When you think of the Tulsa suburb of Bixby, do you instinctively think of exotic Waikiki? Do you know about Pawhuska’s 183-year-old connection to a village in southern France? Are you aware of Shawnee’s kinship with a small town in northern Japan?

Sister city programs usually seek to promote economic development, tourism and education. Leave it to Oklahoma to add a unique Native American twist to the concept.

Many Oklahoma cities have hooked up with sister cities around the world. Tulsa has eight sister cities; Oklahoma City, six. Many smaller cities and towns also enjoy sister city ties, including Bixby (Waikiki, Hawaii), Claremore (Salekhard, Russia), Lawton (Güllesheim, Germany), Norman (cities in France, Mexico and Japan), Ponca City (Baiyin, China), Stillwater (Kameoka, Japan) and Yukon (Krnov, Czech Republic).

Two of the most interesting alliances are Pawhuska’s historic relationship with a village in France and Shawnee’s close tie to a town in Japan. In both cases, part of what makes the connection special is satisfying the fascination other nations have with Native American history and culture.

Pawkuska, about an hour northwest of Tulsa, is not only the seat of Osage County, but also capital of the Osage Nation. The area’s tie to France dates back to the 1700s, when King Louis XIV staked France’s claim on “Louisiana,” a sprawling territory that included modern-day Oklahoma. From 1827 to 1829, a group of Osage Indians journeyed to France and had a dramatic sojourn in a small town called Montauban.

Flash forward more than 150 years. In 1987, Montauban citizens, inspired by the story of the historic Osage visitors, struck up a sister city relationship with Pawhuska. During the 24 years since, many representatives of both Pawhuska and the Osage Tribe have made the journey to Montauban, and have welcomed frequent visitors from France.

“Those Europeans really like Native American culture,” says Pawhuska Chamber director Mike McCartney. The relationship has paved the way for visitors from other European communities as well, McCartney says. “A lot of times they come over to greet some of the families that have hosted them before, and we don’t even know that they are here.”

Shawnee, population 30,000, has a sister city tie with Nikaho, Japan, population 27,000. The connection began when TDK Corp. built a plant in Shawnee. Tim Burg, Shawnee’s economic development director, says the plant employs approximately 150 people.

“That relationship between our community and the sister city in Japan is vital and critical to the operation here,” Burg says.

So, to promote and preserve good will, Shawnee proposed a sister city connection with Nikaho, location of the first TDK plant. Burg says the program gives Shawnee an “international flair” and has helped lure other companies, including five manufacturers that are internationally owned.

Japanese interest in the program is about more than economic development. “The Japanese have a great interest in Native American culture,” Burg adds, pointing out that Shawnee is headquarters of the Citizen Potawatomi tribe.

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