A Brand-New Museum in Oklahoma Honors Indigenous People at Every Turn

The team behind the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City incorporated the traditions and spiritual beliefs of 39 tribal nations into its design


September 28, 2021

At 173,000 square feet, the new First Americans Museum (FAM) in Oklahoma City is the largest single-building tribal cultural center in the country, honoring Oklahoma's 39 tribal nations and housing the National Native American Hall of Fame. The museum opened this month after three decades of planning, and a design process that strove for an architectural masterpiece that would be meaningful to the tribes represented within it.

The FAM's tribute to the state's tribal nations begins before you even walk through its doors. In the shape of two partial circles that intersect, the museum grounds function as a huge cosmological clock, tracking the seasons by showing the movement of the sun across the circles and highlighting the equinoxes. The museum buildings make up one circle, and an enormous earthen mound made from 500,000 cubic yards of dirt forms the other.

Circle and spiral shapes hold symbolic meaning in First Americans' spirituality, and it was of the utmost importance to include them in the design, explains Anthony Blatt, principal with Hornbeek Blatt Architects, the firm that worked on the design. "There is no end because time is circular in Native cultures. The sun travels around the Earth," says Blatt. John Pepper Henry, a member of the Kaw Nation and the director and CEO of the FAM, adds, "Right angles are not an aesthetic for many of the tribes here in Oklahoma. In our beliefs, if you have a right angle, spirits get trapped in there and it causes an imbalance. So, all of our dwellings are round."



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