A groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a $2 million Shawnee Tribe project, the Shawnee Tribe Heritage Center, drew a good turnout of locals and dignitaries.

MIAMI – A striking and spectacular place of honor, remembrance, and learning will soon be built in Miami to showcase and tell the story of the Shawnee people.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a $2 million Shawnee Tribe project, the Shawnee Tribe Heritage Center, drew a good turnout on Wednesday of locals and dignitaries excited about the new project.

Shawnee Tribe Chief Ron Sparkman welcomed everyone to the groundbreaking event celebrating a significant milestone for the tribe. It has long been Sparkman's vision to build a place to honor tribal heritage and encourage visitors to the area to learn more about Native American history and way of life.

“It's something we look forward to completion and something that's very important to us,” Sparkman said.

The Shawnee Tribe Heritage Center will be located next to the Northeastern Oklahoma Inter-Tribal building at 108 Eight Tribes Trail in Miami. The Center will be accessible from the Miami Travel Center to tribal members, the local community and visitors in a convenient and high-visibility location just south of the Missouri/Kansas border. Visitors also will be able to park and easily visit the Heritage Center without paying to exit the turnpike.

When completed the new facility will reflect the unique culture of many of Oklahoma’s Native American tribes and the Shawnee Tribe's rich history from relocation from the tribe's ancestral home in the Ohio Valley to the state of Kansas, and later to Oklahoma, where they were officially incorporated as part of the Cherokee Indian Nation. The Shawnee Tribe was restored to the status of sovereign Indian Nation in the year 2000 by the U.S. Congress.

Construction of this new heritage center will be a major milestone for the tribe in the restoration and promotion of their culture to tribal members and the broader community, as well as providing an archive to store and preserve historical documents and artifacts.

Sparkman introduced Shawnee Tribe Second Chief Ben Barnes who is managing the project’s development.

“We're really excited about our new project, our Shawnee cultural center is a $2 million investment in our community,” Barnes said. “The Shawnee Tribe, as well as the other eight tribes in this county, have always found a way to work together and we're excited to be part of that group. We're excited to provide a place where Shawnee citizens can tell our stories, and we can tell who we were as people, who we are as a people, and who we see our nation becoming in the future.”

Barnes told those gathered how the tribe’s history and rich culture are vitally important to the future of the Shawnee tribal members, Native American community and the community as a whole.

“We can't tell that story without doing it in proper context, and here we are in this Miami community. This is not our original homeland. Eight of the nine tribes that are located in this county came from lands far to the east... We need to tell that story of how our past impacts our present, and how those stories of our ancestors, their struggles, their triumphs, how those impact our past and our future. We're really excited to bring that to our community to allow our citizens to tell our story, but also tell the story about the Native community of Ottawa County, and find a place for that and a theater for that, so that our community can enjoy it, but also passers-by in our state can stop and enjoy the community of Miami, Oklahoma, ” Barnes said.

The design architects at FSB in Oklahoma City conducted an interactive workshop with key members of the Shawnee tribe in order to obtain a broad outline and vision, encompassing the desired elements of the center and the important symbolism to include within its walls. Additional workshops and conversations with Shawnee leaders further coalesced the tribe’s wishes for its new facility.

The facility will include a gallery/exhibit area, large and small viewing rooms, a catering kitchen, gift shop, classrooms and administrative space along with areas for storing and preserving artifacts. Visitor traffic flow through the center will be counter-clockwise, in keeping with Shawnee tradition.

Shawnee Tribal Grant Administrator Jodi Hayes worked to access grant funding for the project.

Attending the event and acknowledged and thanked by Sparkman were several tribal and local leaders and interested parties including Shawnee Business Committee member Herb Adams, Economic Development Director Greg Pitcher, Secretary Carolyn Foster, Director of Children’s and Family Services Tena Booth, Historic Officer Eric Wensman, Co-Director of Children’s and Family Services Diana Baker, REC/BOLT Public Relations Manager Cindy Hefner, Miami Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Amanda Davis, Miami City Manager Dean Kruithof, Miami Regional Chamber of Commerce Steve Gilbert, Miami Tribe Chief Doug Lankford, Eastern Shawnee Tribe Chief Glenna Wallace, Ottawa Tribe Chief Ethel Cook, and local businessman Jeff Brown.

“We've got a lot of good things going here. I want to say up front right now that I'm very proud of the relationship that has been established with the City of Miami, this includes the college, the county commissioners and the nine tribes working together, Sparkman said. “Together we can do a lot of good.”

Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at mstotts@miaminewsrecord.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.