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Choctaws Showcase Native American Culture During Authentic MBCI Fair at MC

The first Choctaw Expressions at Mississippi College will include traditional social dances by members of the Boys and Girls Club Chahta Alla Hapiya Dancers.
The first Choctaw Expressions at Mississippi College will include traditional social dances by members of the Boys and Girls Club Chahta Alla Hapiya Dancers.

The sights and sounds of an authentic Native American festival will transform the historic Quad into a lively display of Choctaw culture during the first “Choctaw Expressions” event at Mississippi College.

Members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians will perform traditional tribal dances, demonstrate the ancestral artistry of beading and basket weaving, and display the athleticism of their cultural sport, stickball, among other activities that will showcase the unique tapestry of the Choctaw people.

Sponsored jointly by MC’s Multicultural Student Association and the MBCI Cultural Affairs Program, Choctaw Expressions brings an educational “Choctaw Indian Fair” to Clinton that will inspire attendees to learn more about Mississippi’s rich Native American culture. The festival is scheduled to take place from 1-4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 5; in the event of inclement weather, it will relocate to Alumni Hall.

Aaliyah Newsome, MSA president, conceived of the fair as a means of helping her fellow students grow in their understanding of the MBCI and its relationship with Mississippi College.

“We wanted to find ways to get students involved on our campus and understand why we are called Choctaws,” said Newsome, a senior biology-medical sciences major from Jackson. “We want them to know more about the Choctaws’ history. In order for MC students to represent the Choctaws, we should understand what their culture is, what they stand behind, and what their purpose is as the Choctaw tribe.

“This fair is a fun way to build awareness about what the Choctaws are all about.”

As a student-athlete at MC and a member of the MBCI, Taylor Ben is well aware of what it means to be a Choctaw. The junior guard on the women’s basketball team is looking forward to seeing her fellow tribal members on campus and helping develop new relationships while introducing her culture to faculty, staff, students, and community members.

“The MC Family needs to have greater awareness because of the ongoing use of the name ‘Choctaws’ proudly displayed across campus,” Ben said. “Over the last couple of years, I’ve heard people question, ‘What is a Choctaw?’ I take pride in my culture, so I always use that as an opportunity to let them know who I am, where I’m from, and what the Choctaw culture consists of.

“In those moments, I realize how important it is to educate students and staff who may not know about our culture.”

Mississippi College administrators are working to increase awareness about the Choctaws. Last July, MC President Blake Thompson and Choctaw Tribal Chief Cyrus Ben, a Mississippi College graduate, signed a memorandum of understanding solidifying the Christian University’s special relationship with the only federally recognized American Indian tribe living in Mississippi.

The MOU created a valuable tuition assistance program for Choctaw students and established an expanded cultural exchange between MC and the MBCI. MC will host Choctaw students and tribal leaders on the Clinton campus for cultural exchange and educational programs designed to address the academic interests of MBCI members and their descendants. And Chief Cyrus Ben, who played varsity football at MC, was invited to serve as speaker at the University’s Spring Commencement.

Choctaw Expressions is in keeping with the administration’s efforts to embrace MC’s namesake culture, Taylor Ben said.

“I strongly believe that this event will strengthen the relationship because it will show how much effort is being given to honor the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians,” she said. “It will enable students and staff to learn about the rich culture, history, and traditions of the MBCI, whose Tribal Government is located in Choctaw, Mississippi.”

Choctaw Expressions attendees will be treated to a cornucopia of Choctaw customs. Members of the Boys and Girls Club Chahta Alla Hapiya Dancers attired in colorful cotton clothing edged in fine ribbon work will engage in traditional social dances that entertain and inspire participation among members of the audience at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Representatives of the Choctaw Tribal Language Program will thrill young and old alike with compelling cultural stories about the Choctaw people at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Casey Bigpond, cultural revitalization specialist, will demonstrate the finer points of stickball, the classic sport of the Choctaw people, at 2:30 p.m. Similar to lacrosse, stickball players employ a pair of handcrafted kabocca sticks to sling a ball made of woven leather strips at opposing wooden goalposts stationed on either end of a field. Choctaw Expressions participants may even be able to try their hand at making a goal.

The festival will also feature demonstrations of delicate beading artistry by Shaya Hicks and handmade basket weaving by Eleanor Chickaway, recipient of the 1993 Mississippi Governor’s Arts Award. Choctaw beadwork and baskets will be available for purchase, as will ample servings of Choctaw tacos, a traditional tribal delicacy, and other food and beverage items. And Cadence Raine Nickey, crowned the 2022-23 Choctaw Indian Princess, will appear in her intricately tailored dress and ornately decorated crown topped by the customary eagle feather.

“I would love for students and staff to meet our beautiful ambassador,” said Taylor Ben, who looks forward to the social dancing and stickball demonstrations. “Our culture is so beautiful and unique that one event will not cover everything, but it makes my heart happy that Mississippi College is doing its part to learn more about our culture.”

She invites those who enjoy the Choctaw Expressions demonstrations at MC to take a deeper dive into MBCI culture during the 73rd annual Choctaw Indian Fair scheduled from July 12-15 in Choctaw, Mississippi.

“This will be an amazing opportunity for anyone who would like to experience more arts and crafts, the Choctaw Indian Princess Pageant, World Series Stickball, and other activities,” she said.

Newsome said that hosting events like Choctaw Expressions on the Clinton campus creates enthusiasm for the Choctaw people and their unique culture among MC students.

“This is a step in the right direction toward promoting different cultures on our campus,” she said. “The goal is to help establish an environment here that the Choctaw people will feel comfortable in and can benefit from. It gives the students a safe space to share their culture.

“I see this as an opportunity to build awareness about the Choctaws, bring more people to campus, and include the community. It’s an opportunity for us to grow as a school.”