The Next Step

Jane Thomas ’10 hoped to learn about her Choctaw culture, history and tradition through her interactions with other Choctaws of her generation, but was surprised to find that they had no more knowledge of their culture and history than she did. Her research culminated in a CAMD Scholar presentation, titled “The Next Step: The Choctaw A Century After the Trail of Tears,” that took place in Kemper last Friday. Thomas’ primary source for her research was her grandfather, William Bennett. She also spoke with Choctaw residents of McCurtain, Oklahoma, her grandfather’s birthplace. Although the size of the Choctaw population is second only to the Cherokee among the five most prevalent Midwestern tribes, Thomas observed that the culture is fading and not nearly as strong as it once was. Thomas told the story of four generations of Choctaw Indians in the 20th century. The first generation, of which her grandfather is a part, dealt with legislation that sought to end the cohesive tribal unit. This mindset of “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” which had existed since 1867, argued that Native Americans were capable of succeeding in modern society but only if they left their heritage behind. Thomas observed a major correlation between federal legislature involving Choctaw and these peoples’ attitudes towards their history “People try to fit in and blend into society,” she said. “They’re not getting into the history or culture.” Legislation continued to shape the attitudes of the following generations. According to Thomas, discrimination against Choctaw Indians provided an even greater incentive to assimilate into the American culture. For example, Thomas said, children would face discrimination at schools if they were discovered to be Choctaw. Thomas’ generation of Choctaw Indians is not necessarily ashamed of its heritage, she said, but simply does not know much about it, since the previous generation was a “missing link” in passing on the culture. Thomas said that her research has only made her want to learn more about the Choctaw. She plans to apply for an Abbot Grant to live in McCurtain, Oklahoma, the site of her research, for a month next summer. She wants to organize and implement a service project and study the Choctaw language.