American Indian Villages to Give Educational Tours

Article excerpt

Journal Record Staff Reporter

Through the magic of re-enactment, tourists can experience American Indian life as it was before Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean in 1492.

At the same time, they can experience life on the Northern Great Plains as it was around the turn of the 19th century.

While there's no going back, American Indian Villages Inc. of Choctaw is trying to show people today what Indian life was like centuries ago.

The company has built a 20-acre site of what was John Miskelley State Park, on Harper Rd., just south of NE 23rd St., into a grouping of authentic Indian areas as an educational tourist attraction. It is scheduled to open to the public at 10 a.m. Friday after several trial runs with public school students from all over Oklahoma.

Known as American Indian Villages, eventually the attraction will cover the 160-acre park that has been renamed Choctaw Creek State Park. The privately financed corporation has leased the park site from the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation.

Dwellings representing different regions and eras of American Indian life have been built with historical accuracy, using tools available to Indians during the representative period. Indians, dressed as their ancestors did, offer guided tours of each dwelling, explaining its furnishings and how it was built.

These authentically dressed Indians also provide demonstrations of crafts; bow, arrow and shield making; weaving; flint knapping; horsemanship; how the Indians traveled before the horse was introduced to North America; games; dances; and songs.

When the village's tourist and educational attraction opens Friday, it will be the state's only full-time living history museum, said President Jeri Redcorn.

"From all our research, we feel that something like this is what tourists want to see," she said. "Oklahoma is known as Indian Territory, yet there are no authentic Indian villages set up year around to show the diversity of the Indian culture.

"Tourists not only want to see something new and exciting, they want to come to a place where their kids can receive an education. We hope to provide that.

"Surveys have shown that one of the most popular tourist destination cities in the world is Santa Fe, N.M., not because of all the rides and attractions _ they don't have any _ but because of the ambiance, the living history that is there.

"We hope to capture some of that here."

American Indian Villages has been four years in the making, said Redcorn, a former teacher, but construction has taken little more than a year.

"We had this dream that we wanted to build something like this, so we have been researching and trying to put together the financial backing to do it," she said. "Now we have."

All the guides and individuals performing demonstrations in the park are Indians, although not all will represent their own ancestral tribes. All vendors and suppliers are Indian-owned companies, and the park is managed by Indians.

"I can't say that we're 100 percent Indian owned, but we're at least 99 percent Indian owned," she said. "We didn't want to make this into a government or a tribal operation, that's why we did everything we could to raise all the money privately."

Redcorn, a Caddo and Potawatomi, is head of the organization operating the villages. Her husband Charles is secretary and son Yancey is public relations director. Daughter Moira, a Dartmouth graduate, is business manager.

"Not only is this an Indian-operated business, it's also a family-operated business," she said.

Still, the Redcorns are not rejecting assistance from the state. The Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation is offering advice, along with including the attraction among its listings, and there's talk of extending an excursion rail line out to the village, which is about half a mile south of Choctaw. …