The Heartland States of America
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Cultural health is no gamble in Oklahoma (by Eoghan Corry)

Over the coming few weeks, we're delighted to bring you experiences of Oklahoma so richly drawn that you can feel and taste them! The author is well-known and highly respected Irish journalist, writer and broadcaster - Eoghan Corry (and to Eoghan, our thanks for the pictures, too!) 

You can tell the border between Oklahoma and Texas by the giant casino that sits on the skyline of the flatlands. It is a cacophony of noise and whoops, not like Saturday matinee Indians from those old movies, but the whoops of modern ­day gamblers, most of them from across the Texas border coming in quest of dollars. It is the largest casino in the world, or so the roadsigns say. Vegas it ain’t. But it does have a hotel, some decent entertainment and good array of food offerings by casino standards. It also provides something much more significance, the funding for a cultural fightback by one of the Indian nations. 

The WindStar World Casino funds the cultural ambitions of the Chickasaw nation. At the end of the erosion of the pride and the self esteem of native America came something unexpected, money. Lots of it. There are nearly 70 Native American Tribes living in Oklahoma today, and 37 maintain their tribal headquarters within this state. A few of these tribal nations have established cultural centres (some with gaming proceeds and some without) – all are intriguing to visit. At the Chickasaw Cultural Center they have craft works where Larry Seawright and Glenn Laming demonstrate woodcarving and bow making amid the stimulation of a stockade like that around the 18th ­century village visited and described by English writers Arrel Gibson and John Swanton.

The stockade, like the nation, is not in the right place because these people were forcibly moved to Oklahoma like many others. The story is sad. Their language was illegal until the 1990s. This is ironic because the Americans at war used the code talkers, native American speakers, to communicate their secrets. Just three languages survive at sustenance level: Choctaw, Cherokee and Chickasaw. Native speakers are dying off, praying to Ana' binni'li that the language does not die out.

There are text books and signage and the start of a language revival movement with some lessons, CDs and talk of an immersion school and a full university programme. If money could revive a shattered language and a shattered culture, nobody is going to resent a few more quarters in those slot machines.

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