Preserving Choctaw Culture: Crafts

By: Candace Barnette Email
By: Candace Barnette Email

This is a new era for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. And while the people are thriving under the lights of big business, that presents a new challenge: balancing the modern world with cultural traditions.

Still, crafts like basket-weaving and beadwork continue to flourish. Here at the Choctaw Indian Fair, they're showcased by artisans.

"If it goes away, it's gone forever," Choctaw Princess Lanena Grace John says. "Our elders have passed it on, passed it on, so we need to keep that tradition going."

The crafts hold a dual purpose. Artwork from tribal members preserves the culture, as well as providing a source of income for many families who are in need.

"They may have like 5 or 6 kids and only one parent working," coordinator Hester Allen. "For some of them, it's a good source of income for them. At the same time, keeping the traditions of our tribe alive."

And many people don't realize that the designs and colors in these crafts themselves hold special symbolic meaning to the Choctaw people. Like these diamonds that you'll see on baskets and dresses represent the diamond back snake that protected their crops from insects.

Both boys and girls will learn about the significance of crafts from a young age, and fine tune their skills over the years.

"Some start out making these as early as maybe 13, 14 and so on, but they are very skilled," coordinator Jeremy Chickaway says.

Zula Chitto was just a child when she learned to weave baskets, but over the years her craftsmanship has become very popular among the Choctaw people and visitors, alike... and her baskets are in high demand.

"She's only got five or six at home, only because people are always showing up and buying them," her granddaughter translates. "She can't really hold onto them for so long."

Zula's parents taught her to weave baskets, just as she passed down the knowledge to her children. Choctaws know that it's a process that must be preserved to keep their culture alive.

"She just says it's a part of us. It's always been a part of us," Zula's granddaughter relays.


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