Academic journal article The Journal of Chickasaw History and Culture

Chi Ka Sha Althliha Ha Pomi Ittafaamitok: "Our Chickasaw People Have Always Gathered Together:" Robert Kingsbery's Annual Meeting Photographs 1964-1966

Academic journal article The Journal of Chickasaw History and Culture

Chi Ka Sha Althliha Ha Pomi Ittafaamitok: "Our Chickasaw People Have Always Gathered Together:" Robert Kingsbery's Annual Meeting Photographs 1964-1966

Article excerpt

Chickasaw Robert Kingsbery, Jr. was an active participant in the political life of the Chickasaw Nation during the crucial years from the late 1950s into the late 1960s. As an active supporter of Overton James and a member of James' advisory council, Robert Kingsbery contributed a great deal towards James' eventual appointment as the Governor of the Chickasaw Nation in 1963. This paper examines the social, cultural, and political environments of the years from 1959 through 1966 and a group of documentary images of the Chickasaw Annual Meeting captured by Robert Kingsbery Jr. from 1964-1966. Within these photographs exists deeper meanings beyond the simple images displayed. This paper will explore Kingsbery's photographs in their various contexts, especially the importance of gathering among the Chickasaw. Moreover, this article will examine how these images, and similar image archives, can benefit contemporary tribal communities and aid in struggles for cultural and political sovereignty among Indigenous peoples.

The origin stories told by elders among the Chickasaw are the earliest accounts of the Chickasaw people meeting in council, the first meeting being to determine a course of action for the entire tribe prior to their migration to new homelands in Mississippi:

In a time long since past, there lived somewhere in the West a tribe of Indians constantly warred upon by a powerful enemy. In time, the families who lived nearest the enemy and who, over the years, had borne the brunt of enemy assaults, became so weary and heavy-hearted that they appealed to their wise prophets to find a solution to the problem. The men of wisdom held a special consultation. They sat around the council fire and deliberated for many hours, and, most important, they sought guidance from Ubabeneli, the Creator of all things, who sat above the clouds and directed the destiny of all.1 At last, the prophets concluded their deliberations. The people, said the wise men, would seek a new home where they could find peace and happiness. Their guide to the new land would be a kohta falaya (long pole), made sacred by Ubabeneli. At the end of each day's journey, the prophets explained, the sacred pole would be stuck into the ground so that it stood perfectly straight. Each morning the pole would be carefully examined, and in whatever direction it was leaning, that would be the direction of travel. That procedure was to be repeated until the kohta falaya leaned no more. And when that happened, the people would know it was a divine sign from Ubabeneli that their journey was over and their new home had been reached.2

In a sense, the council meeting is a divine imperative; Ababinili guiding the people through influence upon the elders gathered in council. The remainder of the migration story carries us through the western lands and to Misha Sipokni, the ancient river now called the Mississippi.3 At the great river the ofi tohbi ishtOy the big white dog was lost in the strong current, but the people safely crossed the river. Following the crossing, the people came further to the east:

Some weeks later they camped at a certain place, which later became known as Nanih Waya, in what is now Winston County, Mississippi. At daylight the following morning, the people found the kohta falaya wobbling around crazily, leaning first in one direction and then another.

The migrants became somewhat excited - and uneasy, too - for they had never before seen the sacred long pole behave in such a strange manner. At last the kohtafalaya grew very still and stood perfectly straight. At this point, the two brothers - Chief Chickasaw and Chief Choctaw - had their first difference of opinion. Chief Choctaw, as well as some of the prophets, was quite satisfied that the perfectly erect pole was the divine sign from Ubabeneli that their new home had been reached; Chief Chickasaw on the other hand, was not at all pleased with the way the sacred pole had wobbled around, and he felt certain the promised land lay farther toward the rising sun. …

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