OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – It’s been decades in the making, but after 15 years of construction and work stoppages caused by funding issues, The First Americans Museum is almost ready to open at I-35 and I-40.
You have no doubt driven by and seen the earth mound and glass half-dome for quite some time, but in less than two weeks, the First Americans Museum is finally set to open.
Today, KFOR found out it was worth the wait.
“This project is at the crossroads of America,” said Shoshana Wasserman, Deputy Director of the First Americans Museum.
The First Americans Museum is 175,000 square feet of art, technology and architecture that bring Oklahoma’s deep native roots to life.
“This is a museum that tells the collective story of the 39 tribes that are in Oklahoma today,” said Wasserman.
But this achievement was hard to come by for the museum.
The site was once an abandoned oil field and motocross track. When work began on the site back in 2006, over 7,000 old tires had to be removed.
But over the years, the unique architecture started to take shape.
Then in 2012, due to federal and state funds drying up, work came to a stop for 7 years.
But thanks to deals with the City of OKC and the Chickasaw Nation, construction ramped back up in 2019, and now it’s just days away from opening.
“I think we have benefited from the course of time because technology has changed, lighting has changed,” said Wasserman.
The experience starts as you approach the front courtyard.
“You begin to the see the project and you see the remembrance walls. Those are really powerful and magnificent,” said Wasserman.
From there, it’s into the iconic glass half-dome.
“So, this is the Hall of the People, as you can see, beautiful space, light-filled. Some people think it looks like a headdress but really… the inspiration for this was a Wichita grass house, and you can see the image of a traditional Wichita grass house… you can see the similarity in this structure,” said Wasserman.
Directly behind the Hall of the People is the First Americans Museum Mound and Festival Plaza. 3D models inside show how the site is set up to line up with the summer and winter solstice.
Art is a huge part of the museum, from giant wall murals painted on copper, to a larger than life Caddo pottery piece by Native Oklahoma artist Jerry Redcorn.
As you make your way into the main exhibit space, the history is all around you – told using the latest technology.
Circular surround monitors show creation stories.
Touch screens let you dive deep into history and culture.
Artifacts and first-hand accounts bring the past to life, and hands-on displays help visitors learn.
“People have questions, ‘What do I call you? Do I call you an Indian, an American Indian, Native American? Why did the museum choose First Americans?’ So we help a visitor manage their way through that,” said Wasserman.
Circular fire displays speak to removal accounts and recreated tribal oral history traditions.
Current native culture is also covered with displays on sports, war and pop culture.
You can jump into a van and ‘take a trip’ around Indian country to experience different tribal traditions.
Upstairs, there is a huge display of artifacts from the Smithsonian’s Native collection. Everywhere there are monitors with full-sized figures acting as your own personal tour guides.
But it’s more than just a museum.
The site has an upscale modern Native eatery and bar, a 100-plus seat theater for movies, concerts and receptions, and a huge gift shop with Native products and exclusive artwork by Oklahoma artists.
The grand opening for the First Americans Museum is set for September 18-19. Events are scheduled onsite all day, including dancing, music, food, and even a Native fashion show.