A proud culture and its language: the Chickasaw

Interactive language display, Chickasaw Cultural Center, Sulphur OK (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

This is a touch-sensitive disc on one of a series of interactive displays at the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma.

You press the discs to hear various words spoken in Chikashshanompa’, the Chickasaw language, and then they are repeated in English. The rather bumpy-looking thing shown in the etching is a ceremonial shaker, traditionally made of polished turtle shells.

When I visited the Center, I was struck by the richness and detail of the spoken and written language, and how important that language was and is to the preservation of the Chickasaw Nation as a whole (despite being forced out of their ancestral homelands – what is now Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee – and ending up in Oklahoma via the Trail of Tears, also called the Removal.)

But, I had to smile every time I pressed a disc….each of the voices giving the English translation had a twang you could cut with a knife. The contrast was an aural reminder of how many Native Americans manage to fit into two different cultures, and thrive in both.

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