© 2023 KGOU
News and Music for Oklahoma
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Cole: American Indian Cultural Center And Museum Belongs To Oklahoma Not Tribes

The exterior of the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City.
American Indian Cultural Center And Museum

If you don’t build it, they won’t come…that’s basically what Blake Wade, Executive Director of the Native American Cultural Authority, intimated when extolling the virtues of a completed American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. Not only would the museum be a world class attraction, the surrounding 220 acres of commercial property would be developed to match the museum’s potential.

“There's talk of a hotel and small convention center that would be able to have Indian conventions of any kind, such as gaming or the Indian symposium where they bring in all the Indian lawyers from around the United States. You can't imagine how important that would be,” Wade said. “I've had calls from various tribes in Oklahoma wanting 20, 10 to 5 acres for business development for their tribes.”

Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, says there has been a lot of misunderstanding about the museum in the legislature.

“First of all, this was not an Indian idea, this was an Oklahoma City idea during the middle of the last energy bust; what can we do to attract and diversify our economy? Attract people here? We've got the intersection of two great interstate highways. So, it’s not like the Indians dreamed this up, this was something that the non-Indians decided will attract people, this is part of our heritage, this is important. Tribes have actually been very supportive and many tribes have contributed but again, we didn't ask anybody in Oklahoma City to come fund the Chickasaw museum in Sulphur,” Cole said.

Construction halted on the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in 2012. It now stands vacant and unfinished along the city’s Oklahoma River. Its curved, bone-like metal struts and massive, grass-covered mound that was meant to evoke the ancient mounds of the Mississippian peoples now is a daily reminder to passing motorists of a failure to launch. Congressman Cole feels the Legislature needs further enlightening on this project.

Credit American Indian Cultural Center & Museum

“I think you've got a lot of people in the legislature that somehow think this was a "gimme" to Indian tribes and it simply was not,” Cole said. “It was an effort to develop central Oklahoma. If we were going build something for Indians we would have probably built it on Indian land. This is all unassigned land that has no tribal sovereignty or jurisdiction in it,” Cole said.

“I think the tribes have actually stepped up and tried to help, they've tried to help financially, they've tried to help in terms of picking exhibits and providing things if it’s ever built,” Cole said.

Wade has been in talks with Speaker of the House Hickman and appropriations committee chair Clarke Jolly, but it’s a waiting game until after elections to see who will make up the Republican caucus. State lawmakers failed to okay matching funds. He hopes the $40 million dollars donated so far will be rescued if the legislature votes for it when they reconvene in February.

“I'm disappointed the legislature has so far failed to act,” Cole said.

“I'm very proud the Governor's been supportive and you see former governors, former Governor Keating, former Governor Henry, they see the importance of this,” Cole said.

“My goodness, the state is called Land of the Red People in Choctaw so it ought to be something we embrace and celebrate. This ought to be something that unites Oklahomans not that divides them," Cole said.

Wade says the finished museum would provide the final destination spot for the Oklahoma River development.

“It would be an economic boom for Oklahoma, Oklahoma City and also the American Indian Cultural Center,” Wade said.

“We know one thing - if the American Indian Cultural Center does not get built then none of that will come,” Wade said.

Wade says that conservative figures on tax revenues once the museum is open would be $150 million dollars back to the state of Oklahoma in 20 years.


KGOU relies on voluntary contributions from readers and listeners to further its mission of public service with arts and culture reporting for Oklahoma and beyond. To contribute to our efforts, make your donation online, or contact our Membership department.

More News
Support nonprofit, public service journalism you trust. Give now.