Traveling on US Hwy 35 in Oklahoma we exited #55 and drove east on Hwy 7 to the small town of Sulphur where many campgrounds, RV parks, lakes, and small motels invite outdoor enthusiasts to stay. We were in our RV and chose to camp at the beautiful Unites States Chickasaw National Recreation Area, where perfectly groomed, flat and clean sites for tents, campers and large RV’s are located on the Lake of the Arbuckles. Restroom facilities and showers are modern and clean. Some of the sites are first-come-first-serve and some can be reserved. This park is heavily wooded with deciduous trees that must be gorgeous in fall. We were there at the end of a harsh winter, but even the bare branches were lovely, and the smoke from many campfires gave us a cozy welcome.
Just few miles away we discovered the amazing Chickasaw Cultural Center, a very large area completed just a few years ago to keep the native culture and ways of doing things alive and teach Chickasaw children and anyone interested the historic ways and practical means of survival in this area. We just happened to arrive during one of their monthly festivals, and seeing the beautiful facility we expected tickets to be around $40. To our amazement, the day of activities was free! Supported by the native casinos and other businesses, this center is for education and fun and should be on the Must Do list for anyone traveling in this proximity!
We were greeted at the parking lot by a friendly guide offering to drive us in his large, comfortable golf cart to the center field of activities, which are outdoors. We enjoyed the Stomp Dancers in costume and flute player, drummer, and chanting. In hot weather visitors can seek shelter from the sun beneath wood canopies covered in evergreen and magnolia leaves. In this field of activities we watched the native game of trying to hit with a ball a decoration on top of a tall pole. Visitors and tribesmen of all ages were all welcome to play and were handed basket type of mallets for the game.
Guests will enjoy an hour or a whole day experiencing the many fun activities and demonstrations, which include: making bows and arrows, tanning hides, making drums, beads and jewelry, face painting, corn shuck dolls, music, planting gardens, and much more. Hosts invited us for Three Sisters’ Stew at lunchtime, which we assumed were three native women who cooked in a fast food place, but we were so wrong!
The “three sisters” are corn, beans, and squash, which the ancestors planted together in a little mound. They figured out that the three vegetables helped and nourished each other as they grew, each providing the soil nutrients the others needed. First they mounded the soil and planted the corn. After it was about 12 inches in height they planted the beans, which use the corn stalk as a bean pole. Then the squash at the base of the stalk which grows as a ground cover to shade the roots and protect the moisture in the soil. The tribe makes stew of these three vegetables with tomatoes and onions and spices and everyone was given a generous sample to enjoy! It was delicious!
On the festival grounds we were able to walk through the typical ancient summer home and winter home for a family, simple and sturdy in construction. These were planned for warmth and air circulation. We also found the large assembly building for native ceremonies to be very interesting. The beautiful facilities reminded us of a modern college campus and two large buildings face the lovely amphitheater where many of the dances and demonstrations occur. In one building we enjoyed a professional movie detailing the history of Chickasaw people and their movements throughout the eastern United States and building of Mounds at each tribal location. Moundville, Alabama, was the original home of this tribe before the United States allocated reservation tribal lands and forced each tribe to go to its designated location. The Chickasaw adapted peacefully to this location in Oklahoma.
The only building which requires a modest entrance fee ($6 for adults) is the beautiful State-of-the-Art Museum with the history of the Chickasaw as the landscape and governments of North America changed through the centuries since 800 A.D. Many beautiful artifacts, pottery, baskets, jewelry, tools, and other items which have been discovered by archeologists, are in this museum. These are placed in dioramas depicting the ways in which they were made or used. The museum has hands-on learning tools and films.
We left so very impressed at the enjoyable experience and would recommend it for all ages. Check the website for festival times when most of the demonstrations take place.
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