Sculptor Joe Oreland stood in front of sculptures he created.
ANADARKO, Okla. – When the Lewis and Clark expedition set out from present-day St. Louis, Mo. in May 1804, it was part of their mission to visit with tribes in the area of the Louisiana Purchase. However, they didn’t realize they were in the midst of buffalo-hunting season for many of the Plains tribes, and they did not find any Native people along the Missouri River for almost three months.
On Aug. 2, 1804, the Otoe and Missouria tribes were the first Native people to find Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery, sending out men with gifts of watermelon. Two days later, the Otoe and Missouria men returned with the leaders of these two tribes near present-day Council Bluff, Neb. Lewis and Clark read a speech from President Thomas Jefferson through a French interpreter and then presented the leaders gifts including a signed certificate of the speech as well as “Peace and Friendship” medals made for the expedition.
When the Otoe-Missouria Tribe built their casino at Newkirk, Okla., they wanted it to reflect their history and cultural values. With this in mind, the name “First Council” was selected to be the name of their 64,000-square-foot facility.
“That’s where the ‘First Council’ comes from,” said Kennetha Greenwood, Otoe-Missouria tribal member and graphic designer for the Otoe-Missouria Development Authority. “The casino and the people in charge – the OMDA – wanted the casino to reflect that First Council meeting to give it some historical reference.”
As patrons approach the casino, sculptures that recreate the scene of the First Council stand in front. These six sculptures include representations of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, an Otoe chief, a Missouria chief, a French interpreter and Clark’s Newfoundland dog, Seaman. These sculptures by Diné and Ute artist Oreland Joe were formally dedicated July 10. Joe’s previous work with northern Oklahoma tribes includes the statue of Ponca Chief Standing Bear, located in Ponca City, Okla.
The sculptures are based on statues previously created by Joe that were commissioned by the Washington County (Neb.) Historical Society on the Nebraska site of the original First Council. Otoe-Missouria tribal members eventually visited the site and commissioned Joe to recreate the sculptures for the casino, but with some modifications. According to Joe, these included changes in height, positions of arms and legs, changes in the bronze texture, and the adding of more traditional Otoe-Missouria floral designs. In order to make these changes for the First Council Casino installation, Joe did a great deal of research, studying early Otoe-Missouria photographs for facial features, buckskin, shoes, boots, belts, necklaces and earrings.
“You couldn’t say they were exactly the same,” Joe said.
In addition to the exterior sculptures, motifs of Otoe-Missouria culture are used throughout the interior of the casino. These include Woodland design patterns created by Greenwood as a way of recognizing the original Otoe-Missouria homes in the Great Lakes region before migrating to the Platte River region of present-day Nebraska in the early 1700s. According to plaques written for the First Council installation, the state got its name from the Otoe-Missouria word “Ne-brath-ke,” which means “flat water.”
Also within the casino are signs written in both English and the Otoe-Missouria languages, both of which are in the Siouan linguistic family. The implementation of the languages in the casino’s décor are there as a way to perpetuate their use.
These design elements go hand-in-hand with its current games, such as 700 slot machines, eight blackjack tables, a poker room, a stage for musical entertainment and a buffet restaurant. Future plans include a high stakes room with 98 more games and an on-site hotel with more than 70 guest rooms.
“I think [First Nations Casino] offers a little bit of history, not only for visitors that have never even heard of our tribe. …” said Greenwood. “It’s a way for us to offer a little bit of history to even our own tribal members that may not be familiar with that part of our history. I think it’s great that we’re incorporating our artistic value and our historical value into our casino.”