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Articles on this Page
- 09/04/12--11:24: _2012 Labor Day Fest...
- 09/07/12--10:58: _Race becomes Labor ...
- 09/17/12--15:00: _Six Oklahoma State ...
- 09/26/12--11:34: _CNO Bike Team hosti...
- 09/26/12--13:26: _Choctaw Day in San ...
- 10/09/12--10:14: _Choctaw Outreach Se...
- 10/10/12--14:06: _Final beam tops off...
- 11/21/12--11:21: _A Cultural Awakenin...
- 11/29/12--13:51: _Southeastern OK Sta...
- 12/07/12--12:19: _Choctaw Nation Stri...
- 12/18/12--12:18: _Choctaw Nation Recy...
- 12/21/12--10:36: _Military mother's s...
- 01/21/13--13:58: _2013 Bow Shoot Sche...
- 01/23/13--12:56: _Cultural Services S...
- 01/25/13--13:03: _Southeastern OK Sta...
- 02/01/13--12:49: _Youth Sports Camp A...
- 02/04/13--07:07: _Preparation is key ...
- 02/20/13--08:50: _Choctaw Nation visi...
- 02/27/13--11:33: _Sidney’s Sticks
- 03/07/13--12:29: _Atoka community lea...
- 09/04/12--11:24: 2012 Labor Day Festival Results
- 09/07/12--10:58: Race becomes Labor Day Festival staple
- 09/26/12--11:34: CNO Bike Team hosting events in support of breast cancer awareness
- 09/26/12--13:26: Choctaw Day in San Francisco
- 10/09/12--10:14: Choctaw Outreach Services to host coat drive at tailgate party
- 10/10/12--14:06: Final beam tops off Pocola casino
- 11/21/12--11:21: A Cultural Awakening – Keeping Choctaw Traditions Alive
- 11/29/12--13:51: Southeastern OK State University hosts Choctaw Day on campus
- 12/21/12--10:36: Military mother's surprise Christmas homecoming
- 01/21/13--13:58: 2013 Bow Shoot Schedule
- 02/01/13--12:49: Youth Sports Camp Applications now available
- 02/04/13--07:07: Preparation is key to success
- 02/20/13--08:50: Choctaw Nation visits San Diego and Phoenix
- 02/27/13--11:33: Sidney’s Sticks
- 03/07/13--12:29: Atoka community leaders install six new storm shelters
Men’s 2012 overall 5K winner, 17-year-old Tysin Davis, crosses the finish line with a time of 18:31.
Race becomes Labor Day Festival staple
The Choctaw Nation Labor Day Festival is a fast-paced weekend for thousands of visitors and employees of the Choctaw Nation. Many events have patrons running to and fro, and perhaps the one that has them moving the quickest, is the 5K Run.
Beginning about a mile south of the historic Choctaw Capitol Building, looping around festival grounds, and ending between the capitol building and Council Chambers, the 5K has been a solid 3.1 miles of excitement and enjoyment for many runners over the years.
Today’s race is much different than in earlier years. In the 1980s it was a simple run that added to the festival’s event lineup for entertainment and not a sanctioned race. In the early 90s, the now Head Start and Johnson-O’Malley Director, Rebecca Hawkins, became the race director put the event on the path to what it is today.
“They were just trying to get activities for participants,” stated Rebecca as she described the earliest days of the race. As runners voiced requests for a sanctioned run, it became apparent that it was to be more than just a “fun run.” Under Rebecca’s direction, a Tulsa-based company, Glen’s Road Race, certified the run.
The certification allowed it to be recognized by the USA Track and Field Association and the Oklahoma Track and Field Association, permitting runners to have their times posted nationally and points added to their membership to the association.
To promote the newly certified race, Rebecca scheduled Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills to make an appearance. Mills provided the shirts and a speech to motivate runners. “Getting him to come down brought a bigger crowd of people versus us just having the run,” Rebecca stated. That year’s run was a considerable success with Mills encouraging participation.
As years have passed, numbers have grown and logistics have improved. Now, under the direction Adult Education Director Neal Hawkins the race sees over 500 runners and utilizes electronic chips attached to runners’ shoes to track time.
Starting in the 2011 race, chips were issued by DG Productions, the company which now provides equipment for the race, that a runner can lace into a shoestring. As the chip passes the finish line with the runner, it stops the timer and records the finishing time electronically.
Previously, stopwatches were used and times were written down according to bib numbers. The new way “makes it much easier,” exclaimed Neal as he explained how it significantly reduces the chances for error and time involved in finding placement within age category.
As Chief Gregory E. Pyle has led the Choctaw Nation to focus on the health of its members, promotion, participation and accommodation for the run has grown. The run has always been open to CDIB and non-CDIB cardholders alike, but before 2010, it cost $10 to enter. In 2010 the $10 fee was waived for CDIB cardholders and in 2011 it was made free to all in an effort to encourage physical activity for Labor Day Festival guests.
The Choctaw Nation believes that by offering a free run, they will inspire more people to train and participate, which leads to increased diet and exercise of tribal and non-tribal members. Evidence shows this tactic effective, with numbers increasing from 239 in 2010 to upwards of 550 in 2012’s run.
A wide variety of people are also getting involved as well, with this year’s ages ranging from 7 to mid 80s. The finishing times of top runners are consistently under 19 minutes for the 3.1 mile dash with this year’s winner, 17-year-old Tysin Davis, crossing the finish line at 18:31.
A considerable amount of planning and coordination are required for Choctaw Nation to host this event. It is completely hosted by the volunteer efforts of about 20 employees and their families, as well as seven police officers.
The tribal police and EMTs are on site in case of emergency, to manage traffic and keep it from disturbing the run. Choctaw employees are there to help with registration, hand out water, keep track of times and aid runners in any way they can.
As well as time and manpower, Choctaw Nation also invests in various supplies such as running chips, T-shirts, food, drink and medals. This service is all in an effort to push healthy activities and add more enjoyment to guests of the Choctaw Nation.
From left, Joy Culbreath, Chelsea Porter, Shauna Williams, Chief Gregory E. Pyle, President Burns Hargis, Jo McDaniel, Morgan Two Crow and Brittany Snapp.
Six Oklahoma State University students to benefit from $350,000 Choctaw Nation endowment
Six Oklahoma State University students began their fall semesters with a boost in confidence and coin. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Scholarship Advisement Program (SAP) recently gifted a $350,000 endowment to the university as part of OSU’s billion-dollar scholarship campaign, “Branding Success.” This, combined with the Pickens Legacy Scholarship match, will bring the total amount of scholarship money to $1.05 million.
This marks the largest donation by a Native American tribe in the history of the university.
“We are pleased to partner with OSU in this endeavor. It helps ensure a bright future for not only these students today, but for others to come. I am proud to be aiding our people in earning a degree from such a sterling university,” stated Chief Gregory E. Pyle.
“OSU graduates more Native American students than any other university in the United States,” said OSU President Burns Hargis during a luncheon celebrating the donation on Monday.
Taking this fact into account, along with the Pickens match, led SAP to choose OSU as the recipient of the donation. “It [OSU] just seems like a good fit for Choctaw students,” said SAP Scholarship Development Specialist, Shauna Williams.
The six students receiving the scholarship were awarded the funds near the beginning of the school year, and were formerly congratulated at Monday’s lunch by President Hargis, Chief Pyle and other foundation dignitaries.
“Words can’t even describe how thankful I am,” declared graduate student Brittany Snapp, Southeastern Oklahoma State University alum, as she thanked Choctaw Nation and OSU for her award.
Other recipients include junior Business major, Chelsea Porter; junior Pre-Law major, Morgan Two Crow; junior Animal Pre-Vet major, Jessica Collins; senior Engineering major, Luke Serner; and grad student pursuing her MBA, Crysta Watson.
These six students mark the first of what is sure to be many beneficiaries of the endowment. SAP will continue to work with OSU to select students over the coming years.
