Jul. 20—The Choctaw Nation Cultural Center, which tells the 14,000-year history of the Choctaw people, is set to open to the public Friday in Durant.
"We are so proud to be able to share this with the Chahta community," said Senior Director Stacey Halfmoon. "This is the embodiment of the Chahta Nowvt Aya, or the Choctaw Journey."
Halfmoon said the cultural center is the product of efforts by many dedicated members of the Choctaw Nation community and more than a decade of research.
"It serves as a place to gather, learn, and perpetuate the Chahta spirit and way of life," Halfmoon said.
The center walks a visitor through the origins of the Choctaw people from the homelands in Mississippi to present-day in southeast Oklahoma.
"Here we are able to share Chahta culture as seen through those who live it," said Halfmoon. "I think that's what makes our exhibits and this experience so unique is you really see it through Chahta people's eyes and hear the stories that are directly from Chahta people."
The permanent exhibition showcases a four-part history of the tribe, beginning with a video with stories told by members of the Choctaw Nation. After the video is over, visitors will enter "Moundville" that shows how the tribe lived in one of its earliest settlements along with telling the origins of the tribe.
Visitors will then enter the second part of the exhibit which details the first-contact with the Europeans and how the tribe reorganized to survive after 90% of the tribe died from disease.
The third exhibit details the treaties that were signed between the tribe and the U.S. Government that led up to the Trail of Tears.
As a visitor walks through the exhibit, the hallways get narrower, and the background sound effects change to a somber wind as the visitor enters the Trail of Tears area.
A window to the left looks to the living village that is outside of the cultural center.
"The concept is as you're moving forward in time, as you're being removed from your homelands, you get one quick glimpse back to the world that we left," said Thomas Olive, an employee of the cultural center. "The mound, the dance circle, the traditional housing. The window is the last glimpse of our traditional homeland and our traditional way of life."
The last part of the exhibit shows how the tribe lived life post-removal to present-day.
All four parts of the permanent exhibits use augmented reality, videos, life-sized scans of actual tribal members, animals, background sounds, interactive activities, and plants to help tell the stories of the Choctaw people.
The cultural center also consists of the Luksi Activity Center for children and the living village outside which features a scaled version of the mother mound, traditional housing, a dance circle, and Choctaw heirloom crops along with stickball fields.
Halfmoon said she hopes the Choctaw community will come together to use the center to help carry only the story of the tribe.
"It is designed a living, breathing space," Halfmoon said. "It's our hope that the Chahta community infuse the cultural center with activity and classes and are here not only to learn, but to educate.
When we're doing that well, I think anybody walking in, anybody from around the world that comes to the Choctaw Cultural Center will feel that authenticity and will see that we're a living, breathing cultural center."
The 100,000-square-feet center is scheduled to open Friday at 10 a.m. with a ribbon cutting.
Admission is free to all tribal members with general admission tickets costing $12 with discounts available for children, veterans, senior citizens, and college students.
Hours of operation will be Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The center is located at 1919 Hina Hnata Way in Calera, Oklahoma.
Contact Derrick James at firstname.lastname@example.org