Immerse Yourself in Oklahoma’s Native American History

Oklahoma has abundant Native American history. Formerly known simply as “Indian Territory,” it is here that over 30 Indian tribes were relocated during the peak of western migration. In total, 67 unique tribal nations have at one point called Oklahoma home. The name Oklahoma itself is a Choctaw Indian word that means “red people.”
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Go beyond the guidebooks and immerse yourself in Oklahoma’s diverse Native American history. While there are a plethora of incredible museums to explore, the suggestions below allow the modern day traveler to discover the stories of the past in a more interactive way. From hiking through one of the last true prairies in the American West to attending lively festivals, here are seven ideas for your Oklahoma bucket list.

This story was created in partnership with Travel Oklahoma.

Photograph Riders on the Horizon

The town of Hominy, Oklahoma offers several options to see Native American artwork. Start with the photogenic New Territory Sculptures by local artist Cha’ Tullis; a series of 19-foot-tall iron sculptures on the west side of Main Street. It doesn’t take much imagination to appreciate the realness of these horse and rider silhouettes; with real feathers blowing in the breeze, you might just think you’ve stepped back in time. The sculptures are lit at night so that no matter when you visit, you can appreciate the tribute to those who rode before

Dine On a Traditional Feast in the Osage Nation

Next, visit the White Hair Memorial and Osage Learning Resource Center just outside of Hominy. This 1920s house-turned-museum is a bittersweet memorial to 60 Osage Nation individuals who were killed for their rights to oil-laden land. Today, it houses many intriguing artifacts and documents from the era of Chief Pawhuska (White Hair). Travelers who plan ahead can request a traditional feast during their visit, accompanied by a presentation on Osage culture by local elders.

Experience Family-Friendly Bigheart Day

Another event not to miss in Osage County is Bigheart Day. Named after Chief Bigheart of the Osage Tribe, this single-day event occurs each spring and honors Osage heritage. While many aspects of the festival are interchangeable with a summertime county fair (think live music and fireworks), Bigheart Day has a decidedly authentic flair. Out-of-state visitors won’t want to miss the Bigheart Day Idol Search featuring local talent, as well as the frog and turtle races and hula hoop competition!

Take in the 360-Degree View from Lookout Mountain

Gain some perspective by visiting Chief Lookout Memorial just outside the town of Pawhuska, deep in the heart of Osage County. While the landscape may not hint at much elevation change, you’ll be surprised at the panoramic view delivered at the top of the hill. Bird Creek Valley and Osage County stretch out before you in every direction, lending a sense of scale that is hard to find in any museum. Here, a 10-foot-tall granite stone pays homage to the legacy of Chief Fred Lookout and his wife, Julia. Lookout was the longest serving elected chief in the history of the Osage Nation and remains highly revered for his upstanding character. It’s only fitting that the view from his final resting place is so grand.

Hike Through Time in the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

Buffalo in Summer-Tallgrass Prairie; Pawhuska, OK-OTRD lisa weigt

For the active traveler, there is no better place to experience Oklahoma’s Native American heritage than at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. This vast expanse of land (totaling almost 40,000 acres) is the largest remaining tallgrass prairie on the planet. Spend the day hiking a number of short trails from the casual, graveled Nature Trail to the more rugged two-mile Prairie Earth Trail. Visitors can imagine that they’ve stepped back in history to witness what much of the midwest would have been like long before interstates and modern conveniences. Greater Prairie Chickens, bluebirds, and of course, American Bison are among some of the favorite characters still spotted here today.

Discover the Ancient History of Oklahoma at Spiro Mounds

For an Oklahoman experience unlike any other, Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center fits the bill. As the only prehistoric Native American archaeological site in the state that is open to the public, the center is part museum and part nature preserve. Centered around 12 mounds created by the Caddoan-speaking Indians between 850 and 1450 AD, this area represents the historical seat of ancient Mississippian culture. Plan to spend an entire day exploring the area and taking in the exhibits and interpretive trails.

Attend a Pow Wow at Standing Bear Museum and Education Center

Collage of images showing Native American heritage in Oklahoma

For those who appreciate the quiet reverence found only inside museum walls, Standing Bear Museum and Education Center is a grand finale on any tour through Oklahoma’s Osage Nation. This ever-evolving archive represents a committee of six area tribes: Kaw, Osage, Otoe-Missouria, Pawnee, Ponca, and Tonkawa. Marvel at the height of the 22-foot statue of Ponca Chief Standing Bear, meander through the art-filled rotunda, and have a picnic on Arrowhead Island. Plan your trip to coincide with a public Pow Wow for the ultimate way to experience the still-beating pulse of Native American culture present in Oklahoma today.

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