SULPHUR — For generations, members of the Chickasaw Nation told the tribe's stories of hardship and renewal through its families, community organizations and churches.
More than two decades ago, tribal leaders broached the possibility of creating a site where Chickasaw culture, heritage and history could be more formally shared.
Using money from its large casino operations, the tribe's history is now featured in a $40 million cultural center.
"Now we have the resources to actively recover our history," said tribal historian and author Phil Morgan.
The Chickasaw Cultural Center — after six years of construction — traces the tribe's path from its ancestral homelands in what is now the southeastern United States, then along the Trail of Tears, and to its emergence in recent years as one of Oklahoma's most prominent American Indian tribes.
Opened in July
In late July, the Ada-based tribe — which has 48,600 citizens — opened the cultural center in Murray County adjacent to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. The center "reflects the vision, imagination, resilience and spirit of the Chickasaw people," longtime tribal Gov. Bill Anoatubby said.
Located on a 109-acre site with rolling hills, woodlands and streams, the cultural center includes a 350-seat theater with a 2,400-square-foot screen, an exhibit center and a replica of a traditional Chickasaw village — which can be viewed from above on a 40-foot-high sky terrace. It also has a cafe that serves items inspired by traditional Chickasaw fare, a garden where the tribe's hall of fame is honored and a research center.
The campus incorporates trees and plants indigenous to Oklahoma and to Mississippi, which was part of the tribe's traditional homelands.
A 9-foot-tall sculpture of a Chickasaw warrior — created by former state Sen. Enoch Kelly Haney, a former chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma — greets visitors.
Culture in motion
Plans call for tribal traditions such as stomp dances and stickball games to be conducted in the village, along with language and cultural demonstrations. The key "is not just to see things, but to do things," said Amanda Cobb-Greetham, the administrator of the tribe's division of history and culture.
"This is going to be a place of constant activity," Cobb-Greetham said. "There's not one single room in any building that has not been designed in such a way as to have special features that make it Chickasaw in some way."
She said people who have lived near the Chickasaws their entire lives might not be familiar with their culture.
"Everything, even down to the menu in the cafe, is designed to be an educational experience," she said.More Tribes
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"It's very important that we have places ... that spark a child's curiosity to learn more about their culture and amaze them and cause people to pause to listen to the stories in wonderment."
Native American Cultural and Educational Authority executive director