The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the Choctaw Nation are collaborating on an event together in Washington, D.C. The Choctaw Days event will be held June 22-25 which corresponds with the museum’s peak tourist season, when an average of 1,500 people come to the NMAI every day.
“We are honored to be the first American Indian tribe from Oklahoma to have a festival of this kind at the National Museum of the American Indian,” said Chief Gregory E. Pyle in a press release. “I remember when the museum opened on the National Mall almost seven years ago and I have visited NMAI numerous times since. It is a remarkable place, showcasing hundreds of tribes from South, Central and North America.”
Every morning of Choctaw Days will start with Ron McKinney’s chanting, a Choctaw from Flandreau, South Dakota, who is a chanter, a reverend and a Native American student advisor at South Dakota State University. Along with Ron’s chanting, the Choctaw Youth Dancers will be performing out on in front of the museum’s east entrance. The boys and girls will be showcasing the jump dance, the quick steps and shouts of the fast war dance, and the stealing partners dance. There will be much singing, dancing, fluteplaying and storytelling every hour.
“We have assembled several of our best artists, dancers, singers and cultural experts. We know that we will have a different audience than we are accustomed to and want to ensure that they all understand just how special our tribe is,” Chief Pyle said in the release.
The award winning Mitsitam Native Foods Café will provide 10-Choctaw related dishes provided by chefs Vonna Shults and Shirley Barboan. “The menu will include fried salt pork, pinto beans, tanchi labona, fried rabbit, rabbit gumbo, braised venison, banaha Indian bread, grape dumplings, wild onions and eggs, and pumpkin soup. Chef Richard will also bring a portable station out among visitors to cook samples of the dishes at 11:30 a.m. on both Wednesday and Saturday,” the release stated.
In and around Potomac circle, just inside the museum’s front doors, booths will be set up displaying Choctaw culture. Examples include the intricacies of basket weaving by Eveline Steele, both modern and traditional bead working by Marcus Amerman and Roger Amerman, pottery making by Ian and Amy Thompson and flute making by Presley Byington.
Regina Green, director of the Choctaw Nation Museum in Tushka Homma, and traditionalist Les Williston, will be helping with the many cultural exhibits on display. They will explain the craftsmanship and skills their ancestors displayed in everyday life with such items as tools, weaponry, clothing, basketry and pottery.
Choctaw Nation has a bevy of outstanding artists, and two of their brightest Paul King and Gwen Coleman Lester, will have their work featured. King’s work is featured as the branding image of Choctaw Days 2011, will have several pieces on hand. Gwen Coleman Lester will have several paintings, prints and hand-painted gourd Christmas ornaments at the event.
“The Choctaw Nation Cultural Events Department will be holding make-and-take sessions on the third floor of the museum. All ages are invited to create a basket, clay pot or piece of beadwork. The daily sessions will be held 10 a.m.-12 p.m. session and 2 p.m.-4:30 p.m,” the release stated.
A pair of films will loop continuously in the Rasmuson Theater on the first floor of the museum. Choctaw Code Talkers and The Long Walk, the former is about how Choctaw members of the American Expeditionary Forces were tasked with using their native language to transmit crucial messages as a powerful form of ‘code talking’ against the German forces in World War I, the latter focuses on how the Choctaw were the first Nation to be removed from their homeland.
At 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 25, the films will be turned off for a theatrical re-enactment of a Choctaw wedding. This re-enactment will cover everything from the first glance the couple shared to the wrapping of the blanket around their shoulders and the wedding dance.
“The revival of the Choctaw culture and language is something we are proud of,” said Chief Pyle in the release. “Online language instructor Lillie Roberts will have a table with information on the different types of Choctaw language classes that are available. There will also be a computer set up so that visitors can have the opportunity to interact with a language instructor in Oklahoma, similar to our One-Net classes held in schools throughout Southeastern Oklahoma,” he said.
For more information on Choctaw Days, visit their site here.