We can fulfill an obligation to our Native American brethren, cultures, histories and ourselves by completing the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum.
More than that, we lift up Oklahoma. The center, to be built in Oklahoma City, is a needed statement recognizing Oklahoma’s Native American heritage. Commend Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, for his passionate fight in the Senate for the passage of a bill earmarking $40 million for the center, to be matched by private sector funds. With passage by the House, the project can be opened by 2017. Support its passage.
It is past time for such a center honoring Native American tradition and culture. Building the center is important. Economically, it will benefit Oklahoma and tourism with national impact.
Significantly, it will stand as a living monument for our Native American tribes and peoples. Telling their stories is a powerful testament to their courage, struggle and survival. Their stories are part of all our stories as Oklahomans and Americans.
The center will be a showcase to the power of Oklahoma’s blended history shaping a major part of our state’s economic future. For those of us of Native American descent, it is a tribute to the legacies of our families.
The name of our great state originates from the Choctaw language. Oklahoma means “red people.” Oklahoma’s history is intertwined with the 39 federally recognized Indian tribes calling Oklahoma home. Once this was to be their land forever. Set aside as Indian Territory for tribes being pushed from original, sacred homelands.
Both of my tribes, Delaware and Cherokee, were moved far from their eastern homes. Indian Territory was to be these peoples’ final, undisturbed domain. But with a pattern continuing from the first days of the Republic, treaty after treaty was broken.
Resulting in removal, native people experienced unprecedented hardships and their power diminished. This chapter is at once tragic but inspiring and profound and a testament to courage.
The tribes, forced here as a part of 19th-century American Indian policy, had no connection to Indian Territory. The Trail of Tears was a reality for all of the proud ancestors of Oklahoma’s Native Americans.
With statehood, the promise of undisturbed homelands vanished. The tribes were to vanish and “assimilate” into the greater American society. Yet now the tribes are flourishing again. It is nothing short of a triumph of will to survive and hold onto cultures and traditions centuries old.
Independent governments regained prominence as powerful economic engines. The center will preserve their past legacy, art, culture, traditions and beliefs that are the fabric of Oklahoma. It will honor their present achievements.
Importantly, tribes contribute $12 billion annually to our economy employing more than 50,000. Tribal industries include gaming, healthcare, transportation and defense. They contribute to education, roads and infrastructure.
They are good neighbors.
State government has been slow to embrace partnerships with tribal governments.
Unique assets to Oklahoma partnerships can strengthen the state. The center can help build overdue bridges for Oklahoma’s future.
Native American stories need to be told and culture and heritage lifted up. Support the center. It is the right thing to do.
PHIL BUSEY, an Edmond resident, is chairman and CEO of The Busey Group of Companies in Oklahoma City.