Church’s $2 million donation to Oklahoma’s First Americans Museum will help reconnect Native American families

In his Sunday afternoon devotional broadcast to Latter-day Saints in Oklahoma and Kansas, President Russell M. Nelson referenced the Church’s $2 million donation made earlier that day to the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City.

“The gift from the Church will strengthen Native American and other families by creating within the museum a FamilySearch center,” he said. “This center will make it possible for visitors to the museum to receive help in preserving personal histories, searching for ancestors and building their own family trees.”

Just a few hours before the member devotional, Elder Kyle S. McKay, a General Authority Seventy and a member of the North America Southwest Area presidency, presented the Church’s gift during a reception at the recently opened museum.

Positioned along the Oklahoma River, the First Americans Museum shares the collective histories and contributions of dozens of Native American tribes in Oklahoma today.

The Church’s $2 million contribution will be used to build a permanent FamilySearch center at the museum and fill other needs. The future center will also include digital interactive exhibits for Native American families.

A variety of Church, civic and Native American leaders and represented participated in an Oct. 17, 2021, ceremony at the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma. The museum accepted a $2 million gift from the Church at the event.
A variety of Church, civic and Native American leaders and represented participated in an Oct. 17, 2021, ceremony at the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma. The museum accepted a $2 million gift from the Church at the event. Credit: Peter Adams

The First Americans Museum, noted President Nelson, is a reminder to everyone of their own ancestors “and for our deep gratitude for those who have come here from different countries and traditions.”

Museum director James Pepper Henry told the Church News that the Sunday, Oct. 17, gathering was “a fantastic event.” 

Several Native American Latter-day Saints participated in the event, along with Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, City Councilwoman Nikki Nice and several other civic and tribal leaders.

The Church’s gift and the future FamilySearch center, he added, will allow the museum to realize its goal “for people to research their Native American genealogy and ancestry. … This will be a great asset — not only for the First Americans Museum, but for Native Americans in general.”

Pepper Henry noted the efforts of Elder McKay; Elder Paul B. Pieper, a General Authority Seventy and president of the North America Southwest Area; and Oklahoma City Oklahoma Stake President Thomas Gray to help make Sunday’s gift possible.

Read more: President and Sister Nelson — and Elder and Sister Uchtdorf — share ‘heartland’ counsel to Latter-day Saints in Kansas, Oklahoma

Pepper Henry visited FamilySearch headquarters in Salt Lake City last year to learn more about the Church’s family history resources, particularly those associated with Native American communities in the United States.

“Now working with FamilySearch, we will be able to reconnect families,” he said.

Pepper Henry hopes to have the FamilySearch center up and running by summer 2022.

“First Americans feel the yearning to find their ancestors, and we feel with our FamilySearch technology we can make this happen,” Elder McKay said. “We are donating our expertise and consultants who can build a center suited to the needs of the museum.”

President Gray told the Church News that the First Americans Museum is already proving to be “a great unifying force. … It is an incredible facility helping indigenous people better understand their roots, histories, cultures and languages.”

The First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, will include a Church-supported FamilySearch center.
The First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, will include a Church-supported FamilySearch center. Credit: Peter Adams