Today, Oklahoma is home to 39 distinct Native Nations, whose history, cultural diversity and ongoing contributions continue to shape and strengthen our communities. Only four of these Nations are indigenous to our state; the rest were forcibly removed from their homelands across the United States to what was Indian Territory beginning in 1830.
During Native Heritage Month in November and beyond, experience the distinct origins, cultural practices, artwork and vitality of Tribal Nations and gain a deeper understanding of Oklahoma’s history by visiting museums and cultural centers dedicated to preserving and sharing Native heritage, located in the OKC metro and around the state.
First Americans Museum
Decades in the making, the First Americans Museum opened in September 2021 to celebrate and share the cultural diversity, authentic history and contributions of the 39 Tribal Nations in Oklahoma today. From first-hand accounts told by Native people in film and immersive experiences throughout the museum to an entirely Indigenous curatorial staff, the intentionality in Native people telling their own stories, from 500 A.D. to today, is apparent in every inch of the museum. The variety of hands-on and high-tech experiences engage kids throughout the galleries.
In the larger-than-life, 320 degree Origins Theater, animations, sound and stories encircle the visitor with four origin stories, scripted, narrated and animated by Native community members.
Throughout the OKLA HOMMA gallery, three circular Moving Fire audio pods with glowing centers beckon visitors in to listen to stories that honor oral histories, including an origin story of a bison, hard truths about the quest to honor family members lost along the Trail of Tears and how song and dance are used to portray emotions.
Climb inside the Powwow Van to experience powwows across the state. The sights and sounds of powwows on this virtual road trip convey the varied customs, traditions and pride from a variety of Tribal Nations. Then, learn to play Chunkey, a traditional game requiring great strength and agility, through an immersive video game.
Red Earth Art Center
Located in the lobby of BancFirst Tower in downtown OKC, the Red Earth Art Center is home to an exhibit gallery that features rotating exhibits throughout the year, including special selections from the Red Earth permanent collection of traditional and modern fine art, pottery, basketry, textiles and beadwork, as well as contemporary Native artist shows and traveling exhibits. The Art Center also includes a sales gallery showcasing artwork and gifts by Native artists and businesses.
Visit redearth.org for instructions on how to make your own pony bead corn ornaments!
Mark your calendar
Visit the Red Earth TreeFest Nov. 20 through Dec. 29, during which 16 Christmas trees are adorned with handmade ornaments showcasing the diverse tribal cultures of Oklahoma.
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
Through artwork, artifacts, unique programs and interactive exhibits, The Cowboy shares the history and culture of the West, including Native Nations and people. Diana Fields, chief program officer, describes the focus on cultural continuance as showcasing both traditional and pop cultures to demonstrate the forward movement of Indigenous cultures that are always adapting, changing and contributing to the world around them.
A highlight for families, Liichokoshkomo’ encourages purposeful play in the museum’s 100,000-square-foot backyard. Explore life-size Indigenous dwellings, including a Kiowa Tipi, Puebloan Cliff Dwelling and Chickasaw Council House.
Newly added to the museum’s Native American Gallery, artist Jake Tiger (Seminole) created a traditional Seminole outfit modeled from a painting of Seminole leader Osceola. In honor of Tiger’s work, during November, kid visitors can drop in to make bandolier bags with materials available. Also new in the gallery are various pieces of Star Wars-themed Indigenous art. Don’t miss the beaded Darth Vader mask!
Opened in August 2022, Art of the Northwest Coast features prints, glass, sculptures and basketry contrasting with the Native artwork typically seen in Oklahoma. From painted totem poles to bentwood boxes, the intricate carvings, bright colors and stylistic elements communicate stories, teach family histories, describe divine creatures and showcase the wealth of community leaders. Fields says this exhibit, on display through May 1, 2023, gives visitors a better frame of reference for the diversity of Indigenous communities.
Mark your calendar
• Kids Take Over the Cowboy the first Saturday of each month; on Nov. 5 activities for Native Heritage Month will be provided from 10 a.m. to noon. Free for members or with museum admission.
