Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
Watch now: 'A love letter to our communities': First Americans Museum to open Sept. 18
0 Comments
topical

Watch now: 'A love letter to our communities': First Americans Museum to open Sept. 18

  • Updated
  • 0
{{featured_button_text}}

Get a first hand tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City.

OKLAHOMA CITY — It began with a seemingly simple wish: to be able to tell a certain people’s story in the way it should be told.

Multiply that by 39, which is the number of Indigenous tribes and nations for whom Oklahoma has always been, or has become, their home.

Factor in that the stories needing to be told have been passed along through these distinctive peoples for centuries, even millennia, and continue to evolve and expand, to resonate and inform to this very day.

That only begins to describe the expansive vision of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, which will open to the public with a two-day event Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 18-19. Tickets for the opening weekend are $5, and must be purchased in advance at famok.org.

The opening weekend will feature a tribal parade, remarks by tribal as well as state dignitaries, as well as appearances by U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, actors Lil Mike and Funnybone from the TV series “Reservation Dogs,” and musical acts Prairie Blossoms and the Red Men Blues Band.

It will also give attendees the first look into the 175,000-square-foot facility that will offer a multi-media, immersive glimpse into the unique cultures, diversity, history, contributions and resilience of the First American Nations in Oklahoma today.

The museum includes an expansive store that features art work, jewelry, clothing, literature, and unique, commissioned work from artists who are members of the 39 tribes; the “Five Moons Theater,” which can be configured for a variety of presentations; and a fine-dining restaurant, Thirty Nine, featuring a menu inspired by Native cuisine created by chefs Brad Harris, Loretta Barrett Oden and Keith Breedlove.

Plans for what would ultimately become First Americans Museum have been in the works since the 1990s.

“Several tribal representatives approached (former State Sen.) Kelly Haney, saying that we needed a place to tell our stories and sell our art,” said Leslie Halfmoon, curatorial specialist and media coordinator for the museum, who has been a part of the project for more than a decade. “And that original idea has remained basically unchanged through the years it has taken for us to reach this point, where we are finally going to be opened to the public.”

Hardly an element of the museum’s design or content is not without some greater significance. The physical building’s orientation on an east-west axis is emblematic of how many Indigenous peoples honor the dawning of each new day.

The Hall of The People, the 110-foot glass structure that is perhaps the building’s most recognizable element, is inspired by grass houses built by the Wichita and Affiliated people, who were among the original inhabitants of what is now Oklahoma. The structure’s 10 vertical columns represent the 10 miles it is estimated that Native peoples were compelled to cover each day during their forced removals by the U.S. military to “Indian Territory.”

Outside the hall is a large open space surrounded by a curved mound that rises to a height of 90 feet, an acknowledgement of the region’s rich legacy of mound building cultures dating back to 500 A.D.

At the base of the mound is a tunnel that, on the day of the winter solstice, will allow the setting sun to shine through the Hall of The People and out through the museum’s main entrance to illuminate the “Touch to Above” sculpture by Demos and Bill Glass Jr.

Even within the museum, the layers of symbology continue. In the main exhibit area, called the Tribal Nations Gallery on the ground floor, one of the first installations visitors encounter is the Origins Theater, a 320-degree wrap-around screen showing a selection of creation stories from various tribes, with artwork, animation, music and narration by members of those individual tribes.

The theater’s exterior, however, has been made to resemble a work of Caddo pottery, with a design created by artist Jeri Redcorn.

The Tribal Nations Gallery is devoted to an exhibit titled “Okla Homma,” the two Choctaw words that were portmanteaued into the state’s name. The exhibit begins with those origin stories, and continues with exhibits and installations that sketch the history of the 39 tribes and nations, from the dark days of people being uprooted from their homes, to how Indigenous people through their resilience and sense of community managed to retain and nurture their cultures into the modern world.

