By Amanda McCarty
Some of the earliest Native American advocates for celebrating this country’s indigenous people were Dr. Arthur Caswell Parker, Reverend Red Fox James and Reverend Sherman Coolidge. They fought for a single day of recognition in a time when our country had yet to acknowledge indigenous people as citizens.
Today, we recognize the month of November as Native American Heritage Month, but what does that mean?
For those of us who live on Tribal ground, we’re fortunate enough to be constantly surrounded with Native culture. But if Native culture isn’t an aspect of your daily life, it can sometimes be easy to forget where we came from. And while the stories of our Native ancestors deserve to be celebrated the whole year ‘round, I believe it’s especially important to do so in November, at a time when the whole country, regardless of race or heritage, is focused on honoring the historical legacy of our “First Americans.”
So, how can we celebrate if we live in, say, Dallas? Lucky for you, Durant is less than two hours north of the Metroplex — a straight shot up Highway 75 — and has everything you need to immerse yourself in a thoroughly Native November experience.
Here are five things you can do during your stay:
1. Attend the Choctaw Powwow
The rhythmic pull of the drums. The blur of color as ribbon-dressed dancers circle the floor. The interlacing of voices in harmony and song. The fragrant aroma of homemade food. The thrill of competition in a heated game of stickball.
If you’ve never been to a powwow, this is the one to attend. The Choctaw Powwow is one of the nation’s largest, with more than 50 tribes from across the country participating. This annual, three-day event kicks off Friday, November 4th at the Choctaw Cultural Center and continues from the 5th through the 6th at the Choctaw Event Center.
2. Take a Class
There’s something about creating things with our hands that allows us to really connect to the past. Maybe it’s because our movements so closely mimic those of the people who came before us. There’s no technology that’s changed there — it’s the simple repetition of muscle and bone that’s been passed down through the generations.
The Choctaw Cultural Center is the perfect place to experience this kind of tactile learning, offering classes on fiber spinning, diamond stitching, basketry and beadwork — just to name a few. While you’re there, be sure to explore the vividly engaging exhibits, living village and the stickball arena.
3. Indulge in Native Cuisine
Speaking of the Choctaw Cultural Center, it’s also a great place to enjoy Native cuisine. Champuli Café offers a variety of traditional favorites, like tanchi labona (simmered pearl hominy corn and braised pork), banaha (cornmeal-based bread) and pinto beans and everyone’s favorite, the Indian taco.
If you’ve never experienced the deliciousness of a fresh, Indian taco, you’ve been missing out. It starts with a generous portion of frybread and is topped with beans, ground beef and the usual taco fixings. Fortunately, while you’re in Durant, there’s more than one place to indulge in this unique dish. The Frybread Express food truck is a local favorite and can usually be found along the highway near the casino.
4. Explore Indigenous Art
Nothing is as capable of putting our lives into perspective in quite the same way as visual art. Each canvas is a story of where that artist has come from — an amalgamation of their experiences and the legacy they wish to leave behind.
The Art Walk at Choctaw Casino & Resort–Durant features over 6,000 pieces of Native artwork and offers a unique journey through a self-guided tour of this artistic landscape. A smaller, but no less beautiful collection is housed at the Semple Family Museum of Native American Art, open to the public from 1pm-4pm Tuesday – Thursday.
5. Support a Native-Owned Business
Celebrating Native American Heritage Month doesn’t have to look overtly tribal. Giving back to the community by visiting local, Native-owned businesses is one of the best and easiest ways to show your support.
While in Durant, you could enjoy a hearty meal at Main Street Barbecue, unwind with your bestie at Blue River Valley Winery, treat yourself to some retail therapy at Five Eighty Vogue or relax with a facial at The Glam Factor.
If you’re curious about more Choctaw-owned businesses, you can view the directory here.