Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

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Miss Choctaw Nation Cheyenne Murray and Melissa Jones keep up the pace in the Snake Dance.
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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.

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“I have always seen these [type] 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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.