State Sen. Enoch Kelly Haney, a Creek-Seminole and a candidate for governor, created "The Guardian" after winning a blind competition. The accomplished Indian artist wept as he watched it make the 260-foot ascent to the top of the statehouse.
"Oklahoma has given so much to me, so I'm happy to give something back," said Haney, a Democrat from Seminole.
A crowd estimated at 10,000 sprawled over the capitol grounds for the historic ceremony featuring Indian dancers, music and spiritual blessings. The event also kicked off the city's annual Red Earth Festival, which attracts tribes from around the nation.
"May he ever watch over our grand land and our great people," Gov. Frank Keating said as he ordered the liftoff.
It took two attempts to get the statue in place, although the legendary Oklahoma winds, which often blow in excess of 30 mph, could hardly have been gentler.
"When we put 6,000 pounds on the crane, the boom sagged a little," said Kevin Gray, a member of the Capitol Dome Builders construction team.
After the bronze statue rested just off its intended footing for about 15 minutes, it was hauled down and sent aloft again after an adjustment was made to the harness.
"You couldn't pray for a better day," said Gray as the statue made its second ascent. "Look at him. He's not moving at all."
After workman Jesus Perez affixed eight big bolts to the footing of the 22-foot-tall figure from inside the dome, Haney climbed into the close quarters for one last touch.
"The Guardian" becomes the first American Indian statue to top an American capitol, although Kansas plans to put one atop its statehouse in September.
Oklahoma's capitol was designed 95 years ago to have a dome, but the money ran out and the work was not resumed until last year with most of the $21 million cost coming from private sources. Exterior work is nearly complete, but the project was still $1.5 million short as of last Thursday.
"The Guardian," his body facing east in an Indian tradition and his face looking south, is 17 feet high but the entire structure, including a spear thrust into the ground at his feet, is 22 feet tall.
Haney said warriors confronted with overwhelming odds would spike their spear into the ground, demonstrating their refusal to bow.
Features of the warrior¹s face are a composite of members of Haney's family. The body is that of an athletic 18-year-old neighbor in Seminole.
"The Guardian" is supposed to reflect Oklahoma's heritage as the former Indian Territory. Nearly 40 Indian tribes call Oklahoma home, more than any other state.
The completed dome will be dedicated on Statehood Day, Nov. 16. Oklahoma will celebrate its centennial in 2007.