Sunday, November 17, 2019

Choctaws Share Heritage at Lacombe Museum

The Bayou Lacombe Museum celebrated "Native American Month" Saturday afternoon with a talk on the history of the Choctaw nation, its culture, dances, and recreation. Many Choctaw have lived in St. Tammany, especially the Lacombe area, and the museum features an exhibit of their lifestyle, basket-making, and heritage.

 Karen Ducre Raymond, President of the Bayou Lacombe Museum, introduced guest speaker William Dan Issac.

Karen Raymond and William Dan Issac

"Growing up in Choctaw, Ms., William Dan Issac often pondered the differences between his way of life on the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians reservation and the way that people lived in what he considered "the outside world." After graduating from Choctaw Central High School, he went into the U.S. Air Force and says he experienced many different cultures while there.

"He says people were interested in his culture and would tell him that it's rare to see a Native American in the Air Force. After he left in 1991, he began researching and learning more about his culture. Today, after 30 years teaching others, he continues to learn and spread his knowledge of Choctaw culture.

"One way that he is doing that is through organizing events such as the Native American Heritage Festival, which takes place in Clinton.

"Issac says he sees a need to strengthen the sense of community within the Choctaw nation, but also to grant others a glimpse inside the culture, including through events like the festival.

"It definitely broadens people's perspective of what the Native's culture is about, who we are, what we stand for, and all of our customs and traditions," he says. "I want to put a spotlight on traditions that we grew up with and beliefs, especially the values."

The Choctaw people are alive and well today, but many people aren't aware of it, he said. The Choctaw visitors to the museum were from the Choctaw reservation in Mississippi. "The people in the area may know there's a casino there, but as far as anything else Choctaw, they really may not have been exposed to the culture. They may only know the stereotypes," Issac commented.

Even outside of his work on the Native American Heritage Festival, Issac is helping to improve his home state. For more than 15 years, he worked as a substance-abuse counselor and a residential counselor of the Choctaw Housing Authority with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Development. 

In October, he accepted a position on the board of the Natchez Trace Parkway Commission. He says the tribe has been working on that for a few years because it felt that the board needs input from Native Americans. He hopes to eventually become someone like a tribal historian that people can go to and have an influence in how the culture is taught on and off the reservation. 

The Choctaw reservation is 35 miles north of Meridian, MS, near Philadelphia, MS. They have their own tribal school system and nine communities. Their children attend tribal school and are encouraged to learn Choctaw ways, dances and language.

Some people in the audience pointed out that there are websites now that share the Choctaw language and teach how to say Choctaw words. One such website is Issac warned that there were many dialects of Choctaw language, so the same word could be said several different ways. The word for "bayou" was one example he gave.

Some Choctaw students in his area also attend public schools outside the reservation, he noted, adding that " many of our youth excel in sports and academics"

He went on to say that while many people know that Navajo Native Americans were featured as "world war II code-talkers" in both a book and a movie, it was actually members of the Choctaw and Cherokee nations who were the first  "code talkers" in World War 1. They were used to transmit messages in their native tongue so the Germans were unable to understand the radio messages.

He explained how many clans made up the Choctaw nation, and when two groups had a conflict, they often agreed to a stickball game deciding the winner, instead of going to war where tribe members may be killed while settling the conflict.

A stickball game was among the demonstrations given by the group after the presentation inside the museum.

He also told about the Choctaw and the "Trail of Tears" that removed their tribes from Mississippi to Oklahoma. The Choctaw were actually subjected to two or three "Trail of Tears" forced migrations, he explained.

He mentioned that many Choctaw would just drop out of the group being moved when they passed through an area they wanted to stay in and just start heading out to the side after nightfall. "And some families who went on the forced migration, when they got there, they just turned around and walked back home. That's why there's still so many of us in Mississippi and southeast Louisiana."

He feels it is important to teach the young people of the ways of the Choctaw, particularly teach them how to teach others, so the knowledge will go forth and bring benefits unto the seventh generation.

"Our Choctaw spirit is strong," he told the several dozen people in attendance, "and we fully embrace everything that we do. We celebrate life and have fun. That's what we are here for today in Bayou Lacombe," he concluded.

After the presentation, everyone went outside and Issac explained the purposes of the various dances that were being demonstrated next to the museum. 

 The museum, located at 61115 Saint Mary St., in Lacombe, will offer a program next Saturday afternoon focusing on Father Rouquette, whose work in the Lacombe area involved many of the Choctaws who lived there.

 The November 30 program will feature an overview of Beadwork, Baskets and Blowguns. 

Above: One of the exhibit panels showing Choctaw heritage in Lacombe

The poster commemorating Native American Month 

See also:

Bayou Lacombe Museum

Lacombe Hall of Heroes Dedicated

The Choctaw Village of Sun

Couple Recalls Choctaw Heritage
Choctaw Artifact Mounds

Choctaw Indian Life in the Lacombe Area

The River of Falling Hair