“Employees have embraced this cultural awakening by having Heritage Mondays on the first Monday of each month,” said Chief Gregory E. Pyle. “I’ve enjoyed watching the flurry of activities since we started our day of culture. Facilities throughout the Choctaw Nation have had a lot of fun developing ways to participate whether it’s wearing traditional clothing, speaking the language or dancing. Some offices post information about their department for visitors to learn about the significant role Choctaw history plays in the services they provide.”
A special afternoon is planned for Feb. 6 at the headquarters building in Durant. The Choctaw Heritage Dancers will be having 30-minute dancing sessions from 1 to 3 p.m. in the conference area of the south building at 529 N. 16th Ave. The classes are being held for anyone who wants to learn the steps of Choctaw Social Dances. Everyone is welcome to participate or just take a break from their desk to watch and enjoy refreshments. “We are extending the invitation to anyone in the area who wants to join us,” Chief Pyle said. “Teaching and sharing is the Choctaw way.”
The Choctaw clothing and intricate beaded jewelry worn are distinctive to the tribe. Traditional Choctaw clothing of today reflects Euro-American styles of the 1800s, but employs more elaborate symbols and colorful materials. Choctaw people love bright, rich colors and the clothing is often made in beautiful shades of red, turquoise, purple, green and blue. A half or full diamond design symbolizing the western diamondback rattlesnake is used for trim on the shirts, dresses and aprons. Jewelry includes beaded necklaces, earrings, medallions, collar necklaces and a silver or beaded comb. Multicolor ribbons hang down from the waist on one side of the beaded belt on men and from the back collar on women. The ribbons can represent different things. Many wear them to honor the four directions or the four seasons.
The Choctaws’ unique relationship to the earth and nature is reflected in the social dances that have been performed for centuries. Often, the dances imitate playful characteristics of animals such as raccoons, turtles or ducks. The lively and fun raccoon dance copies the actions of raccoons as they chase each other through cornfields. The dancers form a circle and at the increase of pitch in the chanter’s voice, the dancers stop and a female runs as the male follows, trying to tag her with a soft touch on the shoulders. Once tagged, the female turns to chase and tag the other “raccoon” and then they return to the circle as it moves counterclockwise. At the next change in pitch, it is another couple’s turn.
Several dances will be highlighted during the classes on Feb. 6 including the raccoon dance, wedding dance, snake dance and friendship dance. It will be a great opportunity to experience an important facet of the Choctaw people.
Heritage Mondays are just one example of the resurgence of interest in cultural skills and the history of the tribe. Classes continue to be held for language, basketweaving, pottery, beading and more. For additional information on the culture of the Choctaw Nation log on to www.choctawnation.com or www.choctawnationculture.com.