Debbie Damron explains about Choctaw baskets to a fascinated little visitor.
Culture at the Capitol
Choctaw Days’ third installment in Washington, D.C.
The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) hosted its third installment of Choctaw Days, June 20 and 21, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C. The event is one of the CNO’s largest exhibitions of culture and tradition, aimed to educate and immerse patrons in what it truly means to be Choctaw.
“We are always striving to keep our culture alive and strong. We love to share it near and we love to share it far, meeting new Choctaw faces all along the way,” stated Chief Gregory E. Pyle.
During this time, members of CNO occupied the museum’s large atrium, the Potomac Room, and numerous staples of Choctaw culture were showcased. Aspects of the Choctaw way of life included stickball, social dances, storytelling, beadwork and ceremonies. Each day consisted of three presentations of time-honored traditions with time to meet cultural experts filling the moments between.
“We are always glad to have the Choctaws in town,” said Kevin Gover, director of NMAI, as he addressed the audience. He went on to mention that Choctaw Days was one of the highlights of the museum during the year. Everyone in the booth is so engaging and happy, which creates a pleasant atmosphere and encourages guests to learn more, said Gover.
“When we heard Choctaw Days was going on, we wanted to make sure we made it out,” stated Brad Rauh from Clemson, S.C., who was in town with his family for a visit. Patrons of the museum showed a pleasurable reception to the event, everyone enjoying the various exhibitions of Choctaw culture.
Each morning the Choctaw princesses initiated the day’s activities by presenting the Lord’s Prayer in sign language, began the midday production with the Four- Directions ceremony, and concluded the day with a special presentation.
Bead-working classes presented by CNO’s Office of Historic Preservation were offered throughout both days on the third floor of the building. Guests were taught to bead bracelets and turtles, which were chosen because of their significance to the tribe.
“It is very intricate,” stated Rebecca Gelfond who is from Maryland, but has family in the Choctaw Nation boundaries. Gelfond’s children, Max and Julia, accompanied her in learning beadwork and seemed to have a knack for the art. “Given Julia’s fascination and success, I suspect we will be [beading again],” she laughed.
Social dances are an integral part to all Choctaw cultural gatherings and Choctaw Day was no different. Dancers energized the room with their quick steps and bright colors, pulling in members of the audience for impromptu appearances in the Raccoon, Stealing Partners and Snake Dances. “It’s a different, more organic rhythm,” stated Kandall Masada, a ballet dancer from Texas.
Stickball was a favorite of the youth in the crowd. Students from various educational groups would overtake the floor following the presentation to try their hand at the ancient sport, which is responsible for today’s lacrosse. Billy Eagle Road III and Jared “Pinti” Tom would give demonstrations, sharing stories of their games with Tvshka Homma, CNO’s official tribal stickball team. “I was totally fascinated by stickball,” exclaimed Kelly McHugle.
Special presentations also graced the floor of the Potomac, including the lively stories of Tim Tingle. An award-winning author, Tingle has the ability to get the crowd energized and active through his stories, which often include a combination of Choctaw lore and history. Tingle told guests of the NMAI the story of how rabbit lost his tail, as well as the saga of Bigfoot and the Choctaw princess.
Miss Choctaw Nation Cheyenne Murray, beadwork artist and chanter Brad Joe, and Broadway actor Aaron Umsted lent the audience their voices for solo performances at various times during the event. Each performer owned their own sound, but each sang completely in the Choctaw language, creating a totally Choctaw experience.
Videos of the event recorded by the Smithsonian will be posted soon, so keep an eye on our Choctaw Facebook.
Lana Sleeper, MaiMouna Youseff and Cheyenne Murray are all smiles during the Snake Dance.