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Press Release

Release Date: July 19, 2022
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

More than 883,000 people from around the world have visited the Chickasaw Cultural Center since it first opened July 24, 2010.

The vision for the Chickasaw Cultural Center was put in motion many decades ago as a group of like-minded people worked toward one mission: Plan a cultural home for Chickasaw people and share the rich culture, language, history, traditions and the arts of the tribe with the world.

As early as 1963, the Daily Ardmoreite, a newspaper in Ardmore, Oklahoma, published a front-page article suggesting it was time for a cultural center for Chickasaw people, Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said during the 2010 opening of the Chickasaw Cultural Center, in Sulphur.

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

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

Built on the determination and vision of the Chickasaw people, each aspect, from water features to the architecture, was integrated into the center because of its cultural significance.

In the late 1970s, establishing a cultural hub was a priority. A 1979 issue of the Chickasaw Times noted a key project for planning department staff was “to work with the newly formed cultural committee in locating funding for a Chickasaw Cultural Center. Key attraction for the proposed center will be a museum reflecting the rich heritage of the Chickasaw people.”

Eventually, a space above a gym on the Chickasaw Nation Headquarters campus in Ada was reserved as a temporary cultural center, but the consistent urging from the Chickasaw people for a dedicated place to celebrate and share the Chickasaw story kept the project alive.

Following Governor Anoatubby’s 1987 election, development of a cultural center remained a top priority as long-term goals of economic development and self-sufficiency, including the preservation of Chickasaw culture, history and language, were established.

“It has always been one of Governor Anoatubby’s goals to build a Chickasaw Nation tourism program, especially in the Sulphur area. The Cultural Center was part of the plan from the beginning,” Jeannie Barbour, Chickasaw Nation Director of Creative Development, said.

“My role was to attend the community meetings and take note of what people wanted to see in a cultural center,” she said.

“We handed out index cards and asked attendees to write down what they thought would be an important part of a cultural center. Everyone was invited whether Chickasaw or not.”

Ms. Barbour recalls the most requested features included a living village, a museum with interactive exhibits, an event venue, a water feature and a place for traditional food preparation.

“Above all, they wanted to show that Chickasaws were a living, breathing people, not just a dusty exhibit behind a glass case,” Ms. Barbour, a Chickasaw citizen, said.

A long-range initiative to build a place combining Chickasaw history and culture with tourism opportunities was launched in 1988.

Traveling to Washington, D.C., Governor Anoatubby secured Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) funding for a feasibility study with the goal of building a cultural center in the Sulphur area, Ms. Barbour said.

The original idea was modified a bit during this time when 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 the population of Oklahoma’s third smallest county was not robust enough to support and sustain a theme park, said Lona Barrick, executive officer, Chickasaw Nation cultural tourism.

Ms. Barrick served as general manager of the Chickasaw Motor Inn, Sulphur, in the late 80s and early 90s, where many strategic planning meetings for the cultural center were conducted. The Chickasaw Motor Inn, purchased by the Chickasaw Nation in 1972, was the tribe’s first business.

During the numerous meetings Chickasaw citizens, tribal legislators, Governor Anoatubby’s staff, tribal enterprises, economic development and national park officials attended and were able to share their vision of a cultural center, she said.

“But the emphasis was in hearing and learning what was important to Chickasaw citizens. When Chickasaw citizens 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 Chickasaws can come and learn about our history and culture,’ as well as ‘We want a place to share our story with everyone, with the world,’” Ms. Barrick said.

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

The project’s focus was refined and narrowed when the Chickasaw Historical Society (CHS) was established by tribal law in 1994, and a Chickasaw Cultural committee was formed under the umbrella of the Chickasaw Foundation. Governor Anoatubby appointed members to this new committee, who were confirmed by the tribal legislature.

A major development in the project occurred in October 2000, when more than 1,200 Chickasaw citizens responded to a survey, which solicited comments and suggestions regarding a Chickasaw Cultural Center. Art and music, food and medicine, exhibits featuring prominent Chickasaw people and a living village with traditional dwellings were all mentioned by survey respondents.

Chickasaws participated in subsequent planning meetings and shared their ideas about how to implement these ideas into a facility.

A newly formed Chickasaw Foundation Board of Trustees Cultural Center Advisory Committee, comprised of Chickasaw citizens, national park officials and community leaders, met for the first time Dec. 7, 2000, at Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

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

In what was referred to as a “land swap,” the National Park Service agreed to donate the tract of land in exchange for a tract of land owned by the city of Sulphur. The city donated the tract to the Chickasaw Nation, which conveyed the land to the National Park Service. Because of the boundaries of the national recreation area would be revised, the land swap had to be approved by the U. S. House of Representatives.

Ground was broken Sept. 30, 2004, just two days after the U.S. House passed the Chickasaw National Recreation Area Land Exchange Act of 2004, authorizing the land exchange among the Chickasaw Nation, the city of Sulphur and the National Park Service.

Today, the Chickasaw Cultural Center is a thriving campus that remains dedicated to the wishes set forth many years ago by Chickasaw citizens, Valorie Walters, under secretary, Chickasaw Nation culture and humanities, said.

“The cultural center is a special and beautiful place that provides opportunities for our citizens and others to embrace and share our unique culture through various avenues,” she said.

Advisory committee members included: Donald Day, mayor of Sulphur; Phil Key, president of Sulphur Community Bank; Wesley Hilliard, president of Sulphur Chamber of Commerce; Pat Woods, chairman of Chickasaw Foundation; Charles McDaniel, Chickasaw Foundation consultant; Lisa Brown, Chickasaw Foundation trustee; Sarah Craighead, acting superintendent, Chickasaw National Recreational Area (CNRA); Jeannie Lunsford, Chickasaw Foundation executive director; 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.

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

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