We’re going to change things around since my models have to leave. So, I’m going to have them come out. What I’m going to do is discuss the difference between Mississippi and Oklahoma Choctaw culture. Mississippi Choctaws have kept their culture stronger due to living closer to their original geographic areas. I’ll show the difference between a contemporary Choctaw dress for evening and special occasions and the traditional work dress worn in Mississippi.

This is a contemporary Choctaw dress for evening and special occasions, like weddings and other important events. You won’t see a lot of details, but this is what is more common in Oklahoma.

Next, I want to show a work dress from Mississippi. When I was growing up in Mississippi, my mom and others had to work hard, doing things like picking corn. This is their work dress, which is shorter than the evening dress for convenience. Sometimes the apron had a pocket for carrying small items or for practical use like picking up hot stove items. These dresses were made for work, not for display, but they still have a certain style. Additionally, if you were a mother, the dress would open in the front for nursing.

My name is Warren Williams, and I’m from Durant, Oklahoma, part of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, but I am a registered member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. I was born and raised on the reservation in Mississippi, growing up with the culture there. When I was old enough, I went to a boarding school in Lawrence, Kansas, and then moved to Oklahoma. My wife and I met there, and after finishing school, I went back to Mississippi. My wife later moved to Mississippi and brought me back to Oklahoma, so I cried all the way here.

Growing up in Mississippi, I lived in a tight-knit, matrilineal society which is still much more prevalent there than in Oklahoma. Many of the leaders of the Choctaw Nation who moved to Oklahoma were mixed bloods, and most full bloods stayed in Mississippi. Some of us hid in the swamps to avoid removal, and the Catholic mission on the coast helped us.

The Choctaws in Oklahoma were officially recognized as a tribe by 1877, while the Mississippi Choctaws remained relatively isolated. This helped us maintain our culture, language, and traditions. My children had to choose whether to register with the Oklahoma or the Mississippi Choctaws, and they chose Mississippi. This separation led to distinct cultural differences between the two groups.

In Oklahoma, the Choctaws had to adapt quickly to new environments, building churches and schools. In Mississippi, we focused on maintaining our traditions and language. When I first started working for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, I noticed the cultural differences and decided to use stickball as a way to bridge the gap between the Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Louisiana Choctaws.

These are traditional stickball sticks. In Mississippi, stickball was often played to settle disputes, but it was also a form of recreation. Oklahoma Choctaws, having lost some traditional stories, didn’t know the significance behind the different-sized sticks. My grandmother taught me that the larger stick represents the man and the smaller one represents the woman. These sticks are designed to complement each other, symbolizing the importance of partnership and mutual respect in marriage.

In the traditional game, the male stick catches the ball, while the female stick holds it securely and guides the throw. This reflects the balance of responsibilities in a partnership, where the man provides and protects, but the woman guides and nurtures.

Moving to Oklahoma, I noticed that the Choctaws here had been more assimilated into European culture. This was different from the Mississippi Choctaws, who still followed many traditional practices. For example, in Mississippi, we didn’t have formal greetings like handshakes or hugs. We acknowledged each other’s presence more subtly.

Growing up in the Deep South during the 1960s, I experienced segregation firsthand. This was a difficult time, and it made me determined to preserve my identity and culture. My wife, who grew up in Oklahoma, didn’t experience the same level of segregation, which led to different perspectives in our marriage.

When we had children, we decided to move back to Mississippi to immerse them in their heritage. However, we realized that the state education system was not providing the same opportunities for our children as it did for others. So, we moved back to Oklahoma, put our children in public schools, and focused on their education without emphasizing their heritage initially. We wanted them to succeed on their own merits without feeling victimized.

Today, our children are successful adults, and now they appreciate their heritage and want to learn more about it. This approach worked for us, though it may not be suitable for everyone.

The Choctaw word for thank you is “yakoke.” In Mississippi, we didn’t have a direct word for thank you until we adopted European social protocols. Traditionally, we would express gratitude through actions rather than words.

Another cultural difference is the way we greet each other. In Mississippi, we don’t shake hands or hug as much. Instead, we acknowledge each other’s presence subtly, reflecting our respect and humility.

After removal, the Mississippi Choctaws lived in swamps and around Catholic missions, while the Oklahoma Choctaws were building a new nation. This difference in circumstances affected our development and recognition as tribes.

In Oklahoma, Choctaws were given land through allotments, while in Mississippi, we had to work as sharecroppers. This difference in property ownership created different mindsets between the two groups. Oklahoma Choctaws became accustomed to owning property, while Mississippi Choctaws focused more on preserving their culture.

When I first started working for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, I noticed that there were only a few traditional healers left. In Mississippi, we still relied on herbal medicine and traditional healing practices. One story that stands out is about my uncle, a diabetic who had a sore that wouldn’t heal. Despite modern medical treatment, it worsened until we sought help from a traditional healer. The healer’s treatment worked, and my uncle recovered.

This story illustrates the value of traditional knowledge and practices, even in the face of modern medicine. Understanding and respecting different cultures can offer valuable insights and solutions.

These are just a few examples of the differences between Mississippi and Oklahoma Choctaws. Both groups have unique strengths and challenges, and by understanding and respecting each other’s cultures, we can strengthen our connections and preserve our heritage. Thank you.

Leave a Reply