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Groups Weigh Funding Options For American Indian Cultural Center

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The outside of the cultural center looks complete, but the inside is far from it, and construction won't continue until all of the money is there. The outside of the cultural center looks complete, but the inside is far from it, and construction won't continue until all of the money is there.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

The push to fund the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum intensifies as organizers work to come up with the remaining $40 million.

The state originally agreed to match the $40 million the center raised in private donations, but legislators failed to agree where to get the money from last month.

The outside of the cultural center looks complete, but the inside is far from it, and construction won't continue until all of the money is there. Sitting tall and wide, the framework for the project is hard to miss from the freeway.

It's been half-finished for several years, in need of $80 million to open its doors, but the state didn't make a move.

"When the state government creates an agency, we should fully fund it," said Senator Kyle Loveless. "We've already put so much into it. That would be a bad investment to just stop now."

"The consensus is we need to do something," added Senator Loveless. "I just hope that we can do something before the private dollars go away."

Loveless said the reasons why the state probably chose not pay up the $40 million is because most people think the tribes have not contributed, and that the state has already done its fair share.

"Tribes have given more that $20 million, so the only thing left to do is to figure out what other pots are available and if any more private money can be raised, and if the city of Oklahoma City wants to step up," said Senator Loveless. "Those are basically your options, or basically, plow it under."

House Speaker Jeff Hickman said in a statement:

"With almost $200 million less for the Legislature to appropriate this year, and with critical needs in state employee pay, adequate funding for our schools and the State Capitol Building literally falling down around us, the members had to set budget priorities just like every Oklahoman and completing the Native American Cultural Center was not able to be addressed in this tight budget."

Oklahoma City can choose to take back the land it agreed to give the state if the center is never completed. The cultural center's team is working around the clock to make sure the support is still there.

"We will ask all 100 percent of our donors whether they will stick with us or not, but as of today, 90 percent of them said, 'yes, we'll stay with you,'" Chief Executive of the Native American Cultural and Education Authority, Blake Wade, said.

"We're waiting on direction from state leaders with how we want to proceed, while working with our donors," said Wade. "This center is going to be the Smithsonian of the west."

Former state senator and Seminole Nation Chief Enoch Kelly Haney is confident the center will open, and the sales tax it generates will more than pay back the state's investment.

"There's always a way, and we're exploring some different ways right now," said Haney. "We started with a dream with nothing, and look where we are now. I think we've made a lot of progress."

"We raised our end of the deal, but the state didn't hold to their word," added Haney. "In my opinion, just another broken promise, and we're kind of used to that."

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