans people, we are reimaging the colonial museum and making it our own here.”

The museum, located at 659 First Americans Blvd., is comprised of several exhibits, two theaters and the 39 Restaurant with “from rez to table” cuisine.

A guest views an exhibit at the First Americans Museum during opening weekend Sept 18-19. (Courtesy photo)
Guests view a presentation in a theater at the museum. (Courtesy photo)
A guest uses a touch screen to see information about Native veterans. (Courtesy photo)
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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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