In-person events return in 2021
By Christian Toews
July 1, 2021
Chances are that an event you were planning to attend in 2020 was canceled. Events large and small were moved online canceled or due to the coronavirus pandemic. While this might have caused some frustration and disappointment, there is good news. In-person gatherings are beginning to come back, and the Choctaw Nation is no exception.
The first in-person event was the Trail of Tears Walk, held on May 15 at Tvshka Homma.
Jon James, Tribal Events Director at the Choctaw Nation, said that he wasn’t sure what to expect but was pleased with how many people come to the event.
“People were excited to start meeting together again, and that was proved by how many people came out,” said James.
According to James, the next event to look forward to will be Boom in the Valley on July 2 at Tvshka Homma.
James said that the success of last year’s event has led to the decision to keep it a drive-in event for 2021.
James mentioned how special it is to see and hear the fireworks show in the Tvshka Homma valley.
“The way it echoes through the grounds, you just feel something special about this show. It’s a unique firework show that you can’t get anywhere else,” explained James.
James also talked about the opening of the Choctaw Nation’s new Cultural Center. He is excited to see people gather to celebrate the grand opening of this state-of-the-art facility. He mentioned that there would be many activities and unique events happening during the grand opening on July 23.
James said that people have been very excited about the return of the Labor Day Festival this year.
According to James, he and his team will be able to focus on preserving and representing the Choctaw Culture.
“Last year really gave us the opportunity to refocus and add more cultural elements to the festival,” he said.
Despite all the negative and frustrating ways the pandemic affected the world, James said that he has seen some good things come out of it.
“Covid allowed us sort of hit the reset button and to look at things through a different lens and what is the best way to progress and move forward. Our leadership here at the Nation has been great about helping us shape a return to in-person events safely,” said James.
Brian Prettyman, Reginal Director of Marketing for the Choctaw Resort and Casino in Durant, said that since offering live entertainment again, the resort properties have been busier than ever.
“We have initially thought it was a pent-up demand for an entertainment experience of any kind, but what we have found is that we worked really hard during our closure to prepare for reopening and to bring a better experience and even better entertainment,” explained Prettyman.
According to Prettyman, much of their efforts are focused on the grand opening of the new expansion of the Choctaw Casino and Resort in Durant in August.
Prettyman said the Durant casino will be the third-largest gaming resort in the world with the new expansion.
“We have something for everyone. If you want, you can see a concert in the grand theater, enjoy live music at Gilley’s, and then we will have live music on the gaming floor periodically. But if you aren’t ready for the intimate experience, you can still come out to the casino and enjoy yourself. There’s a lot to do here, not just gaming,” he said.
He mentioned that while the Covid restrictions have been lifted for the Choctaw Nation, they are still conscious of health and safety.
“We are cognizant of the fact that there is a need to be smart. We are still encouraging masks and social distancing,” said Prettyman.
As the Choctaw Nation returns to in-person gatherings, Chief Gary Batton commented in a recent interview about staying safe as we gather.
“I would encourage everybody to be vaccinated, for themselves and their families,” said Batton, “While it’s a personal choice, we know the vaccine reduces your chances of getting Covid, and if you do get it, the severity is far less.”
Jon James commented on in-person events playing an important role in life and encourages people to come out to an event in the future.
“The most impactful form of communication is still face-to-face–being able to look someone in the eye and see their smiles again. No matter what piece of technology is invented next, nothing is going to trump that. I think Covid really opened up people’s eyes to the fact that we need each other,” said James.