The scholarship is shared between the Anne Jones Slocum Scholarship and the Choctaw Nation Business and Leadership Scholarship, with Watson being the sole recipient of the latter at this time.
The Slocum Scholarship honors Choctaw OSU alumni Anne Slocum and does not require a certain major, but does have upperclassmen preference. There are already many scholarships aimed at incoming freshmen, and “sometimes it takes the little bit of extra funding to get them [upperclassmen] graduated,” stated Williams as she explained the preference.
“It is very exciting to finally see it come to fruition,” declared Williams. This joint venture has been years in the making, with first mention beginning over two years ago. Finding the most effective way to utilize the funds by paring it with the Pickens Match took time, but in the end will maximize the impact for Choctaw students.
CNO Bike Team hosting events in support of breast cancer awareness
The Choctaw Nation Bike Team is hosting several events – a 1.1-mile walk, a 5k run and 5-, 15-, and 25-mile bike rides – on Oct. 20 at the Choctaw Community Center in Talihina to support and encourage breast cancer awareness.
Warrior Survivor Walk
The 1.1-mile event will start at the Choctaw Senior Citizens’ Center in Talihina, Oklahoma. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. at the Choctaw Senior Citizens’ Center. Onsite registration will be available. T-shirts will be based on availability. Walk starts at 8:45 a.m. Collected donations may be turned in at time of registration.
Survivor & Warrior Pre-registration recommended.
Additional $5 for breakfast
Pink Pajama Pancake Run
This 5k event will start at the Choctaw Senior Citizens’ Center in Talihina, Oklahoma. Runners are encouraged to wear their pajamas over their running gear and encouraged to raise donations. If more than $100 is raised, runner will receive a sporty “Every Ribbon Tells a Story” duffle bag.
Medals will be awarded to the top three male & female finishers for the 5k event. Registration begins at 7:30 am at the Choctaw Senior Citizens’ Center. Pre-registered participants will receive at-shirt. Onsite registration T-shirts will be based on availability. Run Starts at 8:30 am.
Deadline date Oct. 13, 2012
$15 (including T-Shirt)
Additional $5 for breakfast
The Bicycling event will start at the Choctaw Senior Citizens’ Center in Talihina, Oklahoma. Medals will be awarded to the top three male & female finishers for the Bike ride event. A Best Young Rider Award will also be presented. Must be between 18-24 years old. Registration begins at 5:15 am at the Choctaw Senior Citizens’ Center Talihina. Pre-registered participants will receive a t-shirt. Onsite registration will be available. T-shirts will be based on availability. Ride Starts at 6:00 am. If a rider collects $100 donations he/she will receive a breast cancer awareness jersey.
Deadline date: Oct. 13, 2012
$35 (25 mi)
$40 (25mi + 5K run)
Additional $5 for breakfast
Please see included applications below.
Mike Scott leads the Choctaw dancers as Brad Joe chants.
Choctaw Day in San Francisco
Bringing culture to the bay
Friendly faces from the San Francisco bay area filled the Fort Mason Center on Sept. 23, 2012, all eagerly anticipating Choctaw Day. The day was filled with Choctaw art, crafts, dancing and more.
Early comers were able to participate in a basket weaving class. Nearly half of the 200 guests arrived early to make woven placemats. “It takes a lot of concentration,” mused Christine Atchison of Salinas, Calif., as she focused on her project. Atchison’s work was not in vain though – she completed a fine placemat fit for a Choctaw.
The Choctaw dance troupe then took center stage to display traditional Choctaw dances – the Wedding, Raccoon and Four-Step War dances – as more guests filled the room.
Lunch was provided as Joey Tom and Billy Eagle Road gave stickball lessons to interested guests. Exhibits featuring traditional Choctaw weaponry, beading and language were also available throughout the meeting.
Following lunch, language instructor Lillie Roberts opened the formal presentation with a prayer in both Choctaw and English. Assistant Chief Gary Batton spoke to the guests, telling them about the current events within the Choctaw Nation.
Retired police officer of over 30 years, John Smith, joined Batton by the mic and placed a valuable artifact in the care of the Choctaw Nation. Smith donated a Colt 32.20 single action pistol, carried by Joseph Durant, a believed Choctaw Lighthorseman.
“This piece of history should be in a museum instead of keeping it locked up in a drawer,” said Smith. The tribe concurs with Smith and will be placing the revolver at the Choctaw Museum, located on the capitol grounds in Tvshka Homma, where it can be seen and enjoyed by all.
Batton accepted the pistol from Mr. Smith with much gratitude.
Following Batton’s speech, the Choctaw Dance troupe took center stage again and got the crowd involved with the Stealing Partners, Snake and Walk dances. Chanter and singer Brad Joe then took the mic to display Choctaw flute playing and the singing of a Choctaw hymn.
Joe’s display of musical talent concluded the formal portion of the meeting. The crowd was then able to meet Assistant Chief Batton and other Choctaws, enjoy refreshments, return to booths to learn about language, stickball and weaponry, or learn Choctaw beading with the Cultural Services instructors.
Choctaw Day in San Francisco also saw many distinguished guests…
Robert ‘Tomaka’ Bailey
Though California is thousands of miles away from the physical boundaries of the Choctaw Nation, the culture is still strong with brothers and sisters to the west. One Choctaw keeping the culture alive in the Golden State is Robert ‘Tomaka’ Bailey.
Bailey, a professional magician by trade, is an instructor for a community Choctaw language class in the Northern California area. Bailey coordinates with Richard Adams of the Choctaw Language Department to make sure he is teaching the language identical to his Oklahoma counterparts.
Bailey is on the Board of Directors for the Friendship House Association of American Indians Inc. of San Francisco. This association’s facility is the location where his classes are taught. There are currently eight students who attend the class on a steady basis with constant interest from others.
Bailey’s class currently meets for two hours each Saturday and he teaches with a 50/50 emersion method. When he writes on the blackboard, all sentences are in Choctaw as well as English. It is his hope for the class to be speaking Choctaw exclusively during the lessons by March.
Due to the large amount of time required to become fluent in a language and the limited time allotted in class, Bailey has recorded CDs for his students to take home and study. CDs are in a “Rosetta Stone type format,” stated Bailey. There are full sentences in Choctaw followed by the English version.
Bailey began learning the language in 2000 when inspired by his cousin, Ida Wilson, who already spoke the language and encouraged him to become more familiar with his Choctaw roots.
As he began to learn about his Choctaw heritage, he began to see how important it was to keep the language alive. His mother, who formerly spoke Choctaw also served as a motivation for his dedication to the study.
“I’m giving back to the tribe to preserve a very important part of our culture,” said Bailey. “It is my responsibility to pass this on.”
In addition to teaching the language, he also incorporates his Choctaw background into many of his performances. He does magic shows at venues such as school assemblies and veteran’s theater, often tying in Choctaw language and history.
Bailey has recently won a 2012 Jefferson Award for this work with the Friendship House, the language classes and his work with schools and veterans. The Jefferson Award is a prestigious award that has honored public servants for their efforts since 1972.
Artists Sean Nash and Merisha Lemmer
The San Francisco area is home to many artists. The Choctaw Nation was proud to showcase the work of two of its own during Choctaw Day.
Sean Nash and Merisha Lemmer both took time out of their schedule to join the Choctaw Nation and brought with them several impressive pieces of work.
Nash is an Oakland native who has lived in the San Francisco area for 15 years, working on his art and producing films. His first animated short film was recently recognized at the Sundance Film Festival.
His art and films take a unique perspective on Native American heritage, focusing on before there were divisions among, not just natives, but all people.
Nash mentions that all people have a story of how they came to be, but he is focusing on where they were before that. He has noticed that many origin stories, though different, have many similarities. Before there was Native American, Asian or African, there was just man.
Nash teaches art at several venues and is studying for his Master’s of Fine Arts in painting and film at the San Francisco Art Institute.
Lemmer is a resident of Sanoma County who grew up in Camp Meeker, Calif. In high school “I felt art was a way I could express myself,” said Lemmer.
