Guest column: First Americans Museum tells story of relationships

The Daily Ardmoreite
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby

Opening of the First Americans Museum Sept. 18 marks the realization of a decades-long vision of a world-class facility dedicated to the history, culture, current impact and future development of tribal nations located in Oklahoma.

Reflecting on the journey that began almost four decades ago illuminates the longstanding partnerships, perseverance and commitment to a shared vision that brought us to the opening of this world-class museum.  

Many have been directly involved in pursing this vision since a 1983 study recommended Oklahoma highlight our Native American culture to bring more tourism dollars to our state.

Others joined the effort when Oklahoma legislators created the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority in 1994.

As State legislators, Tribal leaders, Oklahoma City officials, business executives and others pursued the opportunities inherent in this bold vision, we faced challenges and overcame difficulties together in a manner that strengthened our relationships.   

In some ways, the challenges, opportunities, detours and relationships involved in the journey to open this new world-class museum could be seen as a microcosm of the journeys of the First American nations represented here.

While each of these 39 Tribal nations has its own unique story, relationships among nations are an important part of history for all of us.

These Tribal nations from across North America represent many of the cultures that have been integral to the development and progress of civilization here from the time of creation through the current day.

First American wisdom, expressed through our families, cultures, and governments, shaped civilization here long before we discovered Europeans had arrived in our Homelands.

This dynamic new museum features the distinct voices of 39 First American nations telling their own unique, yet intersecting stories of life in North America.

Since time immemorial, these First American nations have conducted trade, formed alliances, settled conflicts and forged relationships throughout the North American continent. 

As First Americans discovered European nations exploring our Homelands our Tribal stories began to intersect more significantly with the stories of those nations from other parts of the world.

British, Spanish and French nations vying for their own interests in our resource-rich continent courted First American nations to enlist our support in battles for control of trade and territory.

In response, First American nations established relationships and formed alliances with one another and with European nations, ultimately helping shape both American and world history.

As events unfolded, Tribal relationships with the newly established United States, and eventually with the State of Oklahoma, became increasingly intertwined with our Tribal stories.

Most Tribal nations in this state established a new homeland here due to forces beyond our control. For Chickasaws, as for many Tribal nations, removal from our Homeland was accompanied by devastating loss.

We left the land where countless generations of our parents and grandparents built their homes, lived their lives and made preparations for generations to come. Loss of our Homeland was accompanied by the loss of loved ones who died on the trail, loss of culture, loss of wealth and a loss of trust in the federal government.

Despite these crushing losses, Chickasaws and other First Americans never lost hope. Our Tribal citizens and governments overcame the challenges inherent in leaving the land we had known for centuries and developed a thriving economy and society in Indian Territory.

Our citizens and our governments have persevered through allotment, attempts at assimilation, and denials of our right to self-determination. Today, our Tribal nations continue to play a significant role in moving our state forward.

It is our hope this museum will help provide a foundation of greater understanding among cultures.

We believe offering unique cultural perspectives on issues each of us face as individuals and as members of our communities may help us build a stronger sense of community.

Understanding our shared responsibility to one another as members of a greater community may encourage the development of more positive and productive relationships moving forward.

We believe the true measure of success of this museum is the positive impact it will have on the lives of our citizens and neighbors now and for generations to come.