Chickasaw Cultural Center: A Home for People, History and Culture
Debra Utacia Krol
Visitors can immerse themselves in all things Chikasha at the Chickasaw Cultural Center, a 184-acre complex in Sulphur, Oklahoma. Valorie Walters, the cultural center’s executive officer, says the center is nothing less than a “home for people, history and culture.”
The cultural center, the culmination of a 20-year-long process, includes 96,000 square feet under roof of galleries, archives and history center, retail and dining as well as a 350-seat theater, all designed to showcase this thriving and vibrant culture.
Start your journey with the Mosaic Room, also called the Aaishtaya’ (“where our journey begins”) Room. One wall features an etched glass replica of a 1723 deerskin map, sparked with a mosaic of important Italian tiles. The Council House, an authentic reproduction of the center of Chickasaw communities, is also a small theater where visitor can view an introductory video. Other galleries bring visitors along through ancestral life to contact era. The Removal Corridor tells the harrowing tale of the forced removal from the Southeast to Oklahoma, and ends with the Stomp Dance area, showcasing the resilience of the people to overcome upheaval and tragedy.Fine art galleries showcase a variety of art forms. Currently, Walters notes that a quilt exhibit is finishing its run in the Aapisaꞌ Art Gallery. Next, visit the Aaittafamaꞌ Room, where the Ittiꞌ Chokkaꞌ TreeHouses exhibit recently opened. The family-friendly exhibit features a miniature treehouse, “wildlife,” animal signs and more interactive activities.
The outdoor campus also features Chickasaw culture and the people’s relationship to the land, water, animals and environment. The Chikasha Inchokka’ (“Chickasaw house”) Traditional Village recreates a historic community, where visitors can get a taste of traditional life. Interactive activities, lessons and events such as blowgun and archery demonstrations, storytelling, cultural demonstrations, stomp dance demonstrations, hands-on activities like stickball, chunkey and marbles games, and food festivals are all available.
Nearby, the Spiral Garden provides not only an opportunity to see Three Sisters agriculture in action, but the garden also supplies fresh produce to the Aaimpa’ Café, which features Chickasaw-inspired cuisine. The Aba’ Aanowa’ Sky Pavilion provides a birds-eye view of the lush grounds.
Fine art is also a powerful addition to the outdoor spaces. “We have a lot of outdoor art,” Walters says. In addition to four sundisks, the grounds feature the sculptures “The Arrival,” created by Chickasaw artist Mike Larsen, “The Warrior” by Seminole artist Enoch Kelley Haney—who also served as an Oklahoma state legislator and principal chief of the Seminole Nation—and a recent one of Chickasaw hunters by James Blackburn, another Chickasaw artist. The Aaholiitobli’ (“a place to honor”) Honor Garden features laser-cut photos of every Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame inductee. It’s a beautiful place full of landscaping and spiraling pathways and walls circling a central fountain.
Also, don’t miss the Oka’ Aabiniili’ (“a place for sitting on the water”) Water Pavilion. This peaceful area sports a pond with a deck that extends over the water, where visitors can enjoy the tranquil pond and see the honor garden’s fountain.
The Chickasaw language is an integral part of the complex. “Language is very important to us,” says Walters. “Our language is all through the campus in signage and interactive language stations. We have people who are learning Chickasaw.”
With all these features, it’s no wonder that the cultural center is a top attraction in the Sooner State: Walters says that more than 585,000 people have visited since its July 2010 opening.
Walters also notes that the cultural center holds various events throughout the year. However, some of these events are designed to honor people of importance to the tribe, including, as Walters says, “our fathers, our mothers and our veterans.”