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Wickliffe Mounds Sing with Chickasaw Dance Troupe

At an ancient Native American site near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, gather several members of the Chickasaw Nation for a weekend of music and dancing as thousands come to the region to witness the solar eclipse. Nicole Erwin has more from a gathering on what was once Chickasaw homeland. 


Overlooking the Mississippi River sits the prehistoric Native American village of Wickliffe Mounds.

Once home to Mississippian tribes; like the Creek, Chickasaw and other Southeastern Indians that were forced from this area during the 1830 Indian Removal Act.

Left behind the Trail of Tears, are traces of culture where American Indians once hunted, farmed, fished and fought.

Chickasaw Dance Troupe leader Jesse Lindsey, wouldn’t learn the depths of his Chickasaw heritage until later in life.

“My mom would be 103 if she was alive, I lost her 20 years ago.” Lindesay said. “She comes from the time when we weren't allowed to speak or do our dances.” Back then, said Lindsey, you would get thrown in jