Cultural Center achieving a long-standing goal

Combined effort of the tribe, the National Park Service and the local community

SULFUR, Okla. – The vision for the Chickasaw Cultural Center was set in motion decades ago when a group of like-minded people worked for one mission: to plan a cultural home for the Chickasaw people and share the rich culture, language, history and traditions. and tribal arts with the world.

From 1963, the Daily Ardmoreite in Ardmore, Okla., ran a front-page story suggesting it was time for a cultural center for the Chickasaw, Governor Bill Anoatubby said at the 2010 opening of the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulfur.

“A place where there would be a village, a place where people can go and learn about the great Chickasaw people,” Governor Anoatubby said.

The 184-acre Chickasaw Cultural Center campus reflects these goals. It took a unified effort between the Chickasaw Nation, the National Park Service, the local community, and a literal act of Congress to make the center a reality.

The Chickasaw Cultural Center has welcomed thousands of guests from around the world since it opened in 2010.

Every aspect, from the water features to the architecture, has been incorporated into the Chickasaw Cultural Center because of its cultural significance.

At the end of the 1970s, the creation of a cultural center was a priority. A 1979 issue of the Chickasaw Times noted that a key project for the Planning Department staff was “to work with the newly formed Cultural Committee to find funds for a Chickasaw Cultural Center. The main attraction of the proposed center will be a museum reflecting the rich heritage of the Chickasaw people. »

Eventually, space above the gymnasium on the Chickasaw Nation Headquarters campus in Ada was set aside as a temporary cultural center. The constant insistence of the Chickasaw people for a place dedicated to celebrating and sharing Chickasaw history has kept the project alive.

After the election of Governor Anoatubby in 1987, the development of a cultural center remained a top priority while long-term goals of economic development and self-sufficiency, including the preservation of culture, history and of the Chickasaw language, have been established.

“Since joining the tribe in 1987, one of Governor Anoatubby’s goals has always been to establish a Chickasaw Nation tourism program, particularly in the Sulfur region,” said Jeannie Barbour, director of the creative development of the Chickasaw Nation. “The Cultural Center was part of the plan from the start.
“My role was to attend community meetings and take note of what people wanted to see in a cultural center,” she said. “We distributed index cards and asked participants to write down what they thought was an important part of a cultural centre. Everyone was invited, Chickasaw or not.

Ms Barbour recalled that the most requested features included a living village, a museum with interactive exhibits, an event venue, a water feature and a place to prepare traditional dishes.

“Above all, they wanted to show that the Chickasaws were a living, breathing people, not just a dusty display behind a glass case,” said Ms. Barbour, a citizen of Chickasaw.
A long-term initiative to build a place that combines Chickasaw history and culture with tourism opportunities began in 1988.

While traveling to Washington, D.C., Governor Anoatubby obtained funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for a feasibility study to build a cultural center in the Sulfur area.

The original idea was changed a bit during this time when the discussion of a theme park was explored.

A Price Waterhouse study to determine the feasibility of a First American/Chickasaw theme park in the Arbuckle Mountains was conducted. Responses from Chickasaw citizens, local community partners, and Chickasaw National Recreation Area (CNRA) and National Park Service (NPS) staff were included in the feasibility study.

But the results indicated that the population of Oklahoma’s third-smallest county was not robust enough to support and maintain a theme park, said Lona Barrick, the Chickasaw Nation’s chief cultural tourism executive.

Ms. Barrick was General Manager of the Chickasaw Motor Inn in Sulfur in the late 1980s and early 1990s where many strategic planning meetings for the cultural center were held. The Chickasaw Motor Inn, purchased by the Chickasaw Nation in 1972, was the tribe’s first business.

During the many meetings, Chickasaw citizens, tribal legislators, Governor Anoatubby’s staff, tribal business, economic development, and national park officials attended and were able to share their vision for a cultural center.

“But the focus was on listening and learning what was important to the citizens of Chickasaw,” Ms. Barrick said. “When the citizens of Chickasaw were asked about the purpose of a cultural center or what they would like to accomplish, the response was, ‘We want to tell our story’ and ‘We want a place where all Chickasaw can come. and learn about our history and culture”, as well as “We want a place to share our history with everyone, with the world”.

Progress was made in December 1989 when a collaboration was signed between the Chickasaw Nation and the National Park Service to develop a tribal cultural center in the area.

The focus of the project was refined and tightened when the Chickasaw Historical Society (CHS) was established by Tribal Law in 1994, and a Chickasaw Cultural Committee was formed under the Chickasaw Foundation. Governor Anoatubby appointed the members of this new committee, who were confirmed by the tribal legislature.

A major development of the project occurred in October 2000, when more than 1,200 Chickasaw citizens responded to a survey soliciting comments and suggestions regarding a Chickasaw cultural center. Art and music, food and medicine, exhibits featuring Chickasaw personalities, and a living village with traditional dwellings were all mentioned by survey respondents.

Chickasaws participated in subsequent planning meetings and shared their thoughts on how to implement those ideas into a facility.

A new Cultural Center Advisory Committee of the Chickasaw Foundation Board of Directors, made up of Chickasaw citizens, national park officials and community leaders, met for the first time on December 7, 2000 at the Chickasaw National Recreation.
Advisory committee members included: Donald Day, Mayor of Sulfur; Phil Key, president of Sulfur Community Bank; Wesley Hilliard, president of the Sulfur Chamber of Commerce; Pat Woods, president of the Chickasaw Foundation; Charles McDaniel, consultant to the Chickasaw Foundation; Lisa Brown, administrator of the Chickasaw Foundation; Sarah Craighead, Acting Superintendent, Chickasaw National Recreational Area (CNRA); Jeannie Lunsford, Executive Director of the Chickasaw Foundation; Betty Wagoner, CNRA; Kirk Perry, Chickasaw Nation; Cal Meyers, CNRA; Jeannie Barbour, Chickasaw Nation; Jennifer Colbert, Murray County Industrial Authority; Pam Wallace, Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History; Dr. Bob Blackburn, Oklahoma Historical Society; Kelly Lunsford, Chickasaw Nation; and Lisa Billy, Chickasaw legislator.

Working together, land near Rock Creek in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area was identified as the preferred construction site for the Chickasaw Cultural Center.

In what was called a “land exchange”, the National Park Service agreed to donate the parcel of land in exchange for a parcel of land owned by the town of Sulfur. The city donated the land to the Chickasaw Nation, who donated the land to the National Park Service. Since the boundaries of the National Recreation Area would be revised, the land swap had to be approved by the United States House of Representatives.

Ground was broken on September 30, 2004, just two days after the U.S. House passed the Chickasaw National Recreation Area Land Exchange Act of 2004, authorizing the exchange of land between the Chickasaw Nation, the City of Sulfur and the National Park Service.

Today, the Chickasaw Cultural Center is a thriving campus that remains dedicated to the wishes expressed many years ago by the citizens of Chickasaw, said Valorie Walters, Chickasaw Nation Undersecretary of Culture and Humanities.

“The Cultural Center is a special and beautiful place that offers our citizens and others the opportunity to embrace and share our unique culture through various avenues,” she said.

Since its opening on July 24, 2010, more than 883,000 people from around the world have shared the story of the Chickasaw people by visiting the Chickasaw Cultural Center.

The Chickasaw Cultural Center, 867 Cooper Memorial Drive, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

For more information, call (580) 622-7130 or visit ChickasawCulturalCenter.com.

James C. Tibbs