Construction continues on the 101,000 square foot Choctaw Cultural
Center in Durant, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Contractors and
staff are at work, ensuring the Center is a place to preserve and
teach visitors about the Choctaw culture.
As guests enter the driveway
leading to the Cultural Center they travel through native
Oklahoma prairie land. The landscape around the building also
continues this theme. Photos by Deidre Elrod and Mekayla Monroe
The Center will be an immersive experience. Executive Director
of the Cultural Center, Stacy Halfmoon, said, "You begin essentially
at time immemorial, with Choctaw origin stories."
Before entering the building, guests are treated to a ¾-mile
drive highlighting native Oklahoma prairie land. The landscaping
closer to the building was also carefully planted to continue this
native prairie feel.
After visitors enter the building and go through the admissions
desk, they will be presented with an orientation gallery that consists
of 12 vignettes, one for each district. These allow for each community
to tell their story of what life is like in Choctaw Nation today.
Moving from there, visitors travel through four different areas
or landscapes designed to be fully experienced rather than read.
The landscapes are in chronological order, with landscape one starting
in the Mississippian era and going to pre-European contact.
Featured in this area is a cave from the Choctaw origin story and
a large diorama of Moundville, which was located on the Black Warrior
River in western Alabama.
Throughout the journey, guests will see several life casts made
using living Choctaw tribal members that now represent their Choctaw
ancestors telling stories in each vignette.
All of the lifecasts
in the Cultural Center were made using local Choctaw members.
Bernie Davis served as a model for this one of a woman reading
the Bible in landscape 2. Photo by Chris Jennings
Landscape 2 is Shoma Takali (Hanging Moss) village from the 1700s.
This area will represent the time after European contact and our
government relations with the United States. A large display featuring
several treaties between the U.S. and the Choctaw Nation is located
in this area.
Here you'll find a popular exchange between General Andrew Jackson
from then Chief Pushmataha on display. General Jackson put on all
his dignity and thus addressed the chief: "I wish you to understand
that I am Andrew Jackson, and, by the Eternal, you shall sign that
treaty as I have prepared it." The mighty Choctaw chief was not
disconcerted by this haughty address and springing suddenly to his
feet and imitating the manner of his opponent, he replied, "I know
very well who you are, but I wish you to understand that I am Pushmataha,
head Chief of the Choctaws, and by the Eternal, I will not sign
All the treaties signed by the Choctaws eventually led to the Trail
of Tears. Landscape 3 will tell the story of two different families
during this timethe first family, who came in the 1830s, and
another family in 1903. Visitors will have the opportunity to learn
of the hardships during this time in three reflection galleries
with content helping them visualize the Trail of Tears struggles.
The Warrior Gallery in
the Cultural Center honors Choctaws who served their country.
Photos by Chris Jennings
Moving from this area, visitors will be presented with the final
landscape, featuring the Choctaw Nation's life in Oklahoma, including
the successful rise to the present day and where the Nation wishes
to be in the future. This area also contains the warrior gallery,
representing the tvshka spirit and Choctaws' long history of both
men and women serving in the military.
After this, visitors can choose to move on to the Temporary Gallery,
which will initially be an exhibit on Choctaw storytelling. This
gallery will be changed periodically to tell different stories.
"The changing exhibit gallery will give us an opportunity to rotate
things in and highlight art and communities, to focus on particular
elements in that space," said Halfmoon.
Visitors can also go outside to see the living village and mound.
If timed right, they may also be able to watch stickball on either
the practice field or tournament field.
Throughout the building, guests can find symbolic touches that
represent the Choctaw culture. From the stickball stick door handles
to the beadwork light fixtures, every design element was carefully
thought out to help convey the Choctaw experience.
Luksi waits to greet
visitors to the children's area located inside the Cultural
Center. Photos by Deidre Elrod and Mekayla Monroe
"There's not an element in the building or the exterior that wasn't
really thought through, that doesn't have some kind of cultural
significance. I think it says a lot about our staff and their knowledge
and expertise," said Halfmoon.
The Cultural Center will be a place that people can learn about
what it means to be Choctaw or to discover their own Choctaw heritage.
"There's a lot of heart and soul in this building, and I hope everyone
sees a little of themselves in the stories and exhibits and leaves
feeling empowered," said Cady Shaw, director of curation at the
"It's a significant investment the Choctaw Nation has made to build
and develop this stunning Cultural Center. This means that Choctaw
Nation will have a place to focus on perpetuating the culture, a
place for guests and tribal citizens to come and learn about Choctaw
culture and history, a place for classes, a place for presentations,"
These areas of the Cultural Center make up roughly 90% of the building.
The remaining 10% contains what could be considered the most important
part: the collections and archive area. This area will be dedicated
to Choctaw objects, artifacts and archival items.
From stickball stick
door handles to the beaded light fixture, the Cultural Center
is full of meaningful cultural references. Photos by Deidre
Elrod and Mekayla Monroe
Shaw said, "This will be the first of its kind for the Choctaw
Nation and will set a high standard of care and preservation for
some of the tribe's most important historical and cultural documents
The collections spaces were constructed with the security and safety
of its content in mind. Access can only be gained through biometric
scanning devices, and the area itself was built to withstand an
EF3 tornado. Inside the collections space is a blessing room and
a freezer room for items that may have been involved in a flood
or have pest contamination. There are also digitization, photography,
wet and dry processing, archival and storage rooms.
Guests will have access to collections digitally through the Chahta
Impona database in the Learning Lounge. This database will feature
items at the Cultural Center as well as the Capitol Museum, Wheelock
Historic Site and other institutions across the globe.
The database and on-site collections will make Choctaw Nation's
collections accessible to anyone who wishes to do tribal research.
Cady Shaw shows where
flat items, such as large maps, will be kept in the archival
area of the Center. Photos by Chris Jennings
"When someone wants to come in and perhaps do research, there would
be a place for them to make an appointment and look at some of our
archival documents related to the entire Choctaw experience. Whether
that's political history, treaties, family documents, allotment
records or maps," said Halfmoon.
As this eight-plus year journey nears this phase of completion,
both Halfmoon and Shaw have high hopes for what the visitors may
get from the Center.
"Personally, I really hope that anybody coming to the Choctaw Cultural
Center sees that there is a living culture and that these are living
people. That they feel that cultural spirit that is the Choctaw
spirit, they see, they smell, they experience what they can of Choctaw
culture," said Halfmoon.
Shaw echoed that sentiment, "For community and tribal members,
my greatest hope is they walk away proud. I would hope outside guests
will come away feeling empowered with new knowledge and an affinity
for Choctaw Nation. That they realize Choctaw Nation is alive, thriving
and moving towards a bright future for everyone in Southeastern
(left) A statue of Tvshkahoma
greets visitors at the Cultural Center. (right) The mound
outside of the Cultural Center is a near duplicate of the
mother mound, Nanih Waiya, in Mississippi. It is 39 feet tall,
420 feet long and 300 feet wide at the base, 192 feet long
and 63 feet wide at the top. The mound is made up of 85,356
cubic yards of earth. Photos by Deidre Elrod and Mekayla Monroe