DURANT – Friendly faces from the San Francisco bay area filled the Fort Mason Center on Sept. 23, 2012, all eagerly anticipating Choctaw Day. The day was filled with Choctaw art, crafts, dancing and more.
Early comers were able to participate in a basket weaving class. Nearly half of the 200 guests arrived early to make woven placemats. “It takes a lot of concentration,” mused Christine Atchison of Salinas, Calif., as she focused on her project. Atchison’s work was not in vain though – she completed a fine placemat fit for a Choctaw.
The Choctaw dance troupe then took center stage to display traditional Choctaw dances – the Wedding, Raccoon and Four-Step War dances – as more guests filled the room.
Lunch was provided as Joey Tom and Billy Eagle Road gave stickball lessons to interested guests. Exhibits featuring traditional Choctaw weaponry, beading and language were also available throughout the meeting.
Following lunch, language instructor Lillie Roberts opened the formal presentation with a prayer in both Choctaw and English. Assistant Chief Gary Batton spoke to the guests, telling them about the current events within the Choctaw Nation.
Retired police officer of over 30 years, John Smith, joined Batton by the mic and placed a valuable artifact in the care of the Choctaw Nation. Smith donated a Colt .32-20 single action revolver, carried by Joseph Durant, a believed Choctaw Lighthorseman.
“This piece of history should be in a museum instead of keeping it locked up in a drawer,” said Smith. The tribe concurs with Smith and will be placing the revolver at the Choctaw Museum, located on the capitol grounds in Tushka Homma, where it can be seen and enjoyed by all.
Batton accepted the revolver from Mr. Smith with much gratitude.
Following Batton’s speech, the Choctaw Dance troupe took center stage again and got the crowd involved with the Stealing Partners, Snake and Walk dances. Chanter and singer Brad Joe then took the mic to display Choctaw flute playing and the singing of a Choctaw hymn.
Joe’s display of musical talent concluded the formal portion of the meeting. The crowd was then able to meet Assistant Chief Batton and other Choctaws, enjoy refreshments, return to booths to learn about language, stickball and weaponry, or learn Choctaw beading with the Cultural Services instructors.
Choctaw Day in San Francisco also saw many distinguished guests…
Robert ‘Tomaka’ Bailey
Though California is thousands of miles away from the physical boundaries of the Choctaw Nation, the culture is still strong with brothers and sisters to the west. One Choctaw keeping the culture alive in the Golden State is Robert ‘Tomaka’ Bailey.
Bailey, a professional magician by trade, is an instructor for a community Choctaw language class in the Northern California area. Bailey coordinates with Richard Adams of the Choctaw Language Department to make sure he is teaching the language identical to his Oklahoma counterparts.
Bailey is on the Board of Directors for the Friendship House Association of American Indians Inc. of San Francisco. This association’s facility is the location where his classes are taught. There are currently eight students who attend the class on a steady basis with constant interest from others.
Bailey’s class currently meets for two hours each Saturday and he teaches with a 50/50 emersion method. When he writes on the blackboard, all sentences are in Choctaw as well as English. It is his hope for the class to be speaking Choctaw exclusively during the lessons by March.
Due to the large amount of time required to become fluent in a language and the limited time allotted in class, Bailey has recorded CDs for his students to take home and study. CDs are in a “Rosetta Stone type format,” stated Bailey. There are full sentences in Choctaw followed by the English version.
Bailey began learning the language in 2000 when inspired by his cousin, Ida Wilson, who already spoke the language and encouraged him to become more familiar with his Choctaw roots.
As he began to learn about his Choctaw heritage, he began to see how important it was to keep the language alive. His mother, who formerly spoke Choctaw also served as a motivation for his dedication to the study.
“I’m giving back to the tribe to preserve a very important part of our culture,” said Bailey. “It is my responsibility to pass this on.”
In addition to teaching the language, he also incorporates his Choctaw background into many of his performances. He does magic shows at venues such as school assemblies and veteran’s theater, often tying in Choctaw language and history.
Bailey has recently won a 2012 Jefferson Award for this work with the Friendship House, the language classes and his work with schools and veterans. The Jefferson Award is a prestigious award that has honored public servants for their efforts since 1972.
Artists Sean Nash and Merisha Lemmer
The San Francisco area is home to many artists. The Choctaw Nation was proud to showcase the work of two of its own during Choctaw Day.
Sean Nash and Merisha Lemmer both took time out of their schedule to join the Choctaw Nation and brought with them several impressive pieces of work.
Nash is an Oakland native who has lived in the San Francisco area for 15 years, working on his art and producing films. His first animated short film was recently recognized at the Sundance Film Festival.
His art and films take a unique perspective on Native American heritage, focusing on before there were divisions among, not just natives, but all people.
Nash mentions that all people have a story of how they came to be, but he is focusing on where they were before that. He has noticed that many origin stories, though different, have many similarities. Before there was Native American, Asian or African, there was just man.
Nash teaches art at several venues and is studying for his Master’s of Fine Arts in painting and film at the San Francisco Art Institute.
Lemmer is a resident of Sanoma County who grew up in Camp Meeker, Calif. In high school “I felt art was a way I could express myself,” said Lemmer.
As she came to enjoy art, she attended Oxbow Art Program, and later Savannah College of Art. There she studied design and illustration. She has illustrated several of her own children’s books which she then published.
Lemmer also has a strong connection to the Choctaw people. She was a Choctaw princess for the California Okla Chahta group in 2000-2001. Her family also encouraged her to learn more about what it means to be Choctaw.
After learning more of her roots, she began to focus her books on the Choctaw language. “It is important for people to learn their heritage,” stated Lemmer.
One of the children’s books that she has published is illustrated with animals and a Choctaw phrase describing the animals. It is her hope that whoever reads her books will get a little dose of the Choctaw language and that it inspires a younger generation to learn the language of her people.