ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Gena Timberman, the executive director of the Native American Cultural and Education Authority in Oklahoma City, has been named a Native American 40 Under 40 by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development.
Timberman, a Choctaw, began her work with NACEA in 1999. She was named executive director in 2008. “I’m very proud of where I’m from. I grew up here in Oklahoma and my family is still here. That’s why I’m so proud to be working with NACEA as we work to raise awareness of the Native peoples of Oklahoma.”
NACEA is an Oklahoma state agency responsible for developing nearly 300 acres on the Oklahoma River as the future home of the 125,000-square-foot American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. The development includes three other components: a 250 acre landscaped and programmed park and trails system; 25 acres of privately funded and operated business enterprises to enhance and complement the mission of AICCM, and a 4,000-square-foot visitors welcome center.
Much of this development work will come to fruition in the next year. “This past year has been an exciting one. We’ve raised the structural steel for the cultural center, which has brought about a renewed sense of awareness for the project. The first phase of the project was a promontory mound and spiral earthwork, but it wasn’t really visible from a distance, despite two billion pounds of soil being moved. And because much of the cultural building itself is underground, raising the steel has let people start to see the grand scope and drama of the project. It seems like it’s emerging from the earth.”
Timberman’s duties as head of the organization have meant she’s been developing relationships with fiscal and governmental sponsors and supporters to find funding for the project. The budget stands at $180 million, about half of which has been raised or committed. The City of Oklahoma City donated the 250 acres along the river plus $5 million.
“I’ve used this past year to strengthen the structure and position of the American Indian Cultural Center Foundation as it raises money for the project, too,” Timberman said. She also serves as acting director for the foundation.
The experience of partnering with governmental agencies has been interesting for Timberman, as has learning about the environmental aspects of the site. “In the 1930s, the site had 60 active oil wells. To take the property and heal it has been rewarding. To the community it also has a spiritual sense. We did a site blessing ceremony as well as groundbreaking ceremony. It’s been healing in a social history sense, too.”
The future for Timberman, 35, is about creating awareness of who and what the tribes of Oklahoma are. The visitor center, complete but not yet open, is positioned as a cultural gateway to Oklahoma’s Indian country with a goal of teaching the American Indian culture of the state.
“Oklahoma has 39 tribes today. AICCM was created to tell the story of how the tribes came to call the state home, the history of uprooting 67 original tribes and the rebirth of the 39 tribes now. This story is integral to understanding what America is, and what contemporary life is for tribal peoples.”
Timberman’s work and volunteer efforts keep her busy. She serves on the boards of the Arts Council of Oklahoma City, the American Heart Association’s local chapter, and the American Red Cross of Central Oklahoma. She’s also the treasurer of the Oklahoma Museum Conference. She recently served on the site committee for the Oklahoma Humanities Project.
“I see a great level of camaraderie and support, unusual in these economic times, and get a lot of personal and professional pleasure in my relationships with these entities. I’ve got a reading list, but I’ve been neglecting it, which is terrible because I was an English literature major at Oklahoma State.” As president of the Native American Student Association there, she received the Outstanding Contribution to the Native American Community Award.
Timberman likes to stay physically active, especially jogging with her dog, Kerbe. As a former Wings of America, Southern Plains runner, she has been a facilitator for the group’s running and fitness camps. The camps have been influential in promoting the health and wellness of Native American people in Indian country.
She also loves to travel, and is looking forward to a work trip to Germany to participate in a world creativity forum. “I just read a book on quantum wellness, and aspire to achieve more balance in my overall wellness, which includes eating well and getting good rest.” All these things she sees as ways to be of better service to the community.