I am not a Chickasaw. My family’s Native American heritage is Choctaw, Cherokee, and Seminole, but like many historians and genealogists I am fascinated by all of the tribal cultures that make up our unique state. So for many months I have been watching the television commercials for the Chickasaw Cultural Center with growing anticipation of a visit to see it for myself. That day finally arrived Wednesday! And I was not disappointed. It was certainly well worth the drive and will be worth another visit in the fall when the weather is cooler and more accommodating for outdoor activities.
We arrived early so we could stroll the grounds and see the gardens. The Aaholiitobli’ Honor Garden is a wonderful architectural and botanical tribute to those who have “helped shape the legacy of the Chickasaw people”. I love the way the garden incorporates water and stone. The paths are lovely!
There are water features in several locations. The sight and sound of the water was a welcome relief in July and despite the fact that the center is new, there are already several shaded areas on the property. However, the dance demonstration, usually held outdoors in the Kochcha’ Aabiniili’ Amphitheater was moved inside to the 350-seat Anoli’ theater. What an impressive room! It has a 2,400 sq. ft. HD screen and very comfortable seating. We enjoyed the dance demonstration and were impressed by the friendliness of the staff.
The staff in all of the buildings and even those traveling to and fro around the grounds were friendly and helpful. They smiled and greeted people and offered assistance. We had to ask directions once and I noticed some other guests asking questions. That’s how we were made to feel…like guests, not tourists.
The109-acre site also includes a huge traditional village which can be viewed from the Aba’ Aanowa’ Sky Pavillion. The pavilion also offers a great view of the vegetable garden, which I understand will be better once they figure out how to keep the deer from sampling it.
Of course the heart of the complex is the Chikasha Poya Exhibit Center. The tour of the center begins with a short film and then the screen rises to reveal the spirit forest, a totally interactive room where the seasons change, the moon rises and the stars come out, and the sounds of animals set the mood for traditional Chickasaw stories told in three areas.
The center has two features which are being used in many modern museums and I just love both of them. One is a “sit and listen” video area. These are placed throughout the exhibit hall. Each little alcove has seating for about four people. They are motion activated so as you go inside the video starts playing and you get a mini-lesson about Chickasaw medicine, tribal history, crafts, etc. Each one was brief and informative. The other feature is “language learning stations”. You can hear a Chickasaw word used alone, then in a sentence. Then you can repeat it into a microphone and practice it.
All of the exhibits were informative and in a chronological and historical sequence that made the history of the nation comprehensible even to those with no prior knowledge of Native American history. There are features that appeal to adults and those that captivate children. I watched and listened to several of the younger visitors and they seemed to enjoy the center as much as we did.
Demonstrations and classes are held at the center to showcase crafts such as weaving and bow making. You can also sample traditional foods in the Aaimpa’ Café. The gift shops sell a good variety of souvenirs, books, foods, and clothing. We spent about three hours at the center and probably would have spent a little more time outside if it had been cooler.
If you are in Oklahoma I encourage you to plan a trip. The Chickasaw Cultural Center is located on Charles Cooper Memorial Road, Sulphur, Ok. You can go to their website for directions.
Note: My husband Gary took the photos shown here.