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Choctaw Traditions

It is hard to determine where many of the Choctaw traditions began, although we have glimpses throughout the years, mostly from the perspective of outsiders looking in. Paintings by George Catlin offer his view of Choctaw dance and stickball in the mid-1830's. The watercolors of Karl Bodmer depict Choctaws as hunters and traders even earlier in that decade. The photography of Harrington at the turn of the 20th century, the recordings of Frances Densmore, the work of photographers who documented Mississippi in the days of the New Deal, and film and photographs shot by Bob Ferguson over three decades show us that some things have changed, while some remain constant.

Tradition is a living thing, weaving its way through the lives of a people like a pattern in a basket or the steps of a dance. When it freezes, it dies. There may be changes in the type of applique or number of ruffles on a Choctaw dress. Hominy may be cooked in a crock pot instead of outdoors. Commercial dyes may take the place of dyes from nature, providing a wider range of colors for basket makers. Beadwork designs from other tribes may become a part of traditional Choctaw dress. Still, Choctaw traditions belong to the Choctaw people, with each generation forming a link between those who have gone before them and those who are yet to come. Every Choctaw who moves through the steps of a social dance, cuts, dyes, and weaves cane into a basket, or tosses a handmade stickball down the field, is taking up a legacy from his or her ancestors and leaving a legacy for the Choctaws of the future.