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What was previously called the “American Indian Cultural Center and Museum” is now being completed as the renamed and rebranded First Americans Museum (FAM).

The new FAM logo and the tagline “One Place, Many Nations” was revealed in the ceremony Thursday for officials and the news media.

When the $175 million project is completed May 2021, it will provide visitors with a fully interactive museum experience that will teach about the many tribes now called First Americans.

The project was started by the State of Oklahoma when Oklahoma City donated the land. Then, it stalled for a decade.

It finally came back to life again over a decade later when the City of Oklahoma City and the Chickasaw Nation collaborated with the state on its revival.

First Americans Museum
Officials listen to Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt as they see the new name and brand for the museum, now called First Americans Museum. Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press

Thursday, visitors got to see the center under construction again after shells of the buildings sat empty for years.

Several times during the day the Smithsonian was mentioned as a model for the kinds of interactive exhibits visitors will see at FAM.

Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, and other officials who have been instrumental in reigniting interest in the center spoke about the significance of the museum now reconceptualized.

“We are at the center of a state that hosts 39 sovereign nations, and we have not historically offered you many opportunities here in our city limits to experience that culture,” said Holt in the presentation.

“Millions of visitors”

Free Press talked with Mayor Holt after the presentation about the impact FAM will have on Oklahoma City and elsewhere.

“We have every reason to believe that by finally giving visitors a destination where they can experience the thing that makes Oklahoma most unique, we will draw millions of people here and from around the world,” said Holt. “Because this is not just something that is of interest to Americans. This is something that is of interest to the global population now.”

First Americans Museum
One of the original and most recognized features of the structure now being completed. Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press

He said that FAM would have an impact on the City’s economy because it will be providing a “world-class, Smithsonian-level experience” within a few minutes of Will Rogers World Airport that has about 30 non-stop destination flights every day.

“I just cannot even imagine what a game-changer this is going to be for the visitor economy of Oklahoma City,” said Holt.

For local First Americans

Holt is a member of the Osage Tribe and takes pride in being, as he said Thursday, “the first, First American mayor” of Oklahoma City.

He told Free Press that FAM “gives us a new heart for the native community of Central Oklahoma.”

First Americans have been a part of Oklahoma City’s population since settlement far before statehood.

“It’s long overdue for our First Americans community or native community or indigenous community to have a place,” said Holt.

“All about partnership”

Bill Anoatubby
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said Oklahoma City “could not be a better partner.” Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press

Chickasaw Governor Bill Anoatubby talked with Free Press after the presentation. We asked him what it was like to join with the state and with Oklahoma City in a complex project like FAM when the Chickasaw Nation has been mostly developing projects on their own and on their own land in the past.

“You know, it’s all about partnership, right? And, people seeing the same vision. And, it took a long time to get to where we were,” Anoatubby told us.

“Oklahoma City couldn’t be a better partner,” he said. “They saw the benefit. They got into the vision for this museum. And they’ve been great partners from the very day that we started talking to them.”

Turning the corner

Former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett was the mayor when the project was jump-started again. He said the City had originally donated the land and then watched as the State of Oklahoma “lost interest in the project” over a decade.

“And so, we were put in a really tough situation with an abandoned project,” he said.

Mick Cornett
Former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett was instrumental in getting the museum project jump-started after it sat idle for about a decade. Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press

Cornett said that the Chickasaw Nation had so much experience running tourist attractions, they were a key partner in getting the project going again.

It was a mix of the City of Oklahoma City putting in money, the state putting in money and the Chickasaw Nation coming in on the operation side of the equation.

“So, it’s as complicated as you can imagine,” said Cornett. “You’re basically talking about two levels of government and then a sovereign nation … all trying to figure it out. But, what no one wanted to happen was for it to just sit here any longer.”

Full experience

The hard-hat tour showed visitors the various parts of the whole experience planned for FAM based on years of experience the Chickasaws have had with their own highly-interactive tribal museum in the southern part of the state.

First Americans Museum
Shoshana Wasserman, Deputy Director of the museum, explains one of the many features being constructed in the long-empty main building. Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press

Some exhibits will be long-term and others short-term. Children and adults will have plenty of opportunities to actively participate in some of the experiences that will give them a different perspective on life and the First Americans.

Native American foods will also be an important part of the visitor’s experience.

A cinema is being fitted not only for museum use during regular visitor hours but also for special cinema events for the community.


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