As she came to enjoy art, she attended Oxbow Art Program, and later Savannah College of Art. There she studied design and illustration. She has illustrated several of her own children’s books which she then published.
Lemmer also has a strong connection to the Choctaw people. She was a Choctaw princess for the California Okla Chahta group in 2000-2001. Her family also encouraged her to learn more about what it means to be Choctaw.
After learning more of her roots, she began to focus her books on the Choctaw language. “It is important for people to learn their heritage,” stated Lemmer.
One of the children’s books that she has published is illustrated with animals and a Choctaw phrase describing the animals. It is her hope that whoever reads her books will get a little dose of the Choctaw language and that it inspires a younger generation to learn the language of her people.
Choctaw Outreach Services to host coat drive at tailgate party
The Choctaw Nation Coat Drive is in full swing and will be accepting donations this Friday at the Annual OU/Texas Tailgate Party. The party will be hosted at the Choctaw Travel Plaza West off hwy. 75 south of Durant, near the Casino and Resort on Oct. 12, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Guests of the event will not only be able to enjoy the company of former OU standouts Marcus Dupree, Jamelle Holieway and De’Mond Parker, but will be able to help Choctaw youth in need with a donation of gently worn or new coats.
The 2012 coat drive began Oct. 1, and will last until Nov. 30, but “We are always accepting donations for our Solemates, the coat drive and any other needs that may arise throughout the year for the Choctaw youth,” stated Paul Roberts, director of Choctaw Nation Youth Outreach. Solemates is another program led by Youth Outreach, which acquires shoes for Choctaw youth to begin their new school year.
Though coats are the focus of the drive, “if you would like to donate other clothing items we would gladly be willing to accept,” said Roberts. The goal is to get all tribal members ready for the cooler times of the year. Monetary donations will also be accepted and used to purchase new coats.
If you have unused coats in your closet, but are unable to make it to the event, many drop-off locations are made available throughout the Choctaw Nation service area. Donors may bring items to the tribal headquarters in Durant, the Talihina hospital, the Hugo Tribal Service building, the Broken Bow Outreach office or call 580-326-8304 for pickup. Donations can also be mailed to 403 Chahta Circle, Hugo, OK. 74743.
The coat drive began in 2010 when the Choctaw Nation began to notice that not all of its members were dressed to weather the cold temperature of the Oklahoma winter. The Choctaw Youth Outreach coordinates the effort and is supported by all other Outreach Services.
The coat drive assists young tribal members who live within the 10.5 county services area and all funds are 100 percent donated and through fundraisers in which Outreach clients participate.
“We are doing our best to help our Choctaw youth in need. It is very important that our clients have coats for the winter,” stated Roberts.
Donna Tawkowty donates a coat during a past coat drive as Choctaw Outreach employee Joey Tom accepts.
Final beam tops off Pocola casino
Topping out celebration held to signify final milestone in casino expansion
By LARISSA COPELAND Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
POCOLA, Okla. – A “topping out” ceremony was held Oct. 9 at the Choctaw Casino in Pocola with the placing of the final structural beam, symbolically marking the last phase of major construction on the expansion.
Janie Dillard, executive director of gaming, and the Choctaw Tribal Council welcomed tribal and casino management, representatives from Manhattan Construction and the Worth Group Architects, as well as the members of the construction teams and numerous other guests, to join them in signing the final beam before it was hoisted into place high atop the newly expanded Choctaw Casino Hotel addition.
“This is another milestone for the Choctaw Nation,” said Dillard. “It’s a great feeling.”
Shannon McDaniel, who stood in for Chief Pyle, said of the occasion, “[Chief Pyle] appreciates the construction teams and everyone here on the ground, and all those behind the scene making this happen, helping us realize our dream.”
He continued, saying the expansion is a benefit to both tribal members and to members of the surrounding Pocola area. “By doing [the expansion] it’s helping our tribal members and that’s what it’s all about. But, as you can see with this, it’s helping everyone in the area by giving back to the economy.”
The way it helps the economy is in the form of jobs. Dillard explained that additional personnel will be hired to support this expanded property, anticipating more than 350 new employees at the casino by the end of construction.
“The impact the Pocola Casino does to this area on a yearly basis with salaries alone is $11 million with just the 500 employees it has now,” said Dillard. “But we are going to almost double that employee count in 2013.” And that means almost doubling the salary flowing back into the local area as well, she says. “That says a lot about what the Choctaw Nation does and brings to these economies.”
The construction at the casino is being done in two phases and is scheduled to be completed by May 2013. The result will be 150,000 square feet of gaming, entertainment, dining, and lodging space at the casino.
The first phase is set to be completed by December and will include new gaming options with a larger slot floor, a high-limit gaming area and a 12-table pit in addition to the current games already offered. The casino will also offer a new restaurant, lounge and gift shop.
Phase II has a scheduled completion date in spring 2013 and includes a hotel with 118 guest rooms and 12 suites, a 600-space parking garage, a restaurant/entertainment space and an updated Centerstage multipurpose event room.
The Pocola Casino is one of eight operated by the tribe. For more information visit www.choctawcasinos.com.
A Cultural Awakening – Keeping Choctaw Traditions Alive
By LARISSA COPELAND Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
The rich and diverse culture and language of this country’s Native American people is more than something to be put on display at weekend craft shows and expos or a hobby to pass the time – it’s a livelihood, an identity. Unfortunately, for many tribes, pieces of that identity have been lost or have been faded throughout the generations, and the Choctaw Nation is no different.
However, the Choctaw Nation is taking steps every day to reconnect current generations with their ancestral roots, and the tribe has placed the revitalization of its culture on the forefront of its priorities.
“My long-term vision is that every generation in the future is more self-sufficient and successful than the generation preceding,” says Chief Gregory E. Pyle. “To achieve this, it is important we understand the culture and history of the Choctaw people. It is vital that the traditions of our great tribe be sustained.”
Leaders of the tribe wanted to give members from coast to coast the opportunity to learn about and experience this living, thriving culture for themselves…so they took to the road. “Choctaw Days” is a name that has become synonymous with experiencing the culture and heritage of the Choctaw Nation. Choctaw Days festivals are celebrations of Choctaw history, art, dancing, language, music, food, and more, put on display at various locations across the nation and are presented by the passionate teachers, artists, dancers and craftsmen who make conserving Choctaw heritage a way of life.
In the past year, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma hosted the second annual Choctaw Days festival at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., held Choctaw Day at the State Capitol of Oklahoma, in San Francisco, Calif., Denver, Colo., Bakersfield, Calif., and many more cities across the nation and have a busy schedule slated for the next year.
An upcoming Choctaw Day event will be this Monday in Durant at Southeastern Oklahoma State University’s “Native November” celebration. The event is from 2:30-4:30 p.m. on Nov. 26 in the atrium of SE’s Glen D. Johnson Student Union, and will include demonstrations of Choctaw culture – including dancing, visual artists, beadwork, flute making, Choctaw language, storytelling and stickball. The event is free of charge and open to the public.
Also, the Choctaw Casino Resort’s 8th Annual Pow Wow is on Nov. 23-24 at the Choctaw Event Center in Durant. This pow wow has grown to become one of the largest pow wows in the nation and, along with the two days of dancing and vendors to visit, it will be the setting for many enlightening cultural experiences that are open to anyone who wishes to attend and learn about the tribe’s rich heritage, including Choctaw social dance presentations by the Choctaw Employee Dance Troupe, which is a group of volunteers made up of tribal employees who perform and teach the traditional dances. Additionally, the Cultural Services Department will give stickball presentations and two stickball teams will play a stickball exhibition game across the street from the Event Center. The Historic Preservation Department will also be at the two-day pow wow, giving demonstrations and teaching historic lessons about Choctaw pottery for all who would like to experience and learn more about the ancient art.
These actions are just a tiny snapshot of the huge picture; the efforts and undertaking the tribe is making to preserve its precious, priceless identity is vast and requires the dedication and hard work of so many.
