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Indian Country: The best of times, and …

Patrick B. McGuigan

For Oklahoma’s Indian Country, this might seem “the best of times.”

The First Americans Museum (FAM) will open on the river in the state capital city, September 18 and 19.

James Pepper Henry, the FAM director and CEO, said in a press release: “We are thrilled to share with the public a premier venue dedicated to the history, art and cultural lifeways of First Americans in Oklahoma. We invite everyone to the long-awaited opening of FAM in September. Those who attend the Grand Opening will be among the first to experience a national treasure that will be enjoyed for decades to come.”

On the other hand?

The Washington Post, in the second part of a July 24 news story headline, was succinct: “Oklahoma reels after Supreme Court ruling on Indian tribes.”

Indeed, in the year since the 5-4 decision for ‘McGirt vs. Oklahoma’ was issued, “ the ruling has upended Oklahoma’s criminal justice system, imperiled convictions in thousands of cases, sowed confusion for police and emergency responders and led to the direct release of more than 50 criminals convicted on charges including second-degree murder and child abuse.”

The story quoted Ryan Leonard, Governor Kevin Stitt’s special counsel for Native American Affairs: “We are living a nightmare out here. It’s complete, dysfunctional chaos in the state of Oklahoma.”

Tres Savage of, made plain (in July 23 story about the newly appointed Attorney General) that the former appointed – then elected, then resigned – Attorney General “was primarily seen as friendly to the larger Native American tribes whose reservations have recently been reaffirmed by federal and state courts. Stitt has aligned himself more closely with smaller tribes that have clashed with their bigger counterparts over casino locations, the slot machine industry and land-in-trust issues.”

So, maybe Oklahoma’s story is now a Tale of Two States – and within that two clashing realities for even the tribal nations.

Charles Dickens had a way with words. It is: “The Best of Times, and the worst of times.” 

James Pepper Henry, First Americans Museum (FAM) director. LinkedIn Page Photograph (credit: Charlotte Henry)
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt at an August 2020 CARES press conference. File photo
Oklahoma attorney Ryan Leonard, State Hall of Fame author profile photograph
Patrick B. McGuigan, News9 Capitol Report Screen Shot, a few years ago.