Philbrook Museum finally acknowledges land it sits on belongs to Indigenous people

by Erika DuBose
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Left: Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Philbrook photo) Right: From left: Second Chief Del Beaver, Creek National Council Second Speaker Darrell Proctor, Creek National Council Speaker Randall Hicks, Principal Chief David Hill, Secretary of Education Greg Anderson and Creek Nation Ambassador Jonodev Chaudhuri at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on February 11, 2020. Photo courtesy Jason Salsman / Muscogee (Creek) Nation

The Philbrook Museum in Tulsa has a new project on its hands: a land acknowledgement. Recognizing that the historical art and cultural museum sits on land that historically belonged to Indigenous people, museum leadership spent 12 months working in tandem with several tribal nations to ensure that the land acknowledgement is accurate.

“We spent the better part of a year working with scholars, people from different tribal nations working with artists from the native community wanting to do it the right way because this is a process that can be done incorrectly,” said Philbrook Museum spokesman Jeff Martin. 

It’s also considered a living document, one that is subject to change as more information becomes available about tribal lands and sovereignty. The statement begins with, “Our Land Acknowledgement is not just a statement—it is one tangible action in a multifaceted and ongoing process working with Native people in our community.”

Fighting white supremacy through art

According to the National Museum of the American Indian, land acknowledgements honor original land inhabitants, as well as “recognize Indigenous Peoples who are the original stewards of the lands on which we now live.” However, it’s a delicate process to ensure that those ancestral lands are honored properly. The Philbrook Museum’s land acknowledgment notes that the museum will continue with ongoing dialogues with several tribal populations.

The Philbrook Museum, which is currently hosting an exhibition through September 2021 called From the Limitations of Now, is committed to fighting against white supremacy and racism in their artwork. From the Limitations of Now features artwork inspired by Oklahoma’s history of racism, as well as the state’s all-Black towns, along with art reflecting racist massacres and riots across the country during the Red Summer. The exhibit was inspired through dialogue with local artist and historian Quraysh Ali Lansana, and features many Tulsa artists including Skip Hill.  

Museums teach history,” said Philbrook curator Sara O’Keeffe in an interview with the Black Wall St Times in April 2021. The Philbrook’s Land Acknowledgement is yet another way to educate citizens on Oklahoma’s history of oppression and marginalization. Oklahoma spent decades forcibly removing Indigenous people from their ancestral lands and creating reservations. 

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court recognized that most of eastern Oklahoma sits on Muscogee (Creek) land, and that legal jurisdiction for crimes by Indigenous people on such land belongs to the sovereign nation rather than the state of Oklahoma or the United States government. 

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