Hero Highlights: NATIVE SOUNDS: How the Chahta Foundation Celebrates the Stories of Indigenous Elders

With every artifact donated to or collected by the Chahta Foundation (the charitable foundation of the Choctaw Nation), the staff of the Foundation knew there was an important story attached to that object. Whether a woven basket, photograph, piece of art or pottery, or any other type of object, part of the soul of these donations was the ever-important tale that accompanied.

The Foundation understood the importance of preserving the culture emerging before them and providing a unique way of hearing the stories of tribal elders who had lived through the history of tribal sovereignty and a long civil rights movement. Along the way, the team was called to capture the language, experiences and spirit of Choctaw people.

With a plan of action, Seth Fairchild and the team at the Chahta Foundation built a sound and video studio to capture the stories of more than 60 people. To date, they have recorded nearly 100+ hours. He said some of the best stories are contained in about 45-minute increments. A few years ago, Seth shared the project in a TEDx Talk, as well as discussed what it means to be an Oklahoman at a NEXTGEN TALKS event.

The project focused primarily on gathering the stories of First-Speakers (people whose native language is Choctaw), those who grew up in tribal boarding schools and Choctaw families wishing to preserve the thoughts of their own elders. While language preservation wasn’t one of the implicit goals of the project, it has been an important outcome.

“Just think, 200 or even 300 years from now, people will still hear Choctaw in speech and understand Choctaw experiences from the mouths and faces of the people who lived them,” Seth said. “We want this to not only be a resource for researchers, but we want families to have these as memories and keepsakes from their relatives. This is an important project for our 200,000 plus population.”

Seth says the main barrier is time and people to record the stories.

“We want to encourage people to use technology and take the time to sit down with your elders and have a conversation,” he said. “For now, we do what we can to listen and reflect on our elders’ important words.”

Seth finished with an important tip for nonprofits who are gathering the stories of their own clients.

“Don’t focus on the equipment, because even an iPhone or microphone can pick this up,” he said. “The most important asset you’ll have is the story. Let them tell it in their own words.”

Thank you, Seth, for making this history such a priority!


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