An adventure awaits in Chickasaw Country. The tribal territory spans 11 percent of the State of Oklahoma, stretching just south of the City of Norman to the Texas border. The vast area, covering 13 of 77 total counties in the state, is home to a national park, an historic and luxurious hotel, an interactive cultural hub representing traditional Chickasaw culture, delicious eateries and boutique shopping.
A website to guide tourists through Chickasaw Country, chickasawcountry.com, launched in 2012, the brain child of Chickasaw Governor Bill Anoatubby. The all-inclusive website highlights all businesses within tribal borders, including many tribal and Native-owned destinations, though also promoting non-Native-owned bed & breakfast spots, restaurants and stores.
“For a visitor, there are no borders. We want to provide them the best information and a seamless experience,” said Paige Williams Shepherd, director of tourism and corporate development at Chickasaw Country.
The website has not only put the Chickasaw tribal territory on regional, national and international maps, it has led to numerous business partnerships and collaborations. It’s given the expansive region a collective identity. “Previously, it was all piecemeal, an independent battle for tourism. Now we can provide all the information to someone wanting to make a day trip or weekend trip to Chickasaw Country for a cultural experience, outdoor excursions, or to get really great food,” Shepherd said.
The Chickasaw Country website offers suggested itineraries relevant to individual’s preferred experience — for instance, outdoor adventure versus relaxing at spas, wineries and resorts. The site is also a thorough source for the wealth of events that happen on Chickasaw land, including many festivals: Three Sisters Festival, a watermelon festival and rattlesnake festival, among others.
Chickasaw Country recently accompanied the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) to ITB Berlin in Germany, March 8-12, 2017, the world’s largest tourism trade fair. “This was the fifth time for Chickasaw Country to partner with AIANTA to promote Indian Country tourism at ITB Berlin. There’s a lot of intrigue in Germay for Native American culture. Breaking into international business takes a while. You’re not going to go over one year and bring in thousands of international visitors. They say it takes five to ten years to develop an international market. It’s been great building relationship with organizations and individuals abroad these last five years. They are really starting to understand the value of Chickasaw Country and want to be a part of it. That’s really exciting and rewarding,” Shepherd said.
Indian Country Media Network perused the Chickasaw Country website and added a handful of must-do experiences to our itinerary. This initial list only scrapes the surface of the magnificent offerings across Chickasaw territory. Consider following our lead with this initial list, or discover something new at chickasawcountry.com.
Visit: Chickasaw Cultural Center
The Chickasaw Nation has set the bar high for cultural centers across Indian country. It offers truly personal interaction with local Natives, who perform crafts live. Speak with artists teaching beadwork, perhaps making bow and arrows, or working with herbs from the garden.
On a mission to save the Monarch butterfly, the Chickasaw Cultural Center has also created a Butterfly Garden filled with milkweed and other pollinator plants.
The cultural center is located in beautiful Sulphur, Oklahoma, which has become the cultural hub of the Nation. The cultural center’s architecture reflects tribal heritage, set against the majestic Arbuckle Mountains. “The cultural center was 20 years in the making, so many concepts and thoughts went into its creation,” Shepherd said.
Chickasaw Cultural Center
867 Charles Cooper Memorial Rd.
Sulphur, OK 73086
Explore: Chickasaw National Recreation Area
Not far from The Chickasaw Cultural Center, you’ll find the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, a member of the National Park Service. Get lost on its more than 30 miles of hiking trails. Pack a tent and experience one of the six campgrounds in the area. Consider renting at bike at the Chickasaw Visitor Center and pedaling your way through the verdant land. It’s also renowned for its springs, streams and lakes. Whatever its form, water is the attraction at Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Little Niagara and Rock Creek beckon waders and swimmers. Relax in the coolness of shaded streams or take a dip in a swimming hole. Veterans Lake calls anglers to test their skills. Lake of the Arbuckles provides excellent motorboating, skiing, fishing and swimming.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area
901 W 1st St.
Sulphur, OK 73086
Stay: The Artesian Hotel
Indulge in grandeur and luxury at the Artesian Hotel, owned by the Chickasaw Nation, located in Sulphur. The boutique-style hotel boasts 81 beautifullly appointed guest rooms. This elegant four-story hotel is built on the historic grounds of the original Artesian Hotel, constructed in 1906, and destroyed by a fire in 1962.
