The Chickasaw Nation, an active tribe now in the Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma, was once known as the “Spartans of the Lower Mississippi Valley” and the “Unconquered and Unconquerable Chickasaw.”
The Chickasaw's original homeland was in what’s now Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama. Their first contact with Europeans came in 1540, when Hernando de Soto was exploring for gold. Rather than acquiesce to his demand for 200 slaves, they attacked his camp at night. Forty Spaniards were killed and their equipment was destroyed.
In 1837, the Chickasaw were forced from their ancestral lands by the federal government to move to what is now Oklahoma. This proud nation has built a cultural center open to the public in Sulphur, Oklahoma.
The Chickasaw Cultural Center is on an ecologically sustainable campus of 109 acres. The first thing you encounter is an Honor Garden with a granite fountain, ringed by concentric stone plaques honoring living and deceased Chickasaw or supporters of the tribe.
The Chickasaws have always been a river people. Three symbols from ancient times continue to infuse the cultural center: the spiral, symbolizing the wind and life’s journey from birth to afterlife; the sacred eye, representing the all-seeing eye of the Creator (it also signifies the Chickasaw worldview); and the sun, reflecting rebirth or renewal.
The campus is designed to look like it had grown up out of the ground. Native stone, copper, wood and water lend to a serene atmosphere. There’s the recreation of an ancient village, with craftsmen/instructors showcasing traditional skills and how they're updated for today’s Chickasaw.
The Exhibit Center has a Spirit Forest that changes from day to night and with each season. There's also a display of the hardships the Chickasaw faced in their forced exodus to the Indian Territory.
Life-sized multimedia screens give you the opportunity to do tribal ritual dances along with Chickasaw – just as they're done in ceremonies. Think of it as a multicultural dance version of karaoke!
Other opportunities to enrich your Native American cultural knowledge include a fine arts gallery and a research library for learning not only about the Chickasaw, but Southeastern tribes and Native Americans as a whole.
After a day of roaming and learning, it’s time for a hearty meal. The Aaimpa’ Café (“a place to eat”) reflects the Chickasaw's focus on harmony with nature. The space is airy and sunlit. Gardens on the campus provide herbs and veggies for the menu. (Incidentally, there are no taxes for retail or food on sovereign or trust land.)
Regularly available items include pashofa, a side dish of cracked corn, hominy, and pork. Most people prefer adding a healthy dash of salt to this versatile starch course. And grape dumplings, traditionally made with syrup of wild grapes, appeal to folks of all ages.
On special occasions, the café also serves buffalo dishes. Seasonally, you can try foods like wild greens, possum grapes and wild onions.
The Chickasaw are a progressive, growing tribe and don't live by the old ways alone. They also own and operate Bedré Fine Chocolates, which makes gourmet chocolates for retail and upscale private labels like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale's. One of their most coveted products is their chocolate-covered potato crisps (I'm pretty sure they're Pringles). Addictive!