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World-class Native American Cultural Center planned

OKLAHOMA CITY - Plans are well under way for a Native American cultural center in Oklahoma City. The project is a cooperative venture between the state, tribal governments and private corporations.

The center will celebrate the diverse histories, cultures and achievements of all Native American tribes and nations.

Those working with the project see it as a world-class facility that will become an international focus on the more than 60 tribes historically located in Oklahoma.

The center will be built on land donated by Oklahoma City at the intersection of I-35 and I-40, often called the crossroads of America.

Tommy Thompson, executive director of Native American Cultural and Educational Authority for the state, said he is excited about the whole concept.

"It is a $100 million dollar project. We are a state agency, but the cultural center will represent the 39 tribal governments which were relocated to the state of Oklahoma."

Thompson said the project is proceeding according to plans and he is anxious to its completion. He said he expects groundbreaking in about a year after design and architectural plans are completed.

"We've been very fortunate to have the city of Oklahoma City donate 300 acres of land for this project," Thompson said. "That is worth more than $5 million. That is why we are in a cooperative effort with the city. The state of Oklahoma has donated $7 million for the project so far, so we have approximately $12.1 million dollars that will go toward the project."

Thompson said the cultural center expects to become a partner with the Smithsonian Institution which will mean traveling exhibits will be a part of the attraction for visitors.

"We're working closely to become a Smithsonian affiliate," Thompson said. "We will have access to over one million exhibits that will come out of that organization. In addition, we are hoping that the tribes will donate some of their artifacts to us."

A group specializing in fund raising will soon be on board and Thompson said the remaining financing will come from many sources. The group also plans to look into what the federal government may be able to do financially to help.

"This will be an icon as well as a destination when it is finished," Thompson said. "Not only on a state, but on an international level. We think we are going to have at tremendous clientele who will be coming to see this project."

Planners are already boasting of some advanced technological advances which will be incorporated in the center, holograms and projection-type exhibits that will actually put the visitors into the middle of a buffalo hunt or take them into daily life in a Native village.

The project is especially dear to Thompson, a member of the Chickasaw nation, and to state Sen. Enoch Kelly Haney who has also worked hard to get the project started. Don Fixico from the University of Kansas will be the Native American consultant for the center.

The final design is expected to be selected in March from several options. One plan, "In the Earth," calls for the center to be below ground in a mound-shaped building. Another would place the structure above ground and "Of the Earth." The final design, incorporating a circle, will be sited along the Canadian River.

"The four main things they are looking at are earth, wind, fire and water," Thompson said. "Of course, we represent three schematic areas - the woodlands, the wetlands and the plains."

These three regions represent areas from which today's Native Americans in Oklahoma were removed. When complete, the state-of-the art complex promises to be unique and a drawing card for Indian nations from across the country, Thompson said.