“Originally built in 1900s, it was a mecca of tourism for the area’s healing powers of sulphuric waters,” Shepherd said.
While staying at the Artesian, enjoy Springs’ high-end, homestyle-inspired fare in generous portions. Mingle with other guests in the stately 140-person main dining room, or visit for a romantic date night.
Tour: Chickasaw Nation Capitol
From Sulphur, you’re not far from the Chickasaw Capitol in Tishomingo. Built in 1898 out of red granite from the Pennington Creek quarry of Governor R.M. Harris, it served as the Chickasaw Nation's Capitol until Oklahoma statehood in 1907. The Victorian, gothic-style building was later sold to Johnston County in 1910 and was used as the Johnston County Courthouse. In 1992, the museum was reclaimed by the Chickasaw Nation. The building’s historic significance and unique architecture led to its addition in the National Registry of Historic Buildings in 1971.Today, the 8,000-square-foot, historical building serves as a museum standing for the tribal identity and independence the Chickasaw people fought for. The largest exhibit focuses on Chickasaw government history from 1856-1907 with accurate replicas of Chickasaw Governor Douglas Johnston’s office and the National Secretary’s Vault. Other must-see exhibits include the Chickasaw Governor’s Portrait Exhibit on the first floor, the rotating photography exhibit on the second floor and the Chickasaw National Well Exhibit outside of the Capitol. Large groups are required to make tour reservations in advance.
Chickasaw Nation Capitol
411 West 9th Street
Tishomingo, OK 73460
Swim or Fish: Turner Falls
Hike to the 77-foot waterfall and swim underneath it and in its wake. Numerous stunning natural swimming areas, wading area, sandy beaches, bath houses, picnic sites, water slides and more cover Turner Falls Park. Visitors can also explore the caves and the Rock Castle. General stores offer convenience, and concession stands sell mouthwatering burger, snowball, ice cream and more delicious treats.
Turner Falls Park also offers the best seasonal trout fishing in south-central Oklahoma. The park offers trout fishing to all fisherman with an Oklahoma fishing license from the months of November through March.
Turner Falls Park
I-35 and Highway 77
Davis, OK 73030
Play: WinStar World Casino and Resort
With more games than any other casino in the world, WinStar World Casino and Resort boasts over 500,000 square feet of gaming floor with over 7,400 electronic games, 98 tables games 46 poker tables, bingo hall, Keno Lounge, off-track betting parlor and high-stakes gaming areas. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the resort also offers world-class entertainment in the 3,500-seat Global Event Center and a wide range of amenities from boutique restaurants and retail shops to a state-of-the-art golf course and academy, luxurious spa habitat, three-tower hotel and much more.
WinStar World Casino and Resort
Southeast777 Casino Avenue
Thackerville, OK 73459
Eat: Rodney’s Pizza Place
Enjoy family-friendly homemade pizza at Rodney's Pizza Place, owned by Chickasaw Nation members. The pizza crust is made fresh daily and the specialty sauce is an old family secret recipe.
Rodney’s Pizza Place
1627 S. Green Ave
Purcell, OK 73080
All-Inclusive: Supporting the Greater Community and Neighboring Tribes
Beyond promoting the tourism to the community at large, the Chickasaw Nation plays a role in supporting neighboring tribes. For instance, as promoted on Chickasaw Country, works by Caddo Nation artists are currently on display until April 7 at Contemporary Caddo Arts Exhibition at the Chokma'si Gallery in Ada, Oklahoma. The event is hosted by Chickasaw Nation Arts & Humanities. The exhibition features the art from Caddo Nation artists Yonavea Hawkins, Wayne Taysha Earles, Chase Kahwinhut Earles, and Chad Nish Earles.
The Chickasaw Country website helps you plan a trip, and advises visitors on what to see and do, where to eat, where to stay, where to shop, and more. Check out Chickasaw Country on social media to stay up-to-date on events and local life. “We have 240,000 followers on Facebook, and we are constantly growing that. We really do use social media as a tool to communicate first-hand experiences, not as an advertisement opportunity but as engagement opportunity for real-life encounters and experiences. I encourage people to follow along in life with us,” Shepherd said.
This story was originally published March 25, 2017.