The gallery includes 19 newly commissioned objects, 14 original films, four audio projects and one multi-media interactive installation.

“When we were still in the planning stages, we had a script for the museum that was enormous,” Halfmoon said. “Fortunately, (senior curator) Heather Ahtone was able to whittle things down into something more manageable, by focusing on our shared values.

“One of the things we wanted for this museum to be, even when dealing with subjects that are very tragic, was not to be confrontational,” she said. “For example, in the film that shows in the area on the removals, which was the darkest period in our history, we have people talking directly to the viewers about the stories they lived or heard from their ancestors. It’s designed to be like a one-on-one conversation, one person sharing a story with another person.”

The exhibit also includes some humorous elements, such as a minivan installation to replicate the experience of driving to a powwow, along with installations that honor Indigenous athletes past and present, as well as examining the concept of the “Warrior” in its myriad meanings.

The second floor exhibit space is given over to “Winiko: Life of an Object,” a selection of items from the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian that were purchased in the early 20th century.

“This was a time when it was thought that ‘Indian culture’ was dying out, and so many of these objects were purchased for next to nothing,” Halfmoon said. “When we made the selection, one of the curatorial team discovered that many of the families who originally owned these items were still here, and we reached out to them. Many of them didn’t even know these items were in the Smithsonian’s collection.

“We were just blown away by how much these families knew about these objects, which they hadn’t seen in nearly 100 years,” Halfmoon said. “They shared with us some profound stories that we’ve been able to incorporate into the exhibit.”

While much of the museum is ready for the public, Halfmoon said that some aspects, such as the Family Discovery Center, aimed at younger visitors, and planned galleries for shorter-term exhibits, are yet to be completed.

“As much as we tried to incorporate in the museum, there’s still so much to tell about Native peoples,” she said. “That’s something we will be addressing in the future, with additional exhibits and programming.”

For senior curator Ahtone, the goal she hopes the First Americans Museum achieves is a simple one.

“I hope people will enjoy it,” she said. “For me, this museum represents a love letter to our communities, to our ancestors, and while we want to educate people, we also want it to be a place that people want to come back to, to explore it even more.

“We aren’t trying to answer every question about Native life and culture and history,” Ahtone said. “We’re just trying to help us all ask smarter questions.”

Photos: First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City to open Sept. 18

After three decades, countless political fights and death-defying financial feats, what was originally called the Native American Cultural Center and Museum is opening on practically the same spot chosen in 1991 by a 29-tribe association called the Oklahoma Institute of Indian Heritage.

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Leslie Halfmoon, curatorial specialist and media coordinator, stands in the First Americans Museum's Hall of The People.

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

The First Americans Museum's FAM Store specializes in work by artists of the 39 tribes and nations represented in the museum.

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum's FAM Store in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum's FAM Store in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum's FAM Store in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

An orientation of the sun on the complex of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

This scene is from one of the origin stories shown in the Origins Theater at the First Americans Museum.

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

One of the exhibit installations at Oklahoma City's new First Americans Museum.

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Leslie Halfmoon the Curatorial Specialist and Media Coordinator talks about the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Ste…

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

A minivan installation is part of the First Americans Museum's exhibit on powwow culture.

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Part of the exhibit, "Winiko: Life of an Object," is made up of selections from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Leslie Halfmoon the Curatorial Specialist and Media Coordinator talks about the First Americans Museum's Hall of the People in Oklahoma City, …

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Leslie Halfmoon the Curatorial Specialist and Media Coordinator talks about the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Ste…

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

First Americans Museum

First Americans Museum

  • Updated
  • 0

Tour of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, Sep. 9, 2021. Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World

Last chance offer: $1 for six months

Last chance offer: $1 for six months

  • Updated
  • 0

Get a six-month digital-only subscription for $1. Subscribe today in less than a  minute: Tulsaworld.com/subscribe

  • Updated
  • 0
0 Comments

Get local news delivered to your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Breaking News