BY LENA MITCHELL
More than 90 members of the Chickasaw Nation from Oklahoma are visiting Mississippi this week, many for the first time, walking the earth their ancestors called home.
An important site for these visitors is the Chickasaw Village on the Natchez Trace Parkway at mile marker 261, where an exhibit offers an interpretation of the life of this group of Native Americans.
On Wednesday, Natchez Trace Parkway staff, Tupelo Mayor Larry Otis, other National Park Service employees and members of the general public welcomed the group for a reception in Tupelo.
“This is my first time coming up here and I've really enjoyed the trip,” said Rose Jefferson of Ada, Okla. “I've always wanted to come and this was my opportunity. This is where my people used to live. Going to the Chucalissa mounds, I really enjoyed that.”
Jefferson speaks the Chickasaw language fluently, never speaking English until about third grade. She and others sang a hymn in the native language.
Karen Cook, administrator of the Chickasaw Nation Division on Aging, led the tour comprised of senior citizens who wanted to visit their homeland.
“We have nine nutrition sites and seniors from the different areas wanted to visit,” Cook said. “They had heard about some of the trips we've taken out here. They have fundraising every year for their spring and fall trips, so we planned this. We went to the Chickasaw Village, the battle site in Tupelo, the memorial at the medical center and the (Elvis) birthplace.”
A homeland welcome
Parkway Superintendent Wendell Simpson immediately endeared himself to the group, telling of his roots in Oklahoma.
“We are doing a lot of work here to be sure we accurately interpret the Chickasaw Nation and the history you have here in this part of the country,” Simpson said. “We are looking at the area where we will be repatriating some of the artifacts we find here on the Trace from your homeland, and we're working very closely with (Chickasaw Nation) Governor (Bill) Anoatubby.”
Otis acknowledged the partnership Tupelo has established with the Natchez Trace and also with the Chickasaw Nation.
“I want you to know I revere and respect the Chickasaw Nation,” Otis said. “I didn't know I would come into contact with Chickasaws this way. I've been an amateur student of Indian culture and I'm very committed to preserving your culture and trying to do the best we can to preserve your culture. We've made commitments to Gov. Anoatubby that because our town is built on your homelands we have to be very sensitive because of the burials that are there.”
The city is purchasing ground-penetrating radar to use on land before structures are built to see if there are any artifacts or graves buried there.
Otis thanked the group for the Chickasaw Nation's permission to use the Chickasaw image on Tupelo police uniforms. He also announced the Tupelo Rotary Club has raised $75,000 and have commissioned a statue of Chickasaw Chief Piomingo to be sculpted for placement in the city park.