Uniquely positioned as the 3rd largest Native Nation in the US, with over 200,000 members, nearly 11,000 square miles, and a 13,000+ year oral history, the design, timeline and budget for the Choctaw Nation Cultural Center was defined by the absolute necessity to include thousands of Tribal Member's stories and input. The Choctaw Nation began a multi-year research and development project in 2012 that included input from thousands of Tribal Members, as well as a core team of Tribal Members who could further define and shape the Nation's rich history. Following this research, JCJ Architecture provided full design services for the creation of the new Choctaw Cultural Center, a cultural journey with a primary vision to create a window through which the world will learn about the Nation.
The design of the cultural center allows visitors to create their own vision through total emotional immersion. Throughout the design process, JCJ worked alongside the Choctaw Nation to preserve their goals of: building a place for ‘Choctaw to be Choctaw’; providing a welcoming, inclusive and interesting center, a place that is alive and interactive; and creating spaces for ceremonies and communal gatherings. To compliment these efforts, community members poured their heart and soul into the exhibits. 40+ community members provided a multitude of content, including: physical life-casts; traditional art, artifacts and representations; audio and video recordings; and storytelling around every corner.
The physical approach to the Cultural Center provides a significant entry point, embracing guests with architectural details representative of the Nation’s original three (3) Districts (Moshulatubbee, Pushmataha, and Apukshunnubbee). Guests are also welcomed with direct design reference to the traditional Choctaw home, the ‘Chukka’, with central fireplace opening to the heavens, paired with symbolic diamond openings, traditional basketweaving details in the brickwork, and guiding principles of ‘faith, family and culture’.
Traveling through to the exhibit spaces, each of the Nation’s existing 12 districts are represented through written and oral stories as well as photos, historic dress, tools and art/artifacts.
After exploring the 12 Districts, the path of circulation flows through an orientation gallery and then four Choctaw Landscapes:
Landscape 1: “Our First Ancestors” where visitors explore the Origin of the Choctaw People through archeology and history. 40+ Native Artists created this landscape, inclusive of life-casts, interactive 3D maps and digital exhibits and audio/video components.
Landscape 2: “Shumo Takali” depicts early Choctaw living through tree species, screens, life-casts, and realistic representations of native plants and animals.
Landscape 3: “Timeline” is an interactive exhibit where guests can read and listen to a full Choctaw history, with details on the Trail of Tears, through printed materials, artifacts, and a digital, touch-sensitive storytelling rooms.
Landscape 4: “Oklahoma” is a modern exhibit depicting recent Choctaw history with replicas of modern homes, school buildings and a room to honor Choctaw Warriors.
Additional program components include: teaching classrooms for cooking and art workshops; a changing exhibit gallery; children’s exhibits with a larger than life turtle that serves as a reading room; prefunction and event spaces; a multi-use theater; retail store; Champuli Café, serving traditional Choctaw cuisine; a full archive/repository with blessing room; and administrative offices. Outdoor amenities include a living village for artisan demonstrations, traditional home replicas, a sacred mound replica, stickball fields, a dance circle/pow wow area, trails, and additional dining/picnic space.