Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mother Mound

The big boss man, Malcolm White, and I traveled northeast on March 18 for a meeting at the Tribal Headquarters of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (MBCI). We were graced with a gorgeous day, good coffee from Cups in Fondren, and an inadvertent new route to the Pearl River Reservation. We were welcomed upon arrival by our new friend Fred Willis, an intern in the Public Information office of the MBCI, and taken back to the conference room. The path to the conference room was lined with shelves of Choctaw baskets and portraits of past Princesses.

After a great meeting with representatives from the Choctaw Cultural Preservation Program, Roseanna Thompson and Bobby Smith, as well as the Public Information Director Wilma Simpson, we took a tour of the Chahta Immi Center in the Town Center of the Pearl River Reservation. The Chahta Immi Center is in the middle of an exciting expansion where a new archive is being built, as well as an interpretive center and performance space. Right now, the Center is home to various courses in traditional craft (open to both Tribal members and the public), as well as youth education center where the wee Choctaws are taught their original language.

Malcolm White, Roseanna Thompson (MBCI Cultural Preservation Program), myself & Fred Willis (Public Information Office) at the Chahta Immi Center on the Pearl River Reservation.

During our meeting, Wilma shared with us that the Choctaw Nation is a very young tribe. Of the 10,000 members, 50% are age 25 or younger. Nearly 200 Choctaws are born every year and about 100 die. As many of you may have seen in the papers, Chief Philip Martin, who started gaming on the Reservation died in February, just two years after being defeated from his 28-year reign as Chief. Tribal Miko Beasely Denson took office in 2007, becoming the third democratically-elected Chief since the adoption of the Tribe’s modern constitution.

Truly, though, the highlight of our excellent day in Neshoba County was a journey across the county line to the Nanih Wayia Mound, the Mother Mound, in Winston County. Before the journey, Malcolm, Fred and I stopped in for lunch at Peggy's in Philadelphia where we talked family, friends, and food over a gracious plenty of fried pork chops, rice and gravy and corn bread sticks laden with butter. Again, the drive from the Pearl River Reservation to that of the Bouge Chitto Reservation was beautiful. Flowering quince and jonquils dotted property lines. We must have come on leaf burning day, because old men, small families and little ladies alike were all raking the remnants of winter into small, smouldering piles in their front yards.

The Mother Mound sits at the mouth of the Pearl River, a tiny little swamp where the Nanih Wayiah Creek and the Pearl Creek meet to form the river than runs all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. The Mother Mound was returned to the Choctaw Nation from the state of Mississippi on August 8, 2008, and is considered to be the sacred ground from which the Choctaw people emerged. I won't try to retell the hitory of this hallowed land, but you can read it for yourself here.

The mouth of the Pearl River.

From atop the Mother Mound, the world was quiet and the air was cool. We saw hawks and egrets and little strange mounds of spiked grass that hurt to the touch. We walked around the top of the mound, wondering how many others had since been destroyed by time, weather, man. Fred told us stories of the mound and its connection to the creation of the Choctaw people. He told us of the great joy and celebration upon the return of the mounds to the Choctaws, and the funny tales of people too afraid to enter the cave that neighbors the Nanih Wayia Mound.

Fred and Malcolm at the foot of the Mother Mound.

Malcolm once canoed the length of the Pearl River. Maybe I'll hike the innards of the cave.

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