COLBERT - The Choctaw Nation welcomed hundreds of guests and visitors on Friday to the opening ceremony of a remodeled and expanded Travel Information Center just north of the Red River on US 69/75 - the second busiest gateway to Oklahoma from north Texas.
Miko Apelachi (Assistant Chief) Gary Batton, the Choctaw Tribal Council, Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department officials and other dignitaries cut the ribbon on the tribe’s newest project under a bright blue sky on Friday morning.
Two new structures were erected on the picnic grounds near the great seal of Oklahoma: “Alaksha” or Choctaw winter home (a round structure of enclosed cedar logs) and a traditional brush arbor. Cultural demonstrations offered a glimpse of Choctaw lifeways, including traditional dances, stickball, music, pottery and crafts.
“We are excited about the opportunity to share the Choctaw heritage with so many people,” Chief Gregory E. Pyle said in a statement. “There is an opportunity to educate thousands of people a day about Oklahoma and the Choctaw Nation.”
Batton presented a Choctaw-made Pendleton blanket to OTRD Executive Director Deby Snodgrass, who remained wrapped in the blanket for most of the morning - even during interviews with local television stations. Batton was then presented an eagle feather by Choctaw spiritual leaders. Both gestures are traditional displays of respect among Choctaws and other native nations.
“This is the beginning of a long partnership between the Choctaw Nation and the Department of Tourism,” said Snodgrass.
The partnership began in July as the tribe entered a five-year contract with the state to operate the travel information center.
“It has been a wonderful experience getting this ready,” said Lana Sleeper, director of the center. “We’ve made great relationships with a lot of people. The state employees here have been a treasure.”
Choctaw Nation added two more people to work with the original center staff. They will operate a tourist-themed store which will include a variety of locally-produced arts, crafts and creations.
Colbert Historical Society also contributed to the effort, placing a plaque by the “Message Tree” in the center parking lot. An enormous oak has stood here since well before statehood, according to local lore.