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Chickasaws Adapt to Modern Storytelling Technology

Modern technology is changing Native American storytelling. What once was passed down orally through generations is now told through music, movies.
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Modern technology is changing Native American storytelling. What once was only passed down orally through the generations is now told through music, movies, short documentaries, and modern art.

An expert panel of Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Kiowa tribal members illustrated new storytelling methods during a special presentation on June 13 at the deadCENTER Film Festival while Chickasaw storyteller and author Glenda Galvan endorsed the past and embraced the future.

Oral History

Galvan explained to those gathered June 13 how the Chickasaw and Choctaw were once one people, and how they traversed the land of the southeast looking for a permanent home using a pole provided by the Creator, which guided them, and a canine that protected and healed them on the journey. She used oral history handed down to her to tell how the tribe split into two, with the Chickasaw settling in northern Mississippi and the Choctaw in the south.

“This is how Natives communicated the tribe’s history and passed down its traditions,” Galvan said, adding Natives would address multiple topics, from religion to medicine to parables.

Chickasaw Nation

Award-winning artist Jeannie Barbour, left and prize-winning author Glenda Galvan field a question about storytelling at the deadCENTER Film Festival Saturday, June 13, in Oklahoma City. Galvan is a nationally-recognized Chickasaw oral storyteller who recently authored three books of Chickasaw stories published by Chickasaw Press. The books resulted in honors for Galvan. Barbour illustrated the books and won top honors for her artistic brilliance in bringing the stories to life.

Her knowledge of oral history is vast, but she was compelled into more modern means, and has written three children’s books—all called Chikasha Stories.

Music

Chickasaw musician Zach Garcia told stories through original music—he strummed and plucked a cutaway Washburn guitar and used lyrics, beat, rhythm, and repeating musical “loops” to tell his stories.

“With his eyes closed and a gentle dance-like sway, Garcia captivated. Centuries ago—just as now—Chickasaws used lyrics from a singer and the rhythm of women shell-shakers to bring forth song and worship at stomp dances,” says a Chickasaw press release.

Garcia wasn’t the only musician—Jerod Tate uses classical piano and Native languages to tell stories.

Film

An award-winning documentary produced by the Chickasaw Nation called “First Encounter” was previewed at the June 13 event. It follows the tribe’s initial contact with European explorers in 1540. That first encounter ended in bloodshed and crippled Hernando de Soto’s expedition, and ended the folly of plundering “riches” from Native people. It was judged Best Short Documentary at the Trail Dance Film Festival in January and has aired statewide on Oklahoma Educational Television Authority.

Chickasaw Nation

A scene from "First Encounter," which was shown at the deadCENTER Film Festival.

The Chickasaw Nation has produced other movies to tell their stories, including “Pearl,” about a 13-year-old Chickasaw girl who became the youngest licensed pilot in the United States, and is currently shooting “Te Ata,” which chronicles the life and career of Te Ata Thompson Fisher, a famed Chickasaw storyteller and actress.

RELATED: All-Star Cast Begins Filming ‘Te Ata’: Greene, Kilcher, Birmingham