Thursday, May 19, 2011

Reviving Choctaw Traditions

We met Dr. Ian Thompson, archaeologist and his wife Amy and went with them to their prime mussel gathering spot on Lake Texoma. Dr. Thompson is the Assistant Director of the Choctaw Nation Historic Preservation Department and was instrumental in getting us an inside look at the revival of Choctaw traditions and connecting us with the locations and individuals we interviewed.

Searching for mussels with Ian and Amy

The mussels are heated and then ground and used to temper their pots which are wood fired.

The mussels are getting harder to find as they require clean water and also water with some flow to it. So many free-flowing rivers have been dammed to create lakes or impounded as they are often called.

There was a beautiful stand of twisted willows at the end of the beach where I went to get out of the sun for a bit and find inspiration for future paintings/drawings in their unusual forms.

There were many beautiful wildflowers in the grove. Something about the beach and the landscape brought up nostalgic memories of childhood in Florida and Bob also remarked on how it reminded him somehow of Florida.

The insides of the mussels are iridescent and pearlescent.

We head back buckets full of mussels.

That night we had a blast with Ian and Amy both of whom have a great sense of humor. They took us to the buffet at the Choctaw Casino which had vast amounts and types of foods. We all stuffed ourselves with at least four platefuls and odd combinations. I found that ranch dressing is good with guacamole and Ian covered every plateful with strawberries, the most interesting combination being the one where he put them on brussel sprouts.  

Bob sets up for an interview with Israel Richard Adams, Assistant Director of the Choctaw Language Department. It is a small space to shoot in so Bob does his set-up magic. Richard talked to us about how the Choctaw language will be lost if it is not passed on to the next generation which is often a struggle.
Ian told us how important it would be to talk to Richard as "language codes our thoughts".

Putting a mike on Richard before his interview.

Next we interviewed Sue Folsom, Executive Director of Cultural Events about how they are reviving and encouraging traditional Choctaw crafts and showed us her stunning beadwork and sewing. I was very touched when she gave me a pair of her earrings. She is very enthusiastic about working with the children especially at their summer camp program.

Next post is going to show the firing of the students pots, a beautiful and challenging process not to be missed.....

Some of the reasons the Choctaw have had to work so hard to preserve their culture.

Removal era

Choctaws were removed west of the Mississippi starting in 1831. Louisiana Indians Walking Along a Bayou by Alfred Boisseau was painted in 1846.
After ceding nearly 11,000,000 acres (45,000 km2), the Choctaw emigrated in three stages: the first in the fall of 1831, the second in 1832 and the last in 1833.[66] Nearly 15,000 Choctaws made the move to what would be called Indian Territory and then later Oklahoma.[67] About 2,500 died along the Trail of Tears. The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was ratified by the U.S. Senate on February 25, 1831, and the President was anxious to make it a model of removal.[66]George W. Harkins wrote a letter to the American people before the removals began.
It is with considerable diffidence that I attempt to address the American people, knowing and feeling sensibly my incompetency; and believing that your highly and well improved minds would not be well entertained by the address of a Choctaw ... We as Choctaws rather chose to suffer and be free ...
—George W. Harkins, George W. Harkins to the American People[68]
In 1831 a young 22-year-old George W. Harkins wrote theFarewell Letter to the American People. This portrait was taken in the 1860s.
Alexis de Tocqueville, noted French political thinker and historian, witnessed the Choctaw removals while in Memphis, Tennessee in 1831:
In the whole scene there was an air of ruin and destruction, something which betrayed a final and irrevocable adieu; one couldn't watch without feeling one's heart wrung. The Indians were tranquil, but sombre and taciturn. There was one who could speak English and of whom I asked why the Chactas were leaving their country. "To be free," he answered, could never get any other reason out of him. We ... watch the expulsion ... of one of the most celebrated and ancient American peoples.
—Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America[69]
Approximately 4,000–6,000 Choctaws remained in Mississippi in 1831 after the initial removal efforts.[9][70] U.S. agent William Ward, who was responsible for registration under article XIV, violently opposed the Choctaws’ treaty rights. Although estimates place 5000 Native Americans as the number of Choctaws who remained in Mississippi, only 143 family heads for a total of 276 persons received lands under Article 14.[71][72] For the next ten years the Choctaws in Mississippi were objects of increasing legal conflict, racism, harassment, and intimidation. The Choctaws describe their situation in 1849, "we have had our habitations torn down and burned, our fences destroyed, cattle turned into our fields and we ourselves have been scourged, manacled, fettered and otherwise personally abused, until by such treatment some of our best men have died."[70] Joseph B. Cobb, who moved to Mississippi from Georgia, described Choctaws as having "no nobility or virtue at all, and in some respect he found blacks, especially native Africans, more interesting and admirable, the red man's superior in every way. The Choctaw and Chickasaw, the tribes he knew best, were beneath contempt, that is, even worse than black slaves."[73] Removal continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1846 1,000 Choctaws removed, and in 1903 three hundred Mississippi Choctaws were persuaded to move to the Nation in Oklahoma.[29] By 1930 only 1,665 remained in Mississippi.[31]
“I do certify that the foregoing persons did apply to me as agent to have their names registered to remain five years and become citizens of the States before the 24th (August) 1831.”
—William Ward, 1831, Col. William Wards Register[74]

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