Celebrate in Chickasaw Country!
November is Native American Heritage Month, the perfect time to dive into rich Chickasaw culture and the prolific contributions made to our nation’s history.
Regarded as the “Spartans of the Lower Mississippi Valley,” the Chickasaws were strong hunters and skilled agrarians, in addition to being warriors who fought alongside the English in the French and Indian War. Some historians cite the Chickasaws’ influence in the victory over the French in battle for the lower Mississippi as a factor in why the U.S. is an English-speaking country.
After being removed from their original home in present-day Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky, the Chickasaws created a home in Oklahoma in the mid-1800s with a sovereign government, a national capitol and an unconquerable spirit.
Today, the Chickasaw Cultural Center tells this incredible story through a Smithsonian-caliber experience meant to entertain, educate and enlighten visitors from around the world. Come along as we explore some of the Chickasaw People’s shining culture.
A World-Class Destination
Spreading across 184 acres, this state-of-the-art campus is one of the largest cultural centers in the U.S. The story of the Chickasaw people unfolds before your eyes through powerful performances, reenactments, demonstrations, collections and exhibits. Campus grounds combine natural architecture and beautiful scenery as the setting for visitors of all ages to explore centuries of adventure and authentically experience the Heartbeat of a Nation.
Interactive Exhibit Center
Chikasha Poya – “I am Chickasaw”
The Chikasha Poya Exhibit Center houses an array of interactive exhibits that capture the vibrancy of the Chickasaw people. You’ll start in the Council House Orientation Theater, which hosts showings of “Chickasaw Renaissance,” a short film designed to welcome guests to the Chickasaw Cultural Center.
Wander through the inspiring Spirit Forest, alive with light, color and sound. The Itti’ Anonka’ Nannakat Oktani – or “Spirit Forest” – showcases the Chickasaws’ treasured bond with the natural world.
First American interactive stations, reproductions and fascinating displays fill the Exhibit Gallery before entering the Removal Corridor and Stomp Dance areas. This is where you see the Chickasaws’ ability to express emotion through dance and song. Artwork, sounds and stories walk visitors through the difficult route thousands of First Americans took after the Indian Removal Act passed in 1830.
Traditional Demonstrations in the Living Village
Cultural demonstrations like Stomp Dance, language lessons, storytelling and cooking demonstrations energize the Chikasha Inchokka’ (“Chickasaw house”) Traditional Village. It’s an incredible recreation of a 1750s First American village featuring a Council House, two summer houses, two winter houses, corn crib and the Spiral Garden.
The garden grows squash, corn and beans – the Three Sisters – according to the ancient method of intercropping to allow each plant to nurture the others. The corn grows tall, giving the beans space to vine while squash shelters the soil’s moisture below.
See how the Three Sisters are still prevalent today in traditional foods like Three Sisters Stew.
The Chickasaw Cultural Center hosts a variety of events that showcase artistry that has been honed over centuries. These events allow the public to support First American artists and enjoy intricate, handmade jewelry, accessories and textiles from notable and up-and-coming artists. Seeing this kind of creativity up close offers an inspiring, and tangible connection to Chickasaw culture, and we recommend joining if you haven’t yet.
Fine Native Art
Fine Art Galleries at the Cultural Center house rotating art collections that reinforce Chickasaw artists’ pride and identity in their culture through individual expression in contemporary art. The Aaittafama’ Room and Aapisa’ Art Gallery showcase the art Chickasaw people have created for centuries, like ceramics, jewelry, carvings and woven crafts.
Donna Welch/Dancing Star is a Chickasaw artist with 20 years of artistic talent in creating fine gourd art. Chickasaws used gourds in their homes to store seeds or precious items, as well as for drums. Gourds were and continue to be versatile for utilitarian and creative purposes.
As Donna Welch/Dancing Star shares in the video above, it’s satisfying to see these modern-day art pieces come alive, as the gourd was once alive and now takes new life as fine art.
Looking down from the 40-foot-tall Sky Bridge, you might catch a traditional game of Stickball in the Living Village. The game, also known as “little brother of war,” has been handed down from generation to generation. Stickball games date back to the early 18th century, as stickball was historically played to settle conflicts over land and politics between Native American tribes.
Played on a field similar to a football field, team members take turns lobbing a ball made of scrapped deer skin that’s been dampened and filled with a rounded rock using wooden stickball sticks to score points hitting the top of the pole. Chickasaws play today both for fun during festivals and in times of celebration, but also in tournaments that help preserve this tradition. The Chickasaw Nation provides stickball playing opportunities for citizens of all ages and the community at large with two competitive teams for youth and adult men and women.
Honoring Chickasaw Leaders
Chickasaw warriors were known as the “Lords of the Mississippi,” tasked with guarding their homelands from invaders who aren’t good stewards of the land’s natural resources.
Standing proud over the Cultural Center grounds is “The Warrior,” which represents a time before European contact in 1540. Created by Enoch Kelley Haney, a former Oklahoma legislator and Principal Chief of the Seminole Nation, this copper replica represents the fierceness of tashka’ Chikasha (“Chickasaw warriors”) in battle and the resilient spirit of the Chickasaw Nation.
In the Aaholiitobli’ Honor Garden, native plants and beautiful stone architecture set the scene for a tribute to the Chickasaw leaders, elders and warriors that made the tribe the proud and vibrant people they are today. Spiraling pathways lead visitors through a peaceful area featuring laser-cut photos of every Chickasaw Hall of Fame inductee.
Honor courses through the entire Cultural Center campus along with the longstanding idea that leaving things better than you find them is vital for the preservation of culture and government sovereignty for future generations.
First American Genealogy
Inside the 20,000-square-foot Holisso: The Center of Study for Chickasaw History and Culture lies a library of Chickasaw and Southeastern genealogy. The Research Center features artifacts, photo archives and historical documents in addition to oral history workshops, digitization events, lecture series, conferences, roundtables and book signings.
Anyone is free to make an appointment to view genealogy records and connect with historical First American accounts passed from generation to generation. For additional research or to browse the online catalog, visit cncc.chickasaw.net.
We’ve explored some of the rich Chickasaw Nation history and culture, but there is much more to experience once you step foot onto the Chickasaw Cultural Center. We hope you’ll consider planning a visit here this Native American Heritage Month.
Have questions? Let us know in the comments below.