Hello, my name is Dancing Star Donna Courtney. I am Chickasaw. I am descended from the turtle clan, and my original enrollee was my grandfather, William Brooks Courtney. He was born in 1895 and was just a young child when he was enrolled on the Dawes list. Growing up at just amazing rates, I am the last of my dad and mom’s kids, so I’m kind of on the other end of the age range. But it amazes me that it was my grandfather who was on the Dawes roll. It was so recent, and I didn’t realize that until I got a little bit older. As a kid, 20 years seems like, “Oh, that’s ancient,” but it wasn’t that long ago. The stories I’m going to share with you today are from our Chickasaw and Southeastern tribes. Because this is the National Trail of Tears Association Conference, and the focus is on remembering the removal, I felt that it was important to remember, as your chief said yesterday, what came after. Unless you have lived in the homeland of your tribe, we all had a removal. I was telling a young lady out here from California, where I did live most of my life, “What is the westernmost Oklahoma town?” Does anybody know?

Where is it? Bakersfield, California. That’s the westernmost Oklahoma town because, like many people, my dad, in the ’50s, moved with my mom from Oklahoma to California. I was raised on the West Coast. I wasn’t raised around Chickasaw culture. In fact, most people I lived around had no idea what a Chickasaw was. They thought I was making it up when I told them I’m Chickasaw. They’re like, “I don’t even know what that is.” So, we all have our own removal stories from our culture and coming back home. One of the most heartfelt things that happened was when I did get to come to Oklahoma for the first significant visit and I met some Chickasaw storytellers. I just resonated with them, and she told me, “You know, I know you haven’t lived here before, but anytime a Chickasaw moves back to our territory, we call it coming home.”

So as you think about your journey, where you have been personally—not only your ancestors, not only your great-grandparents but where you have been—we are in the midst of a revitalization right now that is so exciting. Where our grandparents and some of our parents didn’t have a voice, they weren’t allowed to speak their language, they weren’t allowed to practice their culture or customs. We have young people growing up now that don’t know that in a way that doesn’t impact them to be hesitant about practicing their culture. We need to keep them alive in remembering the past, but it’s an exciting time for our tribes. As I tell you these stories, think about how they’ve been passed down and make sure you pass them on to your children and grandchildren as well.

Now you’re going to hear some various versions. Just a better preface that you may hear a different version of these stories because all tribes have some similar stories that are shared. This is our version, our Chickasaw version of creation.

In the beginning, everything was covered with water. The only living things were a few small animals that floated along on a raft made of hardwood. Nothing else could be seen above the surface of the water. One day, those animals decided that they wanted to see something, anything besides more water. They were curious, thank you. I think you can catch on.

Not knowing what to do or what to create, they asked for anyone with ideas. Shaki—can y’all say Shaki? Shaki, the crawfish, was the first to volunteer, and he dove off that raft into the deep. You guys are good. But the ocean was so deep and so vast that he was unable to reach the bottom, and so he returned to the animals on the raft. Shaki said, “I think it might be a good idea if we made land appear.” They agreed that was a good idea and began making plans on how to find land and who would help Shaki.

Shiki—can you say Shiki? Shiki, the buzzard, was the only one to volunteer. Three days later, Shaki again dove off the raft into the water. He failed again. Now, if you’ve ever seen crawfish, you know they’re not very big. Depending on where you come from, they’re called by different names: crawfish, crayfish, and I heard it as “crawdads.” That’s what I grew up knowing them as, little “crawdads.” I went frog gigging once and I caught a crawdad, and I was like, that was not my goal, but I caught him. They’re really small, and so it was a deep ocean that he was diving into. On the third try, using all of his strength, he dove again into the water, and finally, he reached the ocean floor. He found soft mud on the bottom of the ocean, and he used his tail like a shovel, scooping up the soft mud and building a great mud chimney. He worked very quickly, building it higher and higher until the top of the mud chimney finally stuck up above the surface of the water. Soon, it began to spread out, forming a mass of soft earth.

The animals still on that little raft looked in all four directions and saw this new land. They thought Shaki had done a good job. They got off the raft and began exploring this new land, but they thought it was too flat. I’m wondering if it was the Panhandle. They were used to the ocean waves tossing them about, small waves, bigger waves, and sometimes rolling waves. Because Shiki the buzzard had volunteered, it was Shiki who was allowed to help shape this newly formed earth. Shiki, I know you’re from all different places, but in Oklahoma, we have Shiki all over. You look up into the sky and you see those big birds with their long powerful wings. Shiki flew just above the surface of this land, and with every flap of those strong wings, he carved out the valleys and pushed up the mountains.

Later, it was from that same mud chimney that my people, the Chickasaw, and our cousin people, the Choctaw, were allowed to come and live on this land with the animals. To this day, we still share the same earth. That is the story of Crawfish and the Creation.

The End

Do you have any questions? Yes, ma’am.

I may have missed this, but I’ve only recently been made aware of this. How are the Chickasaw and the Choctaw brother tribes? I’ve even been told that they can understand each other’s language.

That is a great question. So, the question was, how are the Chickasaw and Choctaw related, or how did we come to be? That’s my next story. I’ll get to that. That’s a great question. As Jason got up here earlier, he sang Choctaw hymns, and those are still sung in many of the Chickasaw churches. Miss Ladonna Brown will be able to speak more historically on that. I get to speak more from the entertainment side. Some of what I tell you in the stories has been handed down for generations. I brought a book that I’ll show and tell you about that is great for doing some research if you want more historical facts. But yes, we are related, and our arrival ties are there if you see history. Today, we’re working together.

Just real quick, does anybody know what this blue thing is?

A rain stick.

It is a rain stick. It looks like a gourd.

It is a gourd.

Good job. There’s a lot of people that are like, “I don’t know what that is.” The kids, they go, “It looks like a giant pickle.” It is a gourd, and I created this to help tell that story because in the Southeast, unlike the Southwest, we didn’t have cactus, right?

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Donna Cortney

Hello, my name is Dancing Star Donna Courtney. I am Chickasaw. I am descended from the turtle clan, and my original enrollee was my grandfather, William Brooks Courtney. He was born in 1895 and was just a young child when he was enrolled on the Dawes list. Growing up at

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