OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – It was a day decades in the making but now Oklahoma has a world-class tribute to the 39 tribes that call our state home.
The First Americans Museum officially opened to the public on Saturday.
For years, people have driven by the site at I-40 and I-35 and saw the mound and glass dome.
But on Saturday, visitors actually got to go inside.
The facility is 173,000 square-feet with incredible collections of art and artifacts from the museum’s permanent collection and those on loan from the Smithsonian.
“We’ve enjoyed the space for so long as a staff and now that it’s full of people and activity, it’s more than we could have hoped for,“ said Ginny Underwood, with the museum.
Construction on the site started in 2006 but when funding ran out, the project was mothballed in 2012.
After the state, city and Chickasaw Nation worked out a special deal, work began again in 2019. Saturday, the world got to see the facility.
“To see people moving and doing things and all these tribes just coming together and doing things, kinda like we did today, I just enjoyed being around here,” said Dewayne Wilson, of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe.
Museum staff say today’s opening was more about living culture. Festivities included music, Native craft demonstrations, and cooking exhibitions in one of the museum’s high tech teaching spaces. Of course, it also featured Native dance demonstrations and language.
“I’m so happy because I feel like museums have historically always kinda put Natives in a position where we are viewed as people of the past, artifacts that aren’t here anymore. And this museum offers them a way to see our heritage today,” said Lily Painter, Winnebago and Kiowa Tribes.
“We want to be bridge builders. We want to be able to share our culture and our traditions and help people understand,” said Underwood.