Chickasaw students research their roots

East Central University students Brad Deramus and Elena Jimenez study a marker about a summer house site at the Chickasaw Village site on the Natchez Trace Parkway. They’re part of a team that is researching projects in order to teach others about Chickasaw history. (Adam Robison)

East Central University students Brad Deramus and Elena Jimenez study a marker about a summer house site at the Chickasaw Village site on the Natchez Trace Parkway. They’re part of
a team that is researching projects in order to teach others about Chickasaw history. (Adam Robison)

By M. Scott Morris
Daily Journal

TUPELO – Oklahoma is home for a group of visiting university students, but parts of Northeast Mississippi are their homeland.

A team of eight students from the Chickasaw Nation and East Central University in Ada, Okla., are researching Chickasaw sites to learn more about their history.

“It’s great for them to see these sites,” said Tom Cowger, director of ECU’s Native American studies program. “It fuels their passion.”

The week-long research trip began on Saturday. The students have visited the Chickasaw Village on the Natchez Trace, the Chickasaw Chissa’Talla’ Preserve and the site of the George and Saleachy Colbert Tavern, among other locations.

There’s more to the visit than sightseeing. The students are expected to process what they learn and develop materials to educate others about how Chickasaws lived before the Trail of Tears forced them out of the southeastern United States.

Natchez Trace Park Ranger Jane Farmer came up with the idea about two years ago. She wrote a grant to pay for the students’ trip.

Their resulting projects will be made available to teachers on the Internet at www.nps.gov/natr/forteachers.

“Everything they do has to be something related to the Natchez Trace,” Farmer said. “Of course, the Chickasaws lived all through this area, so anything about their history certainly connects to the Natchez Trace.”

Farmer said the Chickasaw projects should be available to teachers by January.

Researchers from the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians will work on other projects to be completed before the end of 2014.

Micah Hart, 19, a mass media student at ECU, said he was in Tupelo several years ago, but this trip has included more stops and more information.

“Other people are doing reports or slideshows. I’m doing a documentary,” said Hart, who was filming at the Chickasaw Village after a Tuesday afternoon rainstorm.

ECU student Robbie Hatton, 49, is interested in the region’s geography and how it differs from the geography in Oklahoma. He’s focused on the plants his ancestors had access to.

“For example, medicinal purposes, the roots you’d find in swamplands here,” he said. “There were swamps here then, but when you get to Oklahoma, there’s nothing like that. How did they adapt? I don’t have all the answers, but I’m trying to find out.”

Hatton said his grandmother was born in Oklahoma, but she told him stories about the homeland. She was from an area called Owl Creek in Oklahoma.

“There’s an Owl Creek here,” Hatton said. “It’s interesting how they took the names with them.”

Brad Deramus, 41, is an ECU student and director of operations of the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Okla.

He said he hopes projects developed by the students also will be on display at the center.

“This is the beginning. Here, we go back to the ancient story,” Deramus said. “This is a place to honor and cherish our old history.”

scott.morris@journalinc.com