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Choctaw Days in Washington, D.C.

Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian hosting four-day Choctaw festival in June

By LISA REED

Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

Thousands of people from around the world will soon have the opportunity to absorb the sights, sounds and culture of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the Choctaw Nation are working together to provide a memorable experience for visitors and those who live in the Washington, D.C. area. The Choctaw Days event will be held June 22-25 during NMAI’s height of the tourist season when an average of 1,500 visitors come to the museum every day.

Presley ByingtonFlute maker Presley Byington.

“We are honored to be the first American Indian tribe from Oklahoma to have a festival of this kind at the National Museum of the American Indian,” said Chief Gregory E. Pyle. “I remember when the museum opened on the National Mall almost seven years ago and I have visited NMAI numerous times since. It is a remarkable place, showcasing hundreds of tribes from South, Central and North America.

“We have assembled several of our best artists, dancers, singers and cultural experts. We know that we will have a different audience than we are accustomed to and want to ensure that they all understand just how special our tribe is,” he said.

Choctaw Days will begin each morning with the melodic chanting of Ron McKinney and the fluid movements of the Choctaw Youth Dancers in front of the museum’s east entrance. The boys and girls, in colorful traditional shirts and dresses, will perform the jump dance, the quick steps and shouts of the fast war dance, and the stealing partners dance with audience interaction. The snake dance will end outside but more singing, dancing, fluteplaying and storytelling will be featured every hour.

Vonna and ShirleyShirley Barboan and Vonna Shults
create Choctaw menu items.

NMAI Executive Chef Richard Hetzler is working with Vonna Shults and Shirley Barboan to provide 10 Choctaw-related dishes in the Mitsitam Native Foods Café. The top-notch restaurant, located on the first floor of the museum, features authentic Native foods found throughout the Western Hemisphere. During the week of Choctaw Days, the menu will include fried salt pork, pinto beans, tanchi labona, fried rabbit, rabbit gumbo, braised venison, banaha Indian bread, grape dumplings, wild onions and eggs, and pumpkin soup. Chef Richard will also bring a portable station out among visitors to cook samples of the dishes at 11:30 a.m. on both Wednesday and Saturday.

Booths will be set up in and around the Potomac circle just inside the museum’s front doors where visitors can view the intricacies of basket weaving by Eveline Steele, modern and traditional bead working by Marcus Amerman and Roger Amerman, flute making by Presley Byington, and pottery making by Ian and Amy Thompson.

Cultural exhibits by Regina Green, director of the Choctaw Nation Museum in Tushka Homma, and traditionalist Les Williston will explain the craftsmanship and skills our ancestors displayed in everyday life with such items as tools, weaponry, clothing, basketry and pottery.

Two of the Choctaw Nation’s many exceptional artists will have their work showcased at this festival. Paul King, whose award-winning work is featured as the branding image of Choctaw Days 2011, will have several pieces on hand. Gwen Coleman Lester, another exemplary award-winning Choctaw artist, will have several paintings, prints and hand-painted gourd Christmas ornaments on display.

Regina GreenRegina Green shows
museum items to be
on display.

The Choctaw Nation Cultural Events Department will be holding make-and-take sessions on the third floor of the museum. All ages are invited to create a basket, clay pot or piece of beadwork. The daily sessions will be held 10 a.m.-12 p.m. session and 2 p.m.-4:30 p.m.

“It is a great chance for the whole family to do something together,” said Cultural Events Executive Director Sue Folsom, “and they will have a small sample of Choctaw culture to take home with them.”

The “Choctaw Code Talkers” and “The Long Walk” films will loop continuously in the Rasmuson Theater on the first floor of the museum. At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, the videos will be turned off for a theatrical re-enactment of a Choctaw wedding. From the first glance shared between the couple to the wrapping of the blanket around their shoulders and the wedding dance, visitors will have the opportunity to watch the centuries-old symbolic actions of a traditional Choctaw wedding.

“The revival of the Choctaw culture and language is something we are proud of,” said Chief Pyle. “Online language instructor Lillie Roberts will have a table with information on the different types of Choctaw language classes that are available.

Marcus AmermanMarcus Amerman works on
beadwork creation.

“There will also be a computer set up so that visitors can have the opportunity to interact with a language instructor in Oklahoma, similar to our One-Net classes held in schools throughout Southeastern Oklahoma,” he said.

A favorite of any festival is its storytellers and two of Choctaw Nation’s finest have agreed to be at Choctaw Days. Tim Tingle and Greg Rodgers are not only recognized for their unique tales, personal appearances and books. They have been instrumental in sharing both the history and recent accomplishments of the tribe with school children throughout the United States.

Choctaw Days at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian is a celebration of the strength and perseverance of an exceptional people, combining the old and the new so that all will leave with an enlightened perspective of a tribe who continues to grow with pride, hope and success.