Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center

Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center Information

The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center is a place for gathering, discovery, education, and celebration, made possible by a cross-organizational, multi-cultural partnership built on the values lived by the late Morris Thompson. The partner organizations are housed together in the center, collaborating to offer visitor services, public lands information, cultural programs and world-class exhibits that show the history and seasonal flow of local lifestyles. Visitors and locals gather here to discover and learn about Interior and Arctic Alaska, celebrating who we are and how we live.

Morris Thompson was a Koyukon Athabascan born in 1939 in the village of Tanana. The son of Warren Thompson from Indiana and Alice (Grant) Thompson from Tanana, as a child, he loved reading and studying. He sometimes told people he couldn’t go outside to play because he was too busy reading, preparing to “be a big man someday.” That’s how he earned the nickname “Big,” which stuck. Morris grew up in Tanana until he went away to school at Mt. Edgecumbe. He later majored in civil engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

He didn’t work long as an engineer before his success as a campaign volunteer attracted Governor Walter Hickel’s attention, and Morris became a trusted political appointee for the governor. When Hickel was named Secretary of the Interior under President Nixon, he brought Morris to Washington as Special Assistant for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Morris became the Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Juneau in 1970 and was named Commissioner of the entire BIA when he was only 34 years old. In 1981, he went to work for his Native corporation, Doyon, Limited, and by 1985, he was the CEO. Morris led Doyon to become one of the most profitable and stable Alaska Native Corporations.

Despite his prestigious career, Morris always called himself “just another boy from Tanana.” People who met him describe a man who remembered your name and paid attention while he spoke to you, no matter who you were. He could be a bit of a trickster, perhaps eating half of your lunch off your desk when you weren’t looking or taking over from the flight attendant to hand out the orange juice and talk to everybody on the plane. He was devoted to his wife, Thelma, their three daughters, and their grandchildren. Younger family members remember him singing and playing his guitar at family gatherings.

“Big” now lays at rest back home in Tanana. He lives on in cherished memories of family and friends at the Morris Thompson Center. Or, as we like to call it, “Big’s Place.”

Located in the heart of Fairbanks, Alaska, the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to explore this state-of-the-art facility which serves as a gateway to the wonders of Interior Alaska. The Center has two gift shops, one sponsored by Alaska Geographic, and the other is a cooperative run between the Tanana Chiefs Conference's Cultural Programs and Denakkanaaga, which is an elders program, so all of that gift shop's offerings are Indigenous-made. It's called The Alaska Native Gift Shop. 

Travelers can reach the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center via Fairbanks International Airport, located approximately 7 miles southwest of downtown. The nearest railroad station is also in Fairbanks, providing convenient access for those arriving by train on the Alaska Railroad, which connects Fairbanks to Anchorage and other key destinations.

Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center

Travel information
  • Time Zone: Alaska Standard Time

Newsletter Signup