• Every second Sunday, visitors can learn details behind a unique artifact from the museum’s collection. On Nov. 13 at 1 p.m., listen as Tiger discusses his traditional Seminole outfit. Afterward, enjoy an informal drawing session at 2 p.m. in the Art of the Northwest Coast exhibit. Drawing materials provided. Both programs are free for members or with museum admission.
• Cuddle up at home to enjoy Bedtime Buckaroos, virtual bedtime stories for kids read by local authors, community leaders or staff biweekly at nationalcowboymuseum.org. Listen live or watch back previous stories. November installments will feature books related to Native Heritage Month.
Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Center
Shawnee, 40 minutes southeast of OKC
Beginning with Citizen Potawatomi oral traditions, the Cultural Center takes visitors on a journey through history, from the early ways of life, conflict and forced removals to settlements in Kansas and Oklahoma and finally to the Tribal Nation’s tenacity today in exercising sovereignty, expanding jobs and services and revitalizing tribal culture.
In the Gete Neshnabek Zhechgéwen gallery, visitors can view a wigwam as well as four interactive displays about Potawatomi medicines, the four directions and traditional hand games. From the Tribal Nation’s first contact with Europeans, explore the history of conflict with colonizers and the U.S. government; the Potawatomi were signatories to more than 40 treaties, more than any other Tribal Nation. Throughout the center, kid visitors especially enjoy connecting with Citizen Potawatomi Nation history and culture through touchscreen games.
The Citizen Potawatomi Nation Eagle Aviary is home to injured eagles that cannot be returned to the wild. Eagles are an integral symbol of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation culture, revered as warriors and messengers. A visit to the Eagle Aviary to learn about the birds’ care and cultural significance from their caregivers is a sacred, once-in-a-lifetime experience! Tours are by advance appointments only. Visit potawatomiheritage.com/aviary to take a virtual tour and read about the resident eagles.
Choctaw Nation Cultural Center
Calera, 2.5 hours southwest of OKC
Newly opened in July 2021, the center tells the 14,000-year history of the Chahta (Choctaw) people, primarily through the voices of tribal members. The abiding themes of compassion, courage and faith are apparent as visitors are guided on a timeline from the rich history of the moundbuilding ancestors to the struggle against the destruction of colonizers to the triumph of the Nation in modern times.
In the Luksi (turtle) Activity Center, children play in two home structures as well as a lookout and slide. The giant luksi doubles as a reading space, plus kid-size tables and chairs offer coloring sheets of animals with their names in Choctaw and English.
Walk through a tribal village in the Chahta Pia (We Are Choctaw) exhibit, where kids love the pivoting touchscreens they can direct into the forest vignette to learn animal names in Choctaw.
Stroll through the outdoor Living Village, situated along a walking path that includes traditional Choctaw dwellings, a garden and a mound, reflecting the moundbuilding culture of the Choctaw people. Tours are self-guided and occasionally guests can enjoy dance, stickball and other demonstrations.
Mark your calendar
The annual Choctaw Powwow will be held the weekend of Nov. 4-6, featuring Choctaw Day and Gourd Dance at the Choctaw Cultural Center on Nov. 4 and the Powwow at the Grand Theater, Choctaw Casino & Resort, Nov. 5-6.
Cherokee Nation Anna Mitchell Cultural & Welcome Center
Vinita, about 2.5 hours northeast of OKC
Opened this fall, the Cherokee Nation Anna Mitchell Cultural & Welcome Center in Vinita showcases Cherokee art, culture and history. The center offers permanent and rotating exhibits, refreshments and a gift shop.
The center is named for award-winning Cherokee National Treasure and renowned artist Anna Mitchell, who was known as a trailblazer and widely accepted as an authority on both Southeastern and Eastern Woodlands-style pottery. In recognition of Mitchell and her traditional, handmade pottery, the center will host a pottery show through the end of the year.
