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  • Ian Thompson

Chahta Nowvt Anya: The Choctaw Journey

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma recently opened its cultural center in Durant. Through it, the Choctaw people completed a dream that community members have been talking about for more than 20 years. Many of this blog's readers who live in Oklahoma, and some from as far away as California, came to participate in opening week. For others who weren't aware or haven't had a chance to visit, hopefully this post will give just enough of a taste to encourage you to stop by for a visit when the time is right.

About 5 years ago, Chief Batton challeneged Sue Folsom with forming a Cultural Center Committee for Choctaw Nation. This small committee began by visiting the cultural centers of other Tribes all over the county, in order to learn from their experiences. Then, the Committee visited every Choctaw Nation community center, to ask the Choctaw people what they would like to see in their own cultural center. The ideas and aspirations expressed through those conversations and the more than 2,000 community surveys that were received set the vision for the Cultural Center.

The 100,000 sq ft center features a number of one-of-a-kind offerings and experiences. The permanent exhibits, Chahta Nowvt Aya, follow the Choctaw people on a journey from creation to present-day Oklahoma. Cultural people partnered with the exhibit designers and fabricators, to provide vision, content, and input on every single object, image and word that appears in the exhibits. Many parts of the Choctaw Journey are interpreted through dioramas. These dioramas include 21 lifecast mannequins, which have the face and hands of living community members (The title image for this post shows Sharon Dodson in front of her

lifecast figure on opening week). More than 40 Choctaw artists contributed period-correct traditional arts for the dioramas. In some cases, traditional artists partnered to revitalize Choctaw cultural items for the exhibits that had not been made in over 200 years. The 13 videos woven through the exhibits have no narrator, but come straight from the community. There are also many digital interactives that take visitors beyond the building's walls.

Rather than being a history museum, the Choctaw Cultural Center is intended to provide a holistic cultural experience and empower the continuance of Choctaw culture. The world class Champuli Cafe serves both Choctaw and American food - We've all been to restaurants that don't quite get the traditional foods right; managed by a Choctaw chef and staffed with talented Choctaw cooks, Champuli does. - The Kowi theater makes you feel like you're sitting in a traditionally managed hardwood forest in Noxubbe County, MS as you watch community-made videos. The Hvshi Gift Shop sells a fun array of branded items and work done by Choctaw artists. The traditional village outback features a dance ground, arbors, houses, and earth mound. The Growing Hope garden is filled with Choctaw heritage cultivars. All of the above are incorporated into interpretive programming. The Cultural Center is adjacent to one of the best, 100+ acre remnant prairies in the area. This is reflected in the native landscaping around the grounds. People are what ultimately make a cultural center successful; the Choctaw Cultural Center is ably managed by Stacy Halfmoon, and staffed by a talented team of Choctaw people.

It's been an honor working on a team for the past 5 years to bring the Choctaw Cultural Center into reality. Hopefully, it will be a source of benefit and community pride, now and for generations to come through all of its future iterations. Doing the Walk Dance through the front doors on opening day, experiencing the elders and artists walking through the Center for the first time, seeing families coming through in their "Choctaw Pride" T-shirts,

have all been experiences not soon to be forgotten by either of us.

When you can make the time to come to Durant, come visit the Choctaw Cultural Center and be a part of the journey.

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