All across the Choctaw Nation, classes, large and small, formal and informal, are being held to help pass down the traditional ways of life of those who came before us and instill in the children the need to continue to pass on this knowledge for generations to come.
From pottery and native art, to stickball and beadwork, the old ways of the Choctaw are making a comeback after being so close to becoming forgotten at one time.
One sacred element to the Choctaw culture is its language. The native language is spoken in the homes of many Choctaws, and has even earned the distinction of being named the first Native American language to be offered as a minor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. It is offered as a distance learning language option in more than 40 high schools and three colleges in Oklahoma as well.
The Choctaw Nation School of Choctaw Language offers classes, which are taught by certified language instructors who are eager to preserve and perpetuate the language and culture of the tribe. At present, the school has approximately 50 certified instructors who teach the language in communities all across the Choctaw Nation and beyond. For example, at the Choctaw Community Center in Antlers, certified language teacher Dora Wickson teaches two classes every week. Her beginner classes are on Mondays from 6 to 8 p.m., and advanced Choctaw classes are on Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m. These classes are open to the public. The course is 16 weeks long and is taught in four phases.
“We just started up a new class and it’s not too late to join us,” said Wickson. “We would love to have anyone that is interested in speaking the language to come out and learn Choctaw!”
The classes taught by Wickson and the numerous other certified Choctaw instructors are just one example of the numerous Choctaw language programs offered by the Choctaw Nation. To learn more, visit the School of Choctaw Language department website.
Traditional Choctaw dance is now being highlighted as well, most recently with the Choctaw Employee Dance Troupe. The group, organized by Choctaw Nation Marketing Director Lana Sleeper, is made up of tribal employees, all who volunteer their time, spending many hours each month practicing and perfecting the traditional dances they perform at community functions, such as parades, festivals or anywhere the group is invited to attend around the tribal area. “We do a short presentation,” Sleeper explains, “telling the story of each dance, then explaining the steps. We then perform and we pull in people from the crowd and have them dance with us!”
The dance group came about as part of Chief Pyle and Assistant Chief Batton’s cultural awakening initiative. “Only a small group of people knew these Choctaw social dances,” Sleeper continued, “and we wanted to spread that knowledge so that all Choctaws could learn the dances.”
Sleeper started a social dance program in 2009, but on a smaller scale – at the tribe’s 13 Head Start centers, making weekly visits to the classrooms to teach the dances to the students. It was because of her experiences while teaching the youngsters that she was inspired to organize the employee dance troupe. “It was then that I saw how many others wanted to learn the dances too,” she says, and that is when the dance troupe was formed. Approximately 14 employees from various departments dance in the group, all dressed in traditional Choctaw clothing, all of which is handmade, from the Choctaw diamond shirts and dresses, to the intricate beaded collars, necklaces and earrings. “I’m hoping in time we’ll grow, with more employee volunteers joining the group and learning the dances,” says Sleeper.
Also today, thanks to the nonprofit Chahta Foundation, the social dancing experience has now been extended even to those unable to attend the performances or presentations. The foundation recently produced an instructional dance DVD utilizing the talents of the group.
“The Head Starts actually use the DVDs now too,” says Sleeper, “The teachers lead the lessons and we provide the shirts for the children.”
The Choctaw Employee Dance Troupe will be performing in front of their largest audience to date as they perform in front of several thousand guests over the two-day span of the pow wow, and it will be the first time for the social dancing to be featured at the Durant event.
Additionally, the Choctaw Nation Historic Preservation Department works adamantly to ensure the traditions of the tribe are not lost by doing its part to pass on the many trades and ancestral skills of the Choctaw. One such craft is pottery.
The department hosts bi-weekly pottery classes in Antlers and Durant, free of charge for anyone who wants to attend and learn the skill. The two classes, held on alternating Thursdays, meet at the Antlers Public Library, located at 104 SE 2nd St., and in Durant at the Choctaw Cultural Services Building, at 4451 Choctaw Rd., from 5-8 p.m.
Students of the classes, which are led by Director of Historic Preservation Dr. Ian Thompson, are taught the traditional Choctaw methods of digging clay, cleaning clay, and preparing the appropriate materials, such as sand or mussel shell, to mix with the clay. They also learn traditional methods for making different types of Choctaw pottery, the traditional designs used on the pottery, how to fire the pottery in a wood fire, and how to cook in and eat out of the finished pottery, according to Thompson.
The class is open to and welcomes anyone, from beginner to advanced students, who are interested in learning the art of pottery. “The teachers and experienced students can teach people with any level of experience,” he says.
The department also teaches pottery at various locations around the area as requested. In addition to the pow wow presentation they are also slated to give lessons later this month at a Choctaw language class in Sherman, Texas, and anytime when requested.
In addition to the pottery classes, Historic Preservation and Cultural Services departments teach many programs throughout the year on the cultural ways of the Choctaw including moccasin-making, archery, bow-making, beading and basketry classes.
“We can also give presentations by request on the food, history and life ways of the Choctaw people,” says Thompson. More information can be found on the Choctaw Nation Cultural Services department website.
Employees of the Choctaw Nation have embraced the tribal heritage and the tribe has officially made the first Monday of each month “Heritage Monday” at all its office buildings. On that day, employees put forth a conscious effort to dress traditionally, greet guests in the native language and share the unique Choctaw culture through social dancing, history and storytelling, songs, crafts and traditional food.
No matter how large or small the endeavor, each act in this cultural awakening, this revitalization – this assurance that the history and characteristics that define who we are as a tribe and a people, are perpetuated, protected and maintained – will continue to be fuel in keeping the tribe alive and thriving for years to come and ensure a prosperous future generation of Choctaws.
Ryan Spring shares his knowledge of Choctaw weaponry with Bradley McMillian and Paul Buntz.
Southeastern OK State University hosts Choctaw Day on campus
Students get a hands on experience with traditional Choctaw culture
Southeastern Oklahoma State University’s (SE) observance of Native American History Month received a boost from the Choctaw Nation with a Choctaw Day event hosted on campus Monday, Nov. 26. Several cultural experts, artists and dancers filled the Glen D. Johnson Student Union atrium to share knowledge and demonstrate traditions of old.
“It’s a great thing,” said SE student John Crews who expressed his satisfaction with the event. “Though I am a Choctaw, I don’t get much exposure to the culture, so this is absolutely wonderful,” he continued.
Fellow student Erin McDaniel reflected the sentiment with, “It is really exciting to bring Choctaw culture to campus. In high school I didn’t get to experience it much, so having it on campus is great.”
Choctaw Day at SE was a cooperative effort between the Choctaw Nation and SE’s Native American Center. “We thought it would be a nice thing to include in Native November events,” stated academic advisor for SE’s Native American Center, Chantelle Standefer.
Previously in the month, Native American culture was celebrated with a host of events including “To Us It Wasn’t Code,” a play highlighting the Choctaw Code Talkers, a Native student visitation for high school students, and even traditional Choctaw cuisine served in the cafeteria.
“I think a lot of people seemed to enjoy it,” said Standefer. The Native American Center has received positive feedback from those who were in attendance and look forward to another Choctaw Day in 2013.
Monday’s event began in the early afternoon with Standefer presenting the opening remarks. She then turned over the mic to Choctaw language teacher, Lillie Roberts, who filled the room with the sounds of the Choctaw language as she lead the opening prayer, speaking in both Choctaw and English.
Miss Choctaw Nation Cheyenne Murray then displayed her vocal talents as sang the Lord’s Prayer in Choctaw. Following the song, Roberts involved the audience by teaching a small lesson on the Choctaw language, encouraging everyone to speak to one another.
Attention was then drawn to the middle of the room for the Choctaw dancers who demonstrated the Wedding, Stealing Partners and Snake dances. Many people were plucked from the crowd during the Stealing Partners and stayed to enjoy the Snake Dance.