All Cherokee Nation museums and attractions in and around the Nation’s capital of Tahlequah offer free admission. For additional fees, take part in cultural classes on moccasin making, twining, pottery and more.
The larger-than-life “vessel” in front of the new Anna Mitchell Cultural & Welcome Center, an homage to Mitchell’s pottery, is sure to become an iconic destination for photo ops on Route 66.
Mark your calendar
• Attend the first Indigenous comic convention in Cherokee Nation, SkasdiCon, on Nov. 5. The event features Indigenous artists, Native pop culture, comic book and cosplay panel discussions, a screening and panel for Inage’i (an original animated series in the Cherokee language), vendor booths and a family-friendly cosplay competition.
• Through the first half of November, free fall festivals at Sequoyah Cabin Museum in Sallisaw and Saline Courthouse Museum in Rose feature activities and games, make-and-take crafts for kids and photo ops amidst the beautiful fall foliage.
• On Nov. 12, experience Cherokee Day at the Saline Courthouse Museum with free activities, including artist demonstrations, musical performances and make-and-take crafts for kids.
Chickasaw Cultural Center & surrounding sites
Sulphur & Tishomingo, about 90 minutes southeast of OKC
Experience the living history and culture of the unconquered and unconquerable Chickasaw people through awe-inspiring indoor and outdoor exhibits. Inside the center, walk through the Spirit Forest, where the sights and sounds envelop visitors, to understand the Chickasaw people’s connection to the natural world. Along the Removal Corridor, experience the atrocities and emotions of forced removal through the Indian Removal Act.
Outdoors, visit The Chikasha Inchokka’ (Chickasaw house) Traditional Village to explore re-creations of a Council House, two summer houses, two winter houses, a replica mound, a corn crib and a stickball field.
Continue your journey by traveling to Tishomingo, about 30 minutes south of Sulphur, to the Chickasaw Nation Capitol building. Built in 1898, the Victorian-style structure is now a museum that details how the Chickasaw people fought for tribal identity and independence. Next door, visit the Chickasaw Council House to see collections of pottery, jewelry, beadwork, artifacts and artwork.
A few minutes away in Milburn, visit the Chickasaw White House, the Victorian-style home of Chickasaw Gov. Douglas H. Johnston also built in 1898. The home was the setting for many important social and political events.
Admission to the historic sites in Tishomingo and Milburn is free; booking tour reservations in advance is recommended.
Plan your day in Sulphur and Tishomingo around at the daily stomp dances at the Chickasaw Cultural Center, held at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. A treasured tradition, the stomp dance illustrates the Chickasaw people’s spiritual and musical connection to nature through song and dance. Stomp dancers perform in traditional regalia and visitors are encouraged to participate.
Seminole Nation Museum
Wewoka, about an hour southeast of OKC
Learn about the development of the Seminole Nation’s history and cultural identity from the Florida Everglades to Indian Territory through artifacts, artwork and exhibits. Experience the stories of the Seminole Lighthorsemen, feared lawmen who exacted harsh punishment on those who defied their laws. Plus, meet Alice Brown Davis, the first woman to serve as chief of any of the Five Tribes.
The museum is home to the largest collection in the world of beaded bandolier bags (traditional Native attire dating from the 18th century) by Jay McGirt, the foremost bandolier artist of the Creek and Seminole Nations whose work can also be found at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.
Additional galleries display artwork and special exhibits, a history of the town of Wewoka and recognize military heroes. Admission is free.
Through the end of the year, visitors can enjoy a retrospective exhibit on revered artist Enoch Kelly Haney (Seminole) featuring original pieces from the museum’s collection and pieces on loan from other sites. Haney, who died earlier this year, was the first full-blood Native person to serve in the Oklahoma legislature and earned the title Master Artist of the Five Civilized Tribes.
Mark your calendar
On Nov. 18, visit Wewoka for the Seminole Nation Museum’s Holiday Bazaar to purchase baked goods and foodstuffs, art, crafts and handmade items for holiday gifting.