Award-winning film opens door of 1903 removal from Mississippi to Ardmore
By Shelia Kirven
December 1, 2021
“Ikhaiyana La Chi (I Will Remember),” a film directed by freelance filmmaker Mark Williams and produced by the Choctaw Nation, tells the story of the last Choctaw removal to Oklahoma in 1902-1903 and the cultural impact it had on the Choctaw people and a certain Oklahoma community. It tells of the betrayal from an Indian Territory attorney who went all the way to Mississippi, promising transportation and new lands to a trusting people, and the arrival of 287 Choctaws by cattle train to Ardmore, where they survived a brutal winter imprisoned in a dilapidated warehouse called the Love Building.
The story might have lain sleeping in time had it not been for Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Historic Preservation associate Deanna Byrd reading one vague sentence about the removal of Choctaws to Ardmore in an historical article. It sparked curiosity about her own family removal history and research of an entire department. It has since opened the door to historical documentation and preservation of the facts of the removal, reconnecting family members lost for generations, contributions to the Choctaw Cultural Center and an award-winning film.
The Ardmore story is a part of the Trail of Tears journeys, explained Deanna Byrd, NAGPRA Liaison for Historic Preservation Office, and Misty Madbull, Director of the Choctaw Nation Historic Preservation Department. Byrd said, “For Choctaw people, we see a full 70-year plus span for the Trail of Tears. A lot of people think it was just in the 1830s and it was not. We had many Choctaw people removing from Mississippi in the 1840s, 1850s, 1860s, all the way up to the last removal of 1903. When we think of the Trail of Tears, we need to remember all of the Trails or Removals. In this way, we honor all the ancestors who came.”
The Love Building in Ardmore, Oklahoma, is now a shell with no plans of being renovated. The door to the building, called the Love Door, was donated to the Choctaw Nation and is on display at the Choctaw Cultural Center in a moving Trail of Tears exhibit. Byrd explained, “The door is special because it has a lot of symbolism. That was the door of opportunity they thought, but at the same time it imprisoned them.”
The story in detail, “The Last Choctaw Removal to Ard-more,” can be read at https://www.choctawnation.com/history-culture/history/iti-fabvssa.
Mark Williams, Mississippi and Oklahoma Choctaw, from Bennington, Oklahoma, is the filmmaker responsible for “Ikhaiyana La Chi.” His company, Digital Feather Media, has been in business since 2017 and works with tribes to tell their stories and share their cultures.
Williams said, “The stuff these elders are saying, I’m just excited to know and hear about. I tell people I can’t believe I’m doing this for a living. I have found with elders, they have these stories, and they have this wisdom if people will just sit down and talk to them. They want to talk about it.” He chuckled when he said, “I will forget there’s cameras in front of us. I forget there’s lights there at that point. I’m just enjoying their company and their conversation. And before you know it, we have their interview done.”
Though the Choctaw Nation Historic Preservation Department already had their research, Williams said they wanted to go out into the families and get stories that had been passed down through the generations.
The department was able to emphasize in the film the resilience of the Choctaw people through their warrior spirit and to pull out those spirits of the people who were interviewed.
The 36-minute short film has been receiving astounding recognition since its premiere. It has received the award for Achievement in Native Film Making at the 2021 NatiVisions Film Festival in Parker, Arizona and received recognition from the Bare Bones Film Festival as well.
It has also been nominated at the L.A. Skins Festival in Los Angeles for Achievement in Short Filmmaking,. “Ikhaiyana La Chi” also recently won the award for Best American Indian/First Nation/Indigenous Feature at the Will Rogers Motion Picture Festival in Claremore, Oklahoma.
Screenings have taken place in Wichita, Kansas at the alterNative Film Festival as the featured film and at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco. It has also been screened at the Fort Smith International Film Festival and the Holba Pisachi Native Film Festival.
The deadCenter Film Festival virtually screened the film on their website and it replayed during the month of November for Native American Month.
Byrd said of the film, “One of the best experiences in showing the film so far in our community is a little boy who said, ‘oh, I’ve got to talk to Grandma’ when the credits rolled. I thought, ‘we did it!’ It made the younger generation want to talk to the older generation. We wanted to really do something gentle with telling of dark history and we think it works. It was a creative way to tell a dark story but focus on the resilient spirit of Choctaw people.”
The film is shown at the Choctaw Cultural Center in Durant, Oklahoma. Call ahead at (833) 708-9582 for a schedule, to reserve for a group showing or visit the website. It can also be viewed online at https://www.choctawnation.com/tribal-services/cultural-services/historic-preservation.