Brad Joe, who had chanted during the dances, remained in front of the mic where he performed Amazing Grace with a handmade Choctaw flute. Then storyteller Terri Billy shared her knowledge of several Choctaw tales and concluded the presentation of Choctaw Day.
Visitors were then free explore various booths, ask questions and get a hands-on experience with Choctaw artifacts. Choctaw weaponry, pottery and basketry were among the exhibits.
More information on the Choctaw culture can be found by visiting choctawnation.com or by calling 800-522-6170.
The Choctaw dancers get the crowd involved
Choctaw Nation Strives to Improve Lives of Tribal and Non-Tribal Neighbors
The Choctaw Nation is far more than the third largest tribe in the United States. It is also far more than an owner of casinos in Oklahoma. And far more than a sovereign government with more than 6,000 employees with a payroll approaching $300 million.
The tribe, in fact, manages a rapidly diversifying group of businesses with a vast network of programs and initiatives that impact tribal and non-tribal people throughout the state and nation. In total the tribe’s activities and their indirect impact contribute nearly $2 billion in goods and services to the state’s economy.
“The story of the Choctaw Nation is one of constantly striving to improve the lives of our tribal members and all Oklahomans,” said Chief Gregory E. Pyle, who has overseen the explosive economic growth and business diversification of the tribe for the last 15 years.
Among the tribe’s non-gaming businesses are the nation’s leading Native American defense manufacturer, travel plazas, cattle ranches, a printing company, a major employment placement services for the federal government and others, a digital document storage company and others.
The profits of the varied businesses fund medical care access, educational advancement, social services and economic development opportunities for Oklahoma residents and Choctaw Nation citizens. In 2010, the study said, direct payments of $235 million were designated for those activities. The Choctaw Nation also brought in $27 million in federal funds for road and infrastructure improvements that Oklahoma residents otherwise would have had to pay.
“The Choctaw Nation is the biggest employer in Southeast Oklahoma and one of the biggest in the state,” said Assistant Chief Gary Batton. “We view that fact as a solemn responsibility to work with our neighbors, who are some of the poorest in the state, to improve economic conditions for the entire region.
Choctaw Nation Recycling to make an IMPACT in northeastern region of the Choctaw service area
Choctaw Nation Recycling will soon begin an ambitious new endeavor titled Choctaw Project IMPACT, which will focus on recycling efforts in the northeast portion of the Choctaw Nation.
The project will allow for a recycling center, similar to the existing location in Durant, which will serve as a hub for all mobile rollaway receptacles located in the area and be able to compact materials.
It is expected to be located in Poteau and functional in early January 2013, and will be able to process all types of paper, cardboard, tin/steel cans, aluminum cans, plastics (1, 2 and 5), printer cartridges and Styrofoam. It will be open to all residents and businesses in the community and is not limited to Choctaw Nation tribal members, employees or businesses.
IMPACT will also hire two new employees, create opportunities to educate communities and host special collection activities much like those hosted in Durant.
Collection events would include e-waste collection and recycling collection days where the staff will collect materials at a special location. Communities will be engaged by working with Girl/Boy Scouts, youth groups, senior citizens, etc., to help citizens learn more about the importance of recycling.
IMPACT is funded by a grant issued to Choctaw Recycling by Administration for Native Americans (ANA), Social and Economic Development Strategies (SEDS). The grant is set for $151,280 for the first year and will be funded at approximately the same rate for two additional years.
ANA is a part of the Department of Health and Human Services and has the mission to promote the goal of self-sufficiency for Native Americans by providing funding for community-based projects and for training and technical assistance to tribes and native organizations.
“Through the grant we expect to reach around 120,000 people,” stated Director of Project Management Tracy Horst. This recycling program is aimed at providing education and collection activities to divert recyclable waste from landfills or being dumped through our communities. These types of efforts will “definitely make a positive impact on community health and well-being,” continued Horst.
This effort will not only benefit the environment, but can also cut trash costs for businesses and individuals. Though Choctaw Nation already cooperates with businesses, it will be able to reach many more through the grant. “We look forward to speaking and working with clubs, schools and businesses within the northeast area of the Choctaw Nation,” remarked Horst.
If you would like to know more about the Choctaw Nation’s recycling efforts and how you can help, contact Tracy Horst at (580) 920-0488 or (800) 522-6170.
Matt Toone organizes shredded paper at the Durant Recycling Center.
Jennifer Rodriguez holds Josef as he meets her at the door.
Military mother’s surprise Christmas homecoming
Two young boys were overwhelmed when their Christmas wishes were granted early at the Choctaw Nation Head Start and Daycare in Durant. Their mother, Army 1st Lt. Jennifer Rodriguez, who has been deployed overseas since early 2012, surprised them during the center’s annual children’s Christmas program on Dec. 20.
“I feel like my heart is going to jump out of my chest,” said Jennifer as she eagerly awaited the time when she could reveal herself to the boys.
As the program came to an end, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” began to play and Jennifer walked through the door. Astonished, Jason, 6, and Josef, 4, almost seemed to not believe their eyes as they first gazed upon their mom.
As the realization of who had arrived took hold, the boys jumped from their positions among the children. Their faces displaying a mix of disbelief and excitement, they ran to their mother in the midst of a great applause by those in attendance.
The applause was loud and the hugs were long as shear joy of the reunion reminded the audience of how special the bond is between mother and child.
Josef leapt into his mother’s arms and the two became inseparable. When asked what he was going to do with mommy now that she is back, his response was simply, “Gonna give her hugs.”
Having their mother home was atop their Christmas list this year, making this a Christmas wish come true for both boys.
Jennifer is stationed in New York, and will travel back to the Northeast with her boys near the end of the month, but not before spending Christmas with them and family in Oklahoma. The family has many fun events scheduled during this time, including taking the boys to a Dallas Cowboys game.
Josef and Jason had been staying with their grandmother, Linda Gothard, in Durant since Jennifer left for duty in February. “I’m going to miss my boys, but I’m glad she is home,” stated Gothard, as she spoke about Josef and Jason going home with their mom.
The reunion on Thursday night was not only the first time to see her children since she had returned, but also her entire family. When she arrived at the program many friends and family greeted her as she attempted to contain her excitement before seeing her children.
After Jennifer was revealed, hugs, tears and affection surrounded her and the boys from family and friends alike. As the crowd cleared, Josef and Jason shared stories with their mother, telling her all the stories of how they missed her and their plans now that she has returned. Every onlooker could clearly see the joy in Jennifer’s face as she listened and held her little boys.
The 28-year-old finance officer, who was stationed in Bagram, Afghanistan, during her deployment, had the idea of surprising her children for some time. She arrived back in the United States on Dec. 9, but had been at a demobilization site out-processing until her big debut. She had to be careful about her location when speaking to the boys over Skype, as to not clue them in on the pending Christmas surprise.
Jennifer made plans to surprise them during a class period, but Donna Holder, director of the Choctaw Nation Day Care, suggested that she up the excitement and make it the showcase of the night at the Christmas program. The surprise was a success and everyone in attendance was able to witness a Christmas wish come true.
Recently, two members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Cultural Services team attended the Annual Native American Museum Studies Institute on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. Sue Folsom, Executive Director of Cultural Services, and Shelley Garner, Director of CAAE, were two of twenty-five participants chosen from a nation-wide pool of applicants. Other tribes attending included Pawnee, Hopi, Sac & Fox, Fort Sill Apache, Costanoan Ohlone, Inupait, Oglala Lakota, Spokane Tribe of Indians and Barona Band of Mission Indians. Other participants were staff members from Mission San Francisco de Asis (Mission Delores), the Southern Ninesan Maidu Museum, the MACT Health Board and the Californian State Indian Museum.
Folsom and Garner spent a week in intensive study with a wide array of tribal professionals and cultural innovators. The institute focused on topics related to the museum practices and cultural preservation. Presentation topics featured fundraising, grant writing, NAGPRA, museum curation, museum collections management software, conservation and care of objects, museum education and curriculum, museum law, exhibit design and digitizing collections. Also, on site clinics were held at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology (Berkeley) and Mission Delores (San Francisco).
