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State Route 66 association pushes for more equitable Native representation

The sign outside the Tee Pee Drive-In in Sapulpa is seen.
Oklahoma Tourism
The sign outside the Tee Pee Drive-In in Sapulpa is seen.

Oklahoma's Route 66 Association aims to highlight Native American culture along the Mother Road in a more accurate and equitable way than in years past.

More than half of Route 66 runs through tribal land, touching 13 reservations throughout the country. But the route has been marketed with stereotypes of Native Americans in years past.

Oklahoma Route 66 Association President Rhys Martin says he wants to change that. Martin told Tulsa officials in a meeting Tuesday that his organization’s website will include links to all the tribes Route 66 touches. He also said there will be a graphic in the newest Route 66 association trip guide and a QR code with a list of resources and opportunities along the route for travelers to experience Native American culture.

"I don’t need to educate anybody what the history has been with Route 66 and representation with Native American culture — suffice to say, it has not been great. And so it’s a focus for me to make sure people have the resources to learn about the authentic story of Native American culture in Oklahoma," he said.

At the meeting, Martin encouraged Tulsa's Route 66 commissioners to install markers and educational materials.

"Even something about, maybe, about working with the owners of the restored Tee Pee Drive-In in Sapulpa. That brings in a lot of travelers; I would hope they would have some questions about the name, and that might be an opportunity for the Muscogee Creek Nation to, you know, have something to say, ‘Here’s the name, here’s where it came from, here’s the real story about the tribes here, here’s where it came from,'" he said.

Muscogee Nation councilwoman Sandra Golden suggested the association point travelers to Bacone College to view architecture on campus. Located in the city of Muskogee, Bacone is the oldest college in Oklahoma and was initially opened as a school for Native students.

Martin agreed with Golden, also noting that his group often points travelers to the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City.

This effort comes as Tulsa officials prepare for the Route 66 centennial, which will be in 2026.

Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS. A Tulsa native, Bryan worked at newspapers throughout Arkansas and in Norman before coming home to "the most underrated city in America." Several of Bryan's news stories have either led to or been cited in changes both in the public and private sectors.