By Kellie Matherly
On July 23, 2022, the Choctaw Cultural Center in Durant, Oklahoma, will celebrate its first anniversary with a bang. The state-of-the-art facility opened in July of 2021 with the mission of sharing the Choctaw story with the world. Since then, visitors from all over have come to learn about Choctaw history and culture.Sitting on 100 acres of native Oklahoma prairie land, the 100,000 square foot facility tells the story of the Choctaw people, beginning with their emergence from Nanih Waiya, through 14,000 years of history, to the present day and into the future of the Nation.Planning for the Cultural Center began a decade ago, when a committee of Choctaw cultural experts was tasked with creating a place that would honor the history and traditions of the Choctaw people. At the outset, the committee set three main goals: to create a dynamic cultural destination, discover and share the Choctaw story and create a place to learn.For three years, committee members researched what it would take to create a truly unique Choctaw experience. They visited over 20 other museums and cultural centers nationwide and gathered feedback from thousands of surveys. In addition, they personally interviewed over 100 tribal members to find out what the Choctaw people wanted to see in the cultural center because, when all is said and done, the Cultural Center would be the Choctaw Nation’s gift to its people. Tribal Council approved the design plan in 2017, and construction began in 2018.Since its opening, the Cultural Center has welcomed visitors to the Chahta Nowat Aya, or the Choctaw Journey. Through interactive landscapes, demonstrations, art, cultural classes, food and much more, guests are fully immersed in the warmth and hospitality of the Choctaw people from start to finish.Over the past year, thousands have flocked through the stickball-themed doors of the Choctaw Cultural Center, including Oklahoma legislators, artists and performers.Cady Shaw, Interim Senior Director and Director of Curation for the Choctaw Cultural Center said, “For one year now, we have welcomed thousands of visitors who came to learn the Choctaw story, eat traditional foods, take in a cultural class or demonstration and to hear our language. We’ve created a community space for tribal members and visitors alike. It has been an honor to welcome guests this year and share Chahta history and culture.”Most recently, the Kowi Chito Theater hosted Lil Mike and Funny Bone, or Mike Bone, as its first live performance act. On June 11, the popular Native American musicians turned actors staged a full concert as well as a meet and greet with Cultural Center guests afterward. The sold-out event was held on the same day as an art market and other cultural events, which promised to be a fun-filled day for all.Choctaw artist Tamra Frakes said of the day, “I met lots of new people. Being surrounded by so many talented and gifted Choctaw artists was very humbling to me. It makes my heart happy to see our people enjoying a day of stickball, a concert and for us Choctaw artists at our Choctaw Cultural Center.”The concert also coincided with a stickball tournament. Robert Baker, a resident of Bokchito, Okla., and player for the Chunkvsh Balili Tikbvt stickball team hoped he would be playing late into the night. When asked what he thought of his day at the Cultural Center, he said, “There’s lots of good vendors and artwork. It’s happening here!”For its one-year anniversary, the Cultural Center has a huge celebration planned.Festivities will kick off at 10:00 a.m. with opening remarks and the unveiling of Chiefs, Clans & Kin, the new temporary exhibit on display in the Changing Exhibit Gallery. This presentation focuses on the connections between tribes in the Southeast and Celtic cultures. Featured artists explore the topics of singular and blended identities, cultural norms and anomalies and shared histories of subjugation and colonization.Throughout the day, there will be special demonstrations, including chocolate making with Ronnie Watchorn and an art market, featuring Choctaw artists and artisans. In the Luksi Activity Center, there will be birthday themed coloring pages and activities for the young (and young at heart). There will also be special discounts in the Hvshi Gift Store, so be sure to stop in for a parting souvenir.After sampling some traditional Choctaw foods, head outside to the Living Village for kite flying, social dancing and stickball. Then, cool off in the Kowi Chito Theater for an engaging cultural film.“I’m happy to celebrate our one-year anniversary for the Choctaw Cultural Center,” stated Chief Gary Batton. “This was truly a project of love, to perpetuate our Choctaw culture and to provide others a place to learn how to live out the Chahta Spirit.”