The goal of the Joseph A. Meyers Center for Research on Native American Issues is to assist tribal professionals in networking and learning from each other in a shared environment. The annual Museum Studies Institute aims to help those working specifically in tribal museums, cultural centers, archives and other similar institutions to increase their level of knowledge, share tribally specific issues dealing with collections and best practices, and create a strong network of tribal professionals.
To learn more about Choctaw culture, visit www.choctawnationculture.com http://www.choctawnationculture.com . For details on the Joseph A. Meyers Center for Research on Native American Issues and the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues please visit http://crnai.berkeley.edu/about http://crnai.berkeley.edu/about .
Governor Bill Anoatubby,SE President Larry Minks, Chancellor Glen Johnson and Chief Gregory E. Pyle.
Southeastern OK State University’s Native American Center gets an upgrade
Students at Southeastern Oklahoma State University (SE) in Durant can now experience an ease of access to many resources offered by the university with the opening of its new Center for Student Success.
The center, located in the heart of the campus, is comprised of a group of campus programs, which includes the Native American Center for Student Success (NACSS), Academic Advising and Learning Center, among other programs. These university entities have been moved from separate parts of campus and brought together under one roof in the midst of the highest student traffic area on campus, meaning more attention and ease of access.
A large crowd was on hand as the Center for Student Success officially opened its doors on Jan. 24 with a ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony. The event began in the afternoon with a reception for guests, followed by a dedication service in the atrium of the student union. The sizable audience heard remarks from several state leaders, including Choctaw Nation Chief Gregory E. Pyle, Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, Oklahoma State Regent John Massey and former SE president and current Chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education Glen D. Johnson.
Following the dedication, patrons gathered to witness the ribbon cutting, officially opening of the newest addition to SE’s campus.
Many students who toured the NACSS were pleased to see the new accommodations. “It looks good,” said Dakota Estrada who was quite excited to see where he would be spending his time. Student worker Hailey Cusher followed Estrada by mentioning she preferred the new location, noting it is much easier to find.
The building that houses the center is the former location of the SE bookstore, which moved in 2007. The structure has since been unoccupied due to the requirement of extensive renovations. With those requirements fulfilled, activities will be able to occur in a prime position on campus, which is expected to draw more student interest.
“It is easier for them to find us and I feel like I make more connections here. Having advising so close definitely helps,” said Erin McDaniel, a peer advisor for the Choctaw Scholarship Advisement Program whose office is housed in the center.
The cohabitation of the building with other SE programs will allow more exposure of the center to Native students who may not have known the resources offered to them. The Academic Advising Center is a starting place for all new students, which had previously been on the opposite end of campus, meaning many new Native American students may have missed the original NACSS.
Now that these departments are in the same building, these students are sure to be fully aware of this significant resource they have at their disposal. “I’ve been able to see a lot more Native American Students,” stated academic advisor for the NACSS, Chantelle Standefer.
The previous NACSS helped to enroll students, assisted with schoolwork, and facilitated many events that promoted Native culture. The new facilities will serve all the same functions as well as add a computer lab, conference room, a lobby to serve as a meeting ground for Native American student groups, and more exposure for activities occurring there.
The new center will help “us better serve Native American students and make them more aware of the resources available to them,” mentioned Standefer.
Currently, 30 percent of student body is of Native American decent with Choctaw members comprising the largest of the tribes represented on campus. That 30 percent translates into about 1,100 students with Choctaws numbering over 500, according to Standefer. With Native American students being a large portion of the student body, the upgrade of the NACSS should see even more positive reception and use as time passes.
The new NACSS is filled with cultural artifacts, the majority from the Choctaw Nation, with many donated by the tribe and tribal members. Choctaw baskets, artwork and other artifacts such as stickball sticks line walls and fill display cabinets.
The renovation and relocation of offices was made possible by a combination of a U.S. Department of the Education grant written by SE staff and Chris Wesberry, director of the NACSS, and contributions from SE and other sources. The grant is currently in its second year of its five-year term with a goal of increasing the number of Native American graduates.
To find out more, visit NAC’s web page.
The applications for the Choctaw Nation Youth camps are now available.
Please visit Choctaw Youth Camps to download application.
For more information please contact Kevin Gwin at 800.522.6170.
Choctaw Nation Chief Gregory E. Pyle adds his signature to resolutions approved during the Five Civilized Tribes Inter-Tribal General Session on Friday in Durant. Photo by LISA REED/Choctaw Nation
Preparation is key to success
Economic development important to future of Oklahoma’s tribes
By LISA REED Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
A recurring theme emerged as leaders of the Five Civilized Tribes explored the future – the necessity of expanding economic development.
The Five Civilized Tribes Inter-Tribal Council met for two days in Durant, the top objective to improve services for their people. With expected cuts to federal budgets, the tribal representatives focused on how to continue programs providing assistance, health benefits, education and cultural awareness.
“The Inter-Tribal Council is one of the oldest organizations in Indian Country,” said Choctaw Nation Chief Gregory E. Pyle. “The unified effort of members of the council and its delegates is important in our communication on a state and federal level.”
A full day of committee discussions on Thursday opened the third quarterly meeting of the Inter-Tribal Council since it reconvened in June 2012. Staff from the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Seminole and Muscogee-Creek Nations formed work groups to share information and ideas on boosting tourism, housing, social services, communication technology, cultural preservation, transportation and more.
Pyle welcomed nearly 200 in attendance Friday at the council’s general session in the Choctaw Resort’s conference area. He highlighted the Choctaw Nation’s top priorities – education, health and jobs. The expansion of tribal business is vital to the success of enhancing the lives of tribal members. The impact is good for Oklahoma as well, providing much-needed jobs and generating positive economic activity.
Seminole Nation Chief Leonard Harjo, who has worked at the executive level for over 20 years, commented on the growth and progress among the five tribes, commending his peers for the strides that have been made carrying their people forward.
“We are well on the way to achieving our dreams,” he said of the Seminole Nation. “We opened the second expansion phase of our Seminole language immersion school two weeks ago. We will be able to have 18 children in the full immersion environment five days a week.”
Funding is available to provide classrooms and develop curriculum through third grade and the next phase will expand the immersion school through the sixth grade. Their goal is to eventually have a full immersion school available for pre-K through 12th grade.
“I have challenged our language program to create the opportunity for our tribal youth to be bilingual within 20 years,” Harjo said.
The commercial efforts of the tribes are what make this possible, especially with the looming issues of probable federal funding cuts due to the fiscal cliff. It will have an effect on everyone. Preparation is the key.
“Tribes are able to step up and help the federal government with the funding process,” explained Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby. By making choices and prioritizing, the tribes can still do what is needed because of the income from their businesses. Anoatubby said he remembers what it used to be like and is thankful for where the tribes are today. When the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 was implemented, a lot of changes took place in Indian Country.
“Today, we can say self-determination works, self-governance works,” he said.
Expanding tourism is a fast-growing solution to generating economic growth. Each tribal leader talked about the progress in Oklahoma, listing new ventures under way including unique enterprises such as the Chickasaw Nation’s Welcome Center at the intersection of Interstate 35 and Highway 7. The Chickasaws’ Bedré Chocolate factory will be relocated to the new center, considered a “gateway for travelers.”
“When our tribes are successful, Oklahoma is successful,” said Muscogee-Creek Chief George Tiger, who is currently serving as chairman of the Inter-Tribal Council’s executive committee. The Muscogee-Creek Nation is following a new path in developing a Department of Energy and establishing a utility company. Tiger said small business is also a driving force in Indian Country and has partnered with Oklahoma Small Business Development Center to assist tribal citizens with starting a business.
He introduced U.S. Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn who reiterated the importance of increasing tribal land and employment. Washburn told the group that around 197,000 acres had been restored to tribes in trust status last year. “We consider restoring the land to tribal homelands one of our great successes,” Washburn said. “We want to keep that success going forward.”
