NORMAN — Internationally-recognized Native American artist and longtime Oklahoma legislator Enoch Kelly Haney moved from Seminole to Norman a few years ago. He figured it was the only way he’d stay away from state and tribal politics.
“If I stayed in Seminole I’ll run for dog catcher or something,” he said. “I’ve retired from being a politician but not from life.”
As a young Oklahoma City University student Haney heard the call to build a Native American cultural center in Oklahoma. Artifacts and cultural treasures were being lost and were taken to museums in other states and to Washington, D.C.
“A woman whom I considered elderly then but she probably wasn’t much older than I am now said, ‘Kelly, build us a cultural center.’”
That was in November of 1962. Now, more than 50 years later, Haney is optimistic that idea could become reality in the not so distant future.
“I really think it’s going to happen,” he told local Democrats Friday afternoon. “Had the tornado not hit Moore, we would have got that appropriation.”
The $40 million in state funds sought to finish the half-completed American Indian Cultural Center and Museum along the Oklahoma River at I-35 and I-40 in Oklahoma City was to be matched by $40 million in private funding. The site was formerly home to 50 oil wells.
Haney said it’s not a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s an Oklahoma issue. Tribes have already contributed to the effort, he said. The state has been home to 67 tribes with 39 currently active here.
Today, the 125,000 square foot facility is an inactive construction site, fenced and guarded around the clock. It would be a place where tribes can tell their own stories, from ancient times, to relocation to the transformation into the current economic engines driving much of Oklahoma’s progress today.