Drum Walk Photo by Christian Toews

The walk started at the gates of the cultural center in Durant and ended at the stickball field, about half a mile away.

Tribal members hold special walk to honor Choctaw people affected by COVID-19

By Christian Toews
November 1, 2021

The Choctaw culture of tradition and honor was on full display Saturday, Sept. 18. A group of tribal members gathered to honor the Choctaw people who have been affected by the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic. However, the events that took place on Saturday honored more than just recent history.

Choctaw drummers, princesses, friends and family gathered to walk from the newly opened Choctaw Cultural Center gates to the stickball fields about half a mile away.

This walk and stickball game began as an idea of Levi Battiest. He said the idea came out of having COVID-19 twice and being isolated. “It hurt me to see people who lost loved ones who didn’t beat COVID. It really touched my heart to do a walk in their honor to show them that we are still here as Choctaw people. I still want our Nation to thrive,” explained Battiest.

According to Battiest, the drums represent the heartbeat of the Choctaw people, serving an important purpose in the walk. The drums used during the walk were hand-made by Garrison Joe. According to Joe, the drums are significant to him and the Choctaw people.

A group of drummers
Photo by Christian Toews

A group of drummers of all ages lead the memorial walk Saturday, Sept.18.

“The drums mean a lot to me because how I learned was passed down from my uncles,” he explained. “The drums don’t just signify stickball or anything like that. There are other things like get-togethers, festivals, and services and that kind of stuff. Back in the day, when this thing went off, people knew something was going on. They used to say you could hear it for miles and miles.”

According to Joe, these drums, which are smaller and made to be carried and played, have become more popular in recent years.

“These drums have really become the heartbeat of the Choctaw Nation now with the rise of the youth that are learning the culture now. They are wanting to play the drums now,” Joe explained. Joe is hopeful that this tradition continues to grow.

“Now that it’s booming up here in Oklahoma, hopefully, there will be a whole wide range of drummers,” said Joe. Shelly Louis attended the walk and said this event was a start toward keeping with the traditional Choctaw culture of being very community-oriented.

Garrison Joe
Photo by Christian Toews

Garrison Joe, who handmade the drums, leads the drummers during the walk.

“I told Levi thank you for doing this because we need to come back to being community-oriented again, and this is a start right here,” stated Louis. The walk took approximately twenty minutes to complete.

After the walk, the group performed the opening ceremonies for the stickball game. Choctaw princesses in attendance performed the Lord’s Prayer. Brenner Billy is a cultural center employee and took part in both the walk and the stickball game.

“It really hit home for all of us that played. We had this comaraderie because we all had people in our lives who have been affected by COVID, definitely powerful to me. Even though this might have been something small we were just reminded of everyone who has passed or been affected,” explained Billy.

Choctaw culture is still alive and well. With events like the memorial walk, young people are continuing the legacy of their ancestors through song, dance, language and other traditional practices.

Handmade Drum
Photo by Christian Toews

According to Garrison Joe, traditional drums are handmade and use deerskin to give each drum a unique sound.