The tribes are striving to maintain the upward momentum – a force fueling the prosperity of communities throughout the state.
Inter-Tribal Council approves resolutions
• Res. 13-01 – establishing a Standing Committee of Social Services to address issues concerning the social and economic well-being of Indian communities.
• Res. 13-02 – in support of the position of the Indian Child Welfare Act and of the position of the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation citizens concerning the case of Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl, et al.
• Res. 13-03 – supporting and urging the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Board of Bar Examiners work together with the Oklahoma Bar Association Indian Law Section to include Indian law principles and subject matter on the Oklahoma Bar Exam.
• Res. 13-04 – to establish a Standing Enrollment Committee, recognizing that tribal enrollment is the baseline for the Nations to exercise sovereignty, perform commerce-related activities, preserve and protect culturally significant sites; and the vital role of enrollment services and their contributions to each tribe’s sovereignty and existence.
• Res. 13-05 – establishing a standing committee who addresses regulations and issues pertaining to the field of environmental protection.
• Res. 13-06 – establishing a Standing Committee of Health to address health-related policies and programs promoting the common welfare of American Indians.
• Res. 13-07 – supporting negotiated rulemaking of the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA).
• Res. 13-08 – establishing a Standing Realty Trust Services Committee.
• Res. 13-09 – recommending and addressing the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act.
• Res. 13-10 – to continue financial support for the annual To Bridge a Gap Conference during which the U.S. Forest Service, tribal governments and federal agencies and offices gather to discuss issues relevant to historic preservation and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
• Res. 13-11 – supporting the position of the Cherokee Nation in opposition to the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit’s application of ex parte Young to tribal sovereignty.
The Cherokee Nation is scheduled to host the next quarterly meeting of the Inter-Tribal Council in April.
Miss Choctaw Nation Cheyenne Murray and Melissa Jones keep up the pace in the Snake Dance.
Click the link below for a video
Choctaw Nation heads west to revive culture
By BRET MOSS Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Choctaw Nation traveled west last weekend to visit tribal members in San Diego, Calif., and Phoenix, Ariz., all in an effort to bring members of the tribe together and revive the ways of the traditional Choctaw.
Many Choctaws from both locations gathered to meet with Chief Gregory E. Pyle, Assistant Chief Gary Batton and cultural experts from among the tribe. Patrons who had signed up in advance were able to attend a bead working class facilitated by members of the Cultural Services Department.
“It’s fun, I think I have a new hobby,” said Kimberly Kogler of Oceanside, Calif., as she concentrated on her beading project. Kimberly attended the event with her mother to satisfy their yearning to learn more about their heritage. “We always look for the Southern California Choctaw events so we can go,” continued Kimberly.
“I have always seen these [types] earrings and wondered how they are made,” said Leilani Hernandez of Phoenix, who came with her good friend, Summer Alahdali. Both girls were excited to learn a new skill, stating, “This might inspire me to do more beading.”
Larry Lambert, a Phoenix resident and new member of the Choctaw Nation, was also in attendance for the beading class. “It is an art and people that do that have lots of patience,” he stated.
“I couldn’t make it to Oklahoma, so I am glad you came here,” said Larry, who had looked forward to the meeting and learning about many different aspects of his Choctaw heritage. He mentioned that he had been reading a copy of the Choctaw dictionary, studying the language of his tribe, and was excited to speak with language experts.
“If you are lucky enough to have ancestors who are Native Americans, take advantage of it,” said Larry as he discussed how proud he was of his lineage, and the rich background that comes with a family tree with native roots.
Along with the revived traditions and knowledge brought by the Choctaw Nation to the west, another benefit for patrons of these meetings was the gathering of locals with similar heritage. As the meetings hit their attendance peak, hundreds of Choctaws accumulated, displaying just how large a portion of the local population shares the same background.
Two guests of the meeting with a distinguished history, Anna Hennessy and Barbara Weaver, attribute their friendship to a Choctaw connection. Nearly two years ago, Anna placed a note on Barbara’s car window telling her that she was Choctaw and left contact info. The two met up and have been friends ever since, attending Choctaw functions together.
“I was parked at a shopping mall parking lot, and when I came out I found a note on the window that said, ‘I am Choctaw also,’” stated Barbara. Anna knew of Barbara’s connection to the Choctaw Nation because of a Choctaw vanity plate. “I got out of my car, was walking across the parking lot, and right there, ‘Choctaw,’” exclaimed Anna. “I could not pass that up,” she continued.
Local Choctaw artist George Willis was able to demonstrate his talents to those in attendance of the San Diego meeting. George resides in Carlsbad, Calif., and is a craftsman who makes jewelry and small sculptures from an array of raw materials.
“I work in a lot of different ways,” George stated. Many techniques are used in his pieces, including what he calls, pierce and apply, which he utilizes when creating his pictorial artwork from multiple sheets of metal. He cuts the scene from one piece of metal and then carefully applies it to another with a strong form of solder, then adds the details and texture by hand.
When making scenic pieces, George always includes a piece of gold in a tiny detail in his work. He is also very precise in how he depicts his scenes. “I have more research time than bench time,” he stated as he explained that a great deal of time goes into finding out how to correctly depict his subjects. George elaborated on a particular piece, which included Choctaw Code Talkers, saying he had to pay attention to every detail, from the guns used to the hats worn in the set.
George is also quite skilled with buffalo horn. He is able to transform a rugged and harsh horn into a beautiful piece of jewelry. Precise cutting and sanding are involved in this work, which he mentioned could create quite a stench. George laughed as he told about the smell, but admitted the end product was well worth the toil.
The meetings also featured an opening prayer, presented in both English and Choctaw, a language lesson from Choctaw language instructor Lillie Roberts, dances from the Choctaw traditional dancers and musical entertainment provided by chanter and bead artist Brad Joe and Miss Choctaw Nation Cheyenne Murray.
“It was really fun,” mentioned San Diego resident Sara Shelden, who was “stolen” during the Stealing Partners dance and tested her speed in the Snake dance. Sara was one of many audience members who were able to actively participate during the demonstration of the age-old ways.
In the midst of the occasion, Chief Pyle and Assistant Chief Batton spoke to their fellow Choctaws, telling them of the many strides the Choctaw Nation is making, not only in keeping its culture alive, but flourishing in present customs. Chief Pyle spoke of the Choctaw businesses’ ability to turn a profit during a recession and the programs that were made possible by the success of Choctaw endeavors.
He made mention of programs such as the STAR Program that encourages Choctaw students everywhere to participate and try their best in school, leading to brighter futures for the youth of the nation. He spoke of opportunities provided by programs and what it means in the lives of the Choctaw people.
Among all the activities provided, a favorite of the crowd was getting to speak and take a picture with Chief Pyle and Assistant Chief Batton. Guests were able to meet and visit with both before and after the meeting, sharing stories of their families, histories, as well as compliments and concerns for the tribe.
“It is always good to get a perspective from our members who are not here in Oklahoma. They are a big part of the tribe and we want to reach out to them as well, stated Chief Pyle as he spoke about his trip west. “It was a great trip. I’m glad we are able to bring our culture across the United States,” he concluded.
Chief Pyle and Adolphus Lee, 80, have their picture taken at the Mesa meeting. Adolph was born in Oklahoma and moved to Arizona when he was a young child.
By LISA REED, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
“Sidney White sticks” – It’s a term synonymous with perfection to most who play stickball.
Born in 1889, Sidney White lived a long and active life and is well-known for his expertise in many things, but especially for the strong, distinctive sticks he made for stickball players. There aren’t many of Sidney’s sticks around any more. Those in possession of them know what a treasure they have.
A pair of Sidney’s sticks hangs in the Choctaw Nation Capitol Museum.
“Daddy never made a pair of sticks he didn’t intend to be played with,” said Folsom White of Clayton, remembering the care his father put into creating each one. Folsom and his mother, Mary, recently sat in the living room of her home in Tuskahoma and shared memories of working alongside Sidney. Their main contribution was to cut hickory trees and split the wood.
