Exploring the Chickasaw Cultural Center
A short two-hour trip south of Oklahoma City, Sulphur is home to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, a popular vacation destination that includes the Arbuckle Mountains, Lake of the Arbuckles, Turner Falls and Sulphur Springs. Now, there's a new reason to visit the area, the Chickasaw Cultural Center, sits adjacent to the recreational area on 109 rolling acres of hills, streams and woodlands.
The Chickasaw Cultural Center
Having just celebrated its one-year anniversary, the Chickasaw Cultural Center was built by the Chickasaw Nation to provide educational opportunities for the Chickasaw people and to share their unique history and culture with the world. “We don’t want people to just come and see; we want people to come and do,” says Dr. Amanda Cobb-Greetham, Administrator of the Division of History and Culture for the Chickasaw Nation.
Visiting the museum for the first time, I was immediately impressed with the thought that went into the center. The natural stone, copper and wood beam construction of the exhibit and research buildings blends the center into its natural surroundings. Once you enter the exhibits, you live Chickasaw history and culture through high-tech media exhibits. An orientation film in the 1,200-square-foot Council House theater in the Chikasha Poya Exhibit Center begins the history lesson.
From there, you enter The Spirit Forest, a lifelike replica of the Mississippi area from which the Chickasaw people originated. The Spirit Forest comes to life with the help of 60 sensors and 176 theatrical lights, changing from “day” to “night” and made complete with rolling thunder. You then experience the Trail of Tears, a sad journey in the history of the Native American people, as you walk through the Removal corridor. Multimedia special effects give a small glimpse into the despair the people felt on this long and deadly journey from the Chickasaw’s natural homelands in the southeastern part of the United States to Indian Territory.
Life after settlement in “Indian Country” is featured in additional exhibits. The Kochcha’ Aabiniili’ Amphitheater, Aba’ Aanowa Sky Terrace, Chikasha Inchokka’ Traditional Village and Honor Garden are part of the outdoor exhibit area that further enhances the Chickasaw cultural experience. A traditional Chickasaw village built on the grounds can be viewed from a sky terrace that protrudes from the exhibit center. An outdoor amphitheater stages events including demonstrations of the Chickasaw stomp dance. Chickasaw descendents play native music and demonstrate jewelry making and basket weaving. A labyrinth-like Honor Garden highlights past and present Chickasaws who have been entered into the Chickasaw National Hall of Fame. Center employees are very accommodating and even provide golf-cart transportation through outdoor exhibits, if necessary.
Other attractions include the 350-seat Anoli Theater, which has a state-of-the-art, 2,400-square-foot screen comparable with large-format screens only found in larger cities. The comfortable Holisso Research Center provides resources for genealogy or general Native American research.
You can grab a bite to eat at The Aaimpa’ Café featuring traditional Chickasaw foods like grape dumplings, Indian fry bread, and buffalo chili. Chickasaw-created products are available for purchase at the Aachompa’ Gallery Gift Shop.
Time at the cultural center is only determined by how much you want to interact with all of the exhibits. Interactive Language Learning Stations in the exhibit center, for example, feature touch screen technology that teach you to speak words of the Chickasaw language. Whether of Chickasaw heritage or not, the cultural center is worth visiting.
Open Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10:00am-5:00pm, Sundays noon-4:00pm (café hours differ).
Call 580-622-7130 or visit www.culturalcenter.com for more information.
You can’t leave the area without a cool dip in the waters of the springs, especially during the dog days of late summer. Just a short drive from the cultural center (east on US 7) is entry into the Chickasaw National Recreation Center. There is plenty to do in this area. But allowing the family to splash around in the beautiful trickling springs, long believed by settlers and Native Americans to provide healing powers, is an easy and perfect ending to your day.
As soon as you turn south onto US 177 from US 7, enter the wooded wonder of the recreational area. You’ll immediately begin seeing signs and turnouts to the Travertine Nature Center, many picnic areas and swimming holes. There is no fee for entry and you can just pick your spot. An area called “Little Niagra” is a popular spot, but there are many others that are less crowded. (I literally lay down on top of one of the trickling falls to cool off in the 102 degree heat, followed by a float on a raft—it was great!). Bring a cooler with snacks and spend a couple of hours. Don’t forget the sun block.
Karen Mitchell, a lifelong resident of the Oklahoma City metro area, lives in Edmond with her husband, Mark, teenage son, Ryan, and one spoiled Welsh Corgi. Daughter, Megan, attends OSU in Stillwater.