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National Pride in Oklahoma

Oklahoma is home to 39 Native American tribes.

Groups can immerse themselves in native heritage through ongoing cultural tours, programs and museums. The Chickasaw Nation and Cherokee Nation are two of the biggest tribes in Oklahoma, with the Cherokee Nation being the largest tribal nation in the United States.

In the late 1800s, the Chickasaw arrived in the area. Today, more than 60,000 citizens live in Oklahoma, and the Chickasaw Nation is the 12th largest federally recognized Indian tribe in the nation.

Tahlequah serves as the capital of the Cherokee Nation that spans 14 Oklahoma counties. When the Cherokee people began arriving in the area 200 years ago, Tahlequah became an important center for the tribe. It’s also the oldest municipality in Oklahoma, incorporated by an Act of the Cherokee National Council in 1843 — more than 60 years before Oklahoma became a state in 1907.

Chickasaw Country

Nestled in south-central Oklahoma, Chickasaw Country encompasses 7,648 square miles and offers adventures and experiences around every corner. Five distinct attractions lie within their 13 counties, including the Chickasaw National Recreation Area (CNRA), Chickasaw Cultural Center and the Artesian Hotel, Casino and Spa.

“The CNRA is the only national park within the Chickasaw Nation,” said Paige Williams, spokesperson for Chickasaw Nation Tourism. “Park rangers and Chickasaw Nation representatives work side-by side greeting and educating all who come into the Chickasaw Visitors Center about the culture and the region.”

The National Park Service and the Chickasaw Nation have collaborated to build a 195-foot pedestrian bridge, scheduled to open this fall within the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. The bridge is designed to feel as if it’s an extension of nature. It will link the CNRA with the Chickasaw Cultural Center near Sulphur, Oklahoma, and allow groups to cross Rock Creek on foot or by bicycle.

“For the last century, the springs within the CNRA have been known for their healing waters,” said Williams. “Visitors would come to soak in the water, and stay in the park at the original Artesian Hotel, which is also the site of the new Artesian Hotel, Casino and Spa.”

Bike rentals will be available at the Chickasaw Cultural Center when the bridge is complete and are currently available at the visitor center. Three new biking and walking trails will be constructed to create a continuous network within the CNRA.

Chickasaw Attractions

The Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center primarily focuses on groups. The 43-room retreat center is tucked between Lake of the Arbuckles and the Arbuckle Mountains. Extensive walking trails and a pond with an adjacent flexible pavilion can be used for cookouts and activities.

Located on 109 pristine acres of rolling hills and woodlands, the Chickasaw Cultural Center is continually adding new programming, events and activities. From the past to present day, the center tells the story of the unconquered and unconquerable Chickasaw Nation. Daily activities offer firsthand experiences, and cultural demonstrators wear traditional regalia as they engage with visitors.

The Artesian Arts Festival, held annually on Memorial Day weekend, celebrates with nearly 100 artist booths lining the street. Artists demonstrate, share and discuss their crafts in the ARTesian Art Gallery. The event features diverse media including paintings, basketry, jewelry, sculpture, metalworking, bead work, textiles and pottery. The daylong festival also highlights a variety of musical entertainment, tribal dance demonstrations and regalia.

Be Native Tours, an Oklahoma City-based company, specializes in group tours that highlight the heart of Chickasaw Country and immerse travelers in the history and unique culture of the Chickasaw tribe. Stops include the Chickasaw Cultural Center, Anoli Theater, Bedré Fine Chocolates, owned by the Nation, and the Chickasaw National Capitol.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.