“We didn’t have chainsaws,” Folsom explained about this time as a young boy in the ’60s and ’70s. “We used crosscut saws, wedges, sledge hammers. Me and Mama would use the crosscut saws to cut down the trees.”
Mary chimed in with a laugh and said she was always scared of the falling trees. Folsom and Mary did what they could to help, though.
Once the tree had been split and Sidney had rasped a piece down to the thickness he wanted, he would rub used motor oil on the wood.
After building a fire, Sidney would heat the stick then rub the motor oil deep into the grain, heat then rub. He would start bending one end a little at a time to form the cup, adding just the right bit of flare to make the stick better at handling the ball.
“The prettiest sticks Daddy made were when he used heat and oil,” Folsom described. The oil would seep deep into the wood and as the sticks aged, the oil would become dark-ribboned patterns.
“He would go to boot shops and different places to get good scrap leather,” Folsom said. “He had a little knife about that long,” his fingers drawing a 3- to 4-inch half-of-a-heart-shaped blade in the air. “Daddy would tie the leather around a tree or something stationary, hold that knife straight out in front of him and walk backwards – 100 to 200 feet if he had room. That’s how he cut the strips of leather.”
The leather is used to make a lacing inside the cup and for holding down the end of the stick as it loops around.
Every one of Sidney’s sticks took on a unique shape. He didn’t make them in pairs. He would finish one and set it aside. When he was ready – sometimes two, three or four weeks later – he would make a stick to pair with another.
“When he made sticks that were a good pair, you could set your hand down on that thumb,” Folsom’s left hand met his right thumb as he held two sticks up, “and the cups would fit together, with one about 3/4 inch longer.”
Sidney’s knowledge of the game was ingrained in his very being as deeply as the texture weaving through the hickory he used. He wrote two publications about the game, “Stickball” and “Tolih.”
A descriptive excerpt from “Stickball” reads:
“In my time an Indian ball game was equal to a county picnic. A lemonade stand or two were set up. A watermelon farmer would bring a wagonload of melons and sell out during the game. A hard-fought or well-matched game would often last a whole afternoon.
“The people would travel in wagons, buggies and on horseback and pitch two separate campgrounds near springs or on the banks of two clear water streams in order to have good camp water.
“Small personal articles were bet on a game of tolih. A man rode at high speed on a good horse from camp to camp to collect the bets. Horses were bet and guns of all styles and calibers. Then all articles were put in a bounty wagon near the middle ground. …”
Folsom said there wasn’t a lot of interest in playing stickball when he was young, but his dad would gather up some of the boys and try to get them to play. Sidney would have been about 80 years old at that time.
It was a team sport, but more about one-on-one competition back then, utilizing each player’s individual skills. Sidney would line the kids up and let them know who was responsible for defending another player.
Sidney taught them how to throw, how to pick up the ball with the sticks while on the run. He taught them to play hard but wouldn’t tolerate intentionally hurting other players.
“When (David) Gardner was elected chief, Cleland Billy and a teacher from Jones also got involved,” Folsom said. “Once other adults were involved, a stickball team was put together. During warm months we would meet at the Council House.”
Folsom was among a small group invited to play stickball during the United States’ Bicentennial Celebration on July 4, 1976, in Washington, D.C.
“For a young country kid, it was something else,” Folsom said, still feeling the excitement of being a 17-year-old on a trip across the country to the nation’s capitol. “It was a good experience. All of the Civilized Tribes had a team there.”
The stickball teams took turns in round-robin play where each team competed against each other once, demonstrating the game of their ancestors beside the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall.
“We had some good games,” Folsom remembered, “and the Creek team gave us some competition,” he added with a laugh.
“We started showing off a bit and would get set up with someone on the other team. We would knock each other into the pool. We also broke the goal down once. We had a great time!”
A difference noted in the game then compared to today’s way of playing is that no one blocked the goal. It remained open. Sidney would tell the players that hitting the goal was part of the skill they wanted to show each other and the public. To make a score or “kill the ball” it should strike the pole on the facing side and fall to the ground in the inner court. Teams now have goalies.
Also in Sidney’s time, players could throw the sticks and the ball up against the goal to score which isn’t allowed today.
Choctaw historian Olin Williams said change comes with every generation.
“Anything that’s alive grows and changes,” Williams explained. “After stickball became looked at more as a sport, changes began taking place. Each generation adds something they see of value.”
Sidney White added more than his share to stickball during his lifetime. He contributed to the history of the tribe’s ancestral game both in the ways he taught and in the beautifully crafted sticks, testament to his deep understanding of what it means to play.
Community leaders from the Atoka area dedicate one of the six storm shelters at the Hillcrest Baptist Church in Atoka.
Atoka community leaders install six new storm shelters
By BRET MOSS Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Though it has been nearly two years since an EF3 tornado marred the city of Tushka, work towards full recovery and heightened safety measures have not ceased in Atoka County. Community leaders gathered March 5 to dedicate six new storm shelters dispersed throughout the Tushka/Atoka area.
The shelters are large underground cellars designed to hold a considerable number of people in case of another tornado. They are located at:
• Pleasant View Freewill Baptist Church located at 503 Star Rd., Atoka
• New Zion Methodist Church located on Boggy Depot Rd. East, near Forrest Hill Rd.
• Posey Park located on the East side of Atoka on the corner of Kentucky and B St.
• The old Choctaw Community Center located at 1410 S. Gin Rd., Atoka
• Southside Baptist Church located at 1200 South McNally Dr., Atoka
• Hillcrest Baptist Church located at 335 E Highway 3, Atoka
Two of the shelters measure 6-by-6-by-16 ft., with the remaining four measuring 6-by-6-by-24 ft. All shelters are FEMA approved and are highly capable of protecting occupants from strong winds. The cellars are buried deep in the ground with concrete filling the bottom portion around the metal casing, anchoring it firmly in the earth.
According to Pastor Victor Cook, member of Atoka County Tornado Organization for Recovery (ACTOR), the shelters are designed to comfortably hold 12 people in the smaller cellars and 25 in the large ones. He went on to mention that even though these were the numbers assigned to the shelters, many more would be able to access safety during emergencies.
The shelters were purchased from Standard Machine in McAlester and installed by Keith Southerland, both of whom, according to Cook, worked favorable deals for the community. The purchasing and installation price summed up to $50,480, slightly more than the funds remaining from the Reba McIntire and Blake Shelton benefit concerts hosted at the Choctaw Event Center following the devastation of 2011.
Picking up the remainder of the bill was the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. “We are so grateful for the Choctaw Nation, we couldn’t have done this without them,” said ACTOR member Dr. Steve Havener, as he addressed Choctaw Nation’s Atoka County Councilman Anthony Dillard during the dedication. “We do appreciate all the tribe has done,” echoed LaQuita Thornley.
“Everybody has really been excited to get the cellars,” stated Cook. It is going to benefit a lot of people, because many residents don’t have their own storm shelters, he continued as he discussed the community’s need for this improvement.
According to Cook, the locations were selected based on the disbursement throughout the community as well as the availability of entities to maintain and supervise them. He stated that the churches and the city have been cooperative in accepting responsibility for the shelters, both in the upkeep and manning them in cases of emergency.
The installment of the shelters came as the third project made possible by the benefit concerts, where over $500,000 was raised. The first two projects were to first get people back into their homes and second to clean up the immediate devastation.
These first two steps were extensive, requiring both a large amount of time and money. Through this work, the ACTOR was assembled. ACTOR has been behind much of the recovery and the planning for future readiness. ACTOR was formed by INCA Community Services, a national community action agency that took the reins once FEMA finished its immediate aid.
INCA has been the administration behind much of the relief efforts. It organized volunteer work, making sure everyone was working in the most effective way to rebuild, and handled the funds used to do such work. Six core personnel with 30 volunteers comprise the INCA efforts involved in rebuilding the Tushka area. INCA also assisted ACTOR by coordinating bids for the shelters and helping find the locations.