The visitors from OU are welcomed to the Choctaw capitol grounds by Regina Green, who gives them a lesson on Choctaw history and culture in the capitol building while in traditional dress.
OU students learn how water has shaped Choctaw culture, past and present
BRET MOSS Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
It’s no secret that water is a precious resource to Oklahoma, one that is in the forefront of Choctaw Nation’s preservation efforts. The water in southeast Oklahoma affects much more than just the drinking habits of the people – it has strong ties to the past, present and future of the Choctaw people.
Recently, a handful of University of Oklahoma students traveled to the capitol grounds of the Choctaw Nation in Tushka Homma to learn just how deep the water runs in the culture of the Choctaw people.
The students, who are enrolled in an applied climatology class, were invited to the capitol because they are partnering with the Choctaw Nation in developing its sustainable water plan and drought planning process.
These students have been charged with the task of gathering data on factors that influence the climate in the area. The group requested a visit to Choctaw Nation to get a better feel for the area they were to be researching, and see first-hand the water’s influence on the environment.. Several cultural experts on differing aspects gathered to accommodate this request, assuring a well-rounded glimpse into the Choctaw Nation for the students.
Choctaw baskets, weapons and pottery were displayed to demonstrate how water affects many staples of Choctaw culture. River cane and cattails grow only in the specific conditions created by water in the Southeastern region of the United States, and these are the resources used to create many Choctaw items.
The availability of these objects and other substances such as clay for traditional Choctaw pottery are afforded by the water conditions in the Choctaw Nation. The students were able to get a hands-on feel for the products of the conditions they are currently investigating.
The work being done by the climatology class is part of a project constructed by Director of Research for South Central Climate Science Center, Renee McPherson, Ph. D., to enable the students to make serious contributions in their field of study.
Choctaw Nation is part of a league of government and academic entities which helped create the new South-Central Climate Research Center that will, according to OU’s website, “address the topics of climate variability and change.” Other members in this consortium are Texas Tech University, Louisiana State University, The Chickasaw Nation, Oklahoma State University, and NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.
The efforts of the this climate research center and those of the class which traveled to the Choctaw capitol will provided Choctaw Nation with valuable information to help construct a water plan that is beneficial to everyone in Oklahoma as well as sustainable for future generations.
Brian McClain takes the group to the edge of the Kiamichi river to explain how quickly the water passes through the area.
Ryan Spring tells about the Choctaw arrow and the necessity for river cane in its creation. He explains that this particular type of river cane only grows in the southeastern portions of the United States, and nowhere else in the world. The conditions created by the flooding of riverbanks make Oklahoma prime areas for river cane to grow.
Spring showing the visitors a bucket of clay used to make Choctaw pottery. He tells about mussel shells, which were a key ingredient to Choctaw pottery. He tells that 297 species of freshwater mussels are native to the Southeastern United States. Of these, 35 species have gone extinct, 70 species are endangered or threatened, and 180 species are considered critically impaired. The Kiamichi River is one of the best remaining habitats for freshwater mussels in the United States.
Todd Baughman shows off clean drinking water from a natural spring near the Choctaw capitol which used to provided water for the early Choctaw government.