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First Americans Museum set to open

The museum represents the 39 tribes in Oklahoma and sits on a 40-acre site near downtown Oklahoma City

Kaitlin Onawa Boysel
Indian Country Today

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Indigenous museum that’s been in the making since the 1980s is finally opening its doors.

The First Americans Museum opens Sept. 18 with a packed weekend of events to celebrate. The museum represents the 39 tribes in Oklahoma and sits on a 40-acre site along the Oklahoma River across from downtown Oklahoma City.

“The facility itself is designed like a cosmetological clock,” museum CEO James Pepper Henry, Kaw, said. “There are two circles that intersect together. The larger circle is this giant earth and its structure it’s based on a mound structure from our ancestors that were here.”

Oklahoma has a brutal history with Indigenous people. Many were forced to the land known as Indian Territory more than a century ago. It didn’t become a state until 1907 and its name comes from the Choctaw language meaning Red People. Some of the largest tribes in the U.S. call the state home, including the Cherokee Nation and Choctaw Nation.

The museum is expected to share that history and highlight present Native people.

Art is a huge part of the museum, from giant wall murals painted on copper, to a larger pottery piece by Jerry Redcorn, Caddo.

Visitors can see an exhibit showing the misrepresentation of Native Americans in comic books, romance novels and even mascots. On the second floor are artifacts from the Smithsonian’s Native American collection.

After walking through the exhibits, guests can get a taste of some Indigenous foods at the “39 Restaurant.” There, Chef Loretta Barrett Oden, Potawatomi, will serve you everything from butternut squash soup, bison burgers, to sweet corn and lavender creme brulee.

“So using the ingredients here that are Indigneous to Oklahoma but then also from the tribe's homelands,” Barrett Oden said. “I will never run out of ingredients to use so I’m pretty much using everything I can find that at some point is Indigneous to put on this menu.”

Visitors can see an exhibit showing the misrepresentation of Native people in comic books, romance novels and even mascots. Artifacts from the Smithsonian’s Native American collection are displayed on the second floor.

Admission to the museum for the grand opening is $5.

Henry said visitors will leave the museum understanding more about Indigenous people living in Oklahoma.

“I want them to understand the great diversity we have among our tribes,” he said. “A lot of people think we are all the same or we have the same languages or same beliefs.”

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