OKLAHOMA (KFDX/KJTL) — They were the first Native American tribe to be removed by the federal government from their ancestral home  for land set aside in what became Oklahoma.

Continuing our month- long National Native American Heritage series,  Darrell Franklin and Curtis Jackson shine a spotlight on the Choctaws.

The Choctaw Nation calls what happened in the Trail of Tears, Removals, because of the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

The Choctaws are a strong people, who while honoring their ancestors, always find new ways to survive as the world changes around them.

(Choctaw language from Moundville exhibit)  “God gave us a great gift, a kernel of corn.”

With it, Choctaw ancestors found a new food and a new way of life.

These are the fascinating stories Stephanie and Larry Wood are taking in for the very first time at the Choctaw Cultural Center in Durant.

“We’ve done some travels,” said Stephanie, “my husband’s got some Cherokee in him. We’ve made some travels to the east, been to numerous museums and we’re learning some things in here we did not know before. It’s very beautiful.”

“So you boil it for about 45 minutes and after that it’s ready to go,” Teaching Kitchen Curator Kristen Walczesky said.

At the Choctaw Cultural Center, anyone, and that goes for children on field trips, can see for themselves how to make tribal dishes.

Walczesky: “I mean thousands of years. Choctaws have been making it for many, many years. It’s actually a traveling food. So, it keeps very well without refrigeration or without being frozen so you can use it to sustain yourself through long travels.”

Just one of the many exhibits at the cultural center offers a glimpse of what Choctaw crop fields were like and how they were worked. You can hear the birds sing, the insects, even children playing. It’s just the beginning of an incredible historic journey.

The oldest field sport in North America was also a substitution for war.

When fighting over land areas or fishing areas, or maybe defending loved ones, tribes would settle disputes with Choctaw Stickball, or they ‘d  just compete.

“Every year when communities would come together for annual gatherings, stickball would be played,” Historic Preservation Program Coordinator Lindsey Bilyeu said. “It was a community- wide event and was significant for us.”

“We come up to the casino quite a bit,” said Stephanie Wood.

Stephanie & Larry can’t be disappointed in the Choctaw Casino Resort.

After a 600- million dollar investment, The Sky Casino is open, offering several thousand slot machines, many restaurants, a thousand rooms, and unlike their other casinos, everything here is smoke free.

“We couldn’t be prouder,” said Choctaw Nation Executive Director of Marketing Wendy Carter. “Honestly, we exist to fuel the economy that is the ten and a half counties of the Choctaw Nation and beyond. This resort has over 6,000 employees that cross our gaming brand,  and then of course the tribe employs several thousand more. So, that’s where the pride wing is, serving the customers and providing jobs for the people of southwest Oklahoma.

(From Moundville exhibit) In the fertile (Choctaw language) valley, our ancestors designed and built one of the largest cities of its time.

From the Choctaw Living Village’s Mound, to other immersive environments and interactive experiences, history comes alive at the Choctaw Cultural Center.

“Come and allow a lot of time because there’s so much to read and so much to see,” said Larry Wood.

That’s  because the Choctaw ancestor story lives on through the Choctaw people of today.

 Their people are a part of three federally recognized tribes. There is a band in Mississippi, one in Louisiana, and the largest is in Oklahoma.  

If you’d like to learn much more about the Choctaw Nation, here’s a link to the Choctaw Cultural Center.