Okay, Hatako Kopima, Indian people. We have always been praying people. Before the Christian missionaries came to this continent, we were praying people. Back home, that’s the very first thing that we do, and we’re going to carry on that tradition. Amen. So join me in prayer.

Prayer

Chihuahua

Father God in heaven, we thank you for giving us this good day.

Lord, for knowing all things and for seeing all things and for loving us so much, we thank you, Chihuahua.

Father, for the beauty of your creation—the earth, the skies, the seas—we thank you.

Lord, for the blessings you give to all people, we thank you.

For our food and drink, for our families, and for all of our tribes, we thank you, Chihuahua.

Lord, for our minds that we may think, for the love that is in our hearts, and for watching over us so that all may be good, that we may all be together as one, Polenki Mom.

To the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we praise and glorify you forever and always.

Jesus, in your name, we ask these things, and everyone said, Amen.

Introduction

Alright, well, it is so good to be with you this morning and so good to share Choctaw hymns with you. Us being Chickasaw, we’ve always sung out of the Choctaw hymn, and most of you know we were one people a long time ago, so our languages are very, very similar. This is why we do not have Chickasaw hymns; we sing from the Choctaw hymnal.

This is the latest Choctaw hymnal, and there is an account in here that I like to share. It says, “The Choctaws were the first tribe to be removed from their ancient homeland in the fall of 1831. The first group of Choctaws left for Indian Territory on a 500-mile exodus known as the Trail of Tears.” Missionary Lauren Williams said in the language of the Choctaw people, “I do not despise the gospel nor disbelieve your word, but I am distressed with the loss of my beloved country and have my mind so full of anxiety on this subject that I have no room for any other thought. I can neither sing nor pray, and why should I pretend to do so when my heart is not in it?”

I carry this with me. I’ve told a few folks, I don’t so much care about tomorrow; I’m more concerned about yesterday and what I can do to find better ways to connect to yesterday. These songs are a way of doing that.

The Friendship Song

We have a song back home that we sing. Most of you are familiar with the stomp dance. If you were to come to Kalahoma, our dance ground, you would see this is the first song that we open with. As it’s been told to me, this is how we open the door. If you were to go to a Creek stomp ground, this would be the first song that they would open with. There’s a story that goes with the friendship song, “Encana Taloah,” which I’m about to sing.

A great man, so thankful to have known this man named Veron Culley, kind of took me under his wing and shared our songs with me. He told me, “Jason, this is how we, in our language Oka Sati, open the door.” He said, “Jason, when we reach adulthood, we all have obligations and responsibilities; none of us are excluded. But when we open this door, none of that’s welcome here. You leave all that outside the door.”

You know, we all have responsibilities, obligations—mouths to feed, bodies to clothe, bills to pay, and so forth. It never stops. But as we open this door, we leave all that outside. Farron went on to tell me, “When the dance is over, you feel free to pick up whatever circumstances are in your life, but right now, this is a time of giving thanks, and none of that’s welcome here.”

So I always enjoy sharing that story, and I just want to open the door this morning with the friendship song. I told the nice lady here that I would try to refrain from moving around. I like to move around, but I’ll just sing the song here, and we will open the door the way we’ve always done.

Opening the Door

Cultural History

Whenever I talk about my Chickasaw culture, I like to implement what we did a long time ago and what we do today. That’s a little bit of both there—how we open the door and how it lets us know that whatever may be going on in our lives, we leave it outside the door. This is a time of giving thanks.

Whenever I talk to people, I like to talk about my Chickasaw history and where we come from. We know our ancestral homelands were Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Our first interaction with the Europeans was in 1540 with Hernando de Soto. Indian people were hospitable and welcoming, so we welcomed de Soto and his men, helping take care of them through the winter. But the longer this man stayed with our people, we saw he had ulterior motives. He came up from the Florida coast and made a request for some of our women and men to treat them as slaves. Our chief basically said, “We’ll get back to you,” and that’s when we attacked his people and sent them on their way.

But I say all that to say this: that happened in 1541. We didn’t meet another European until 1670, almost 130 years later. The Europeans didn’t quit coming to North America; they kept coming. One of the things I learned in my higher education days in college is that the best form of advertising is word of mouth. The word went clear over to Europe: there’s a people over there, the Chakasha, so steer clear of those people.

It’s written in our history that that’s a fact—130 years before we saw another European. I just really like chewing on things about my people’s history. We were a very intense people. Those days of warfare are long gone today, but today we’ve only increased the opportunities for our Chickasaw people to excel. We’re very fortunate and blessed that our young people in our tribe who want to go to college are able to do so. When I speak to our Chickasaw young people, I tell them, “Whatever you want to do in life, you can go do that.”

Indian Removal Act

In 1830, the American Indian Removal Act went into law. The Choctaw were removed in 1831. Chickasaw people were removed in 1837. During the removal, we lost our loved ones—women, children, grandparents. As it was told to me, we weren’t allowed time to have proper burial ceremonies. What our people would do is take a blanket, which was needed, but they would sacrifice that blanket, lay it over the deceased, and continue on the removal.

Today, back home, if you were to go to a Chickasaw funeral, one of the final things we do is lay a blanket over the casket. That’s our way of saying, “Pono Funka,” we remember where we come from and everything that our people went through. Even though life is perception and it may seem like a long time ago, to me it’s not that long ago. That’s the way I try to live my life.

Preserving Culture

When we came to Indian Territory, it was illegal to sing our songs or speak our language, and there could be great consequences if we were caught. To keep our songs alive, we took them deep into the woods and sang them at night in secrecy. To keep our language alive, we kept it alive in our living rooms. Back home, we have a common phrase, “ishq,” which means to be hard-headed. Chickasaw people are a stubborn, hard-headed people. My mother-in-law told me a long time ago, “Jason, you’re not hard-headed; you’re steel-headed.”

That’s a beautiful thing that can be of great benefit if used properly. I’m thankful that we’re made that way. Our young Chickasaw people seem to think that it’s always been this way, that times have always been good for Indian people, but it’s not been that way. I’m thankful for prayers spoken a long time ago being brought to fruition today. I’m a stubborn person; I believe it’s in my genetic makeup to be that way. It’s one of the reasons our people are enjoying the success we have today.

Singing Choctaw Hymns

Most of you should have handouts. We’re going to sing a few Choctaw hymns. I’ve got some volunteers to help me in a little bit. They may be a little nervous, but I hope so.

I was back home Wednesday listening to Choctaw hymns. We’ll start with hymn 184, “What a Day That Will Be.” We’re modern day too, and I go to a small country church back home. I like to sing familiar church songs in the Choctaw language, and they enjoy it when I do that. If it’s an unfamiliar Choctaw hymn, I want people to be familiar with what I’m singing. Y’all help me here with “What a Day That Will Be.”

Hymn 46

We’ll go to Choctaw hymn 46. These songs are sung to a variety of melodies. This 46 has an upbeat version to it, but we’ll go slow today. It’s sung to the song “I’m Going Home to Die No More.”

Hymn 48

We’re going to sing hymn 48 to the melody of “Amazing Grace.” Everyone knows the melody of “Amazing Grace,” so we’ll sing

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Jason Burwell

Okay, Hatako Kopima, Indian people. We have always been praying people. Before the Christian missionaries came to this continent, we were praying people. Back home, that’s the very first thing that we do, and we’re going to carry on that tradition. Amen. So join me in prayer. Prayer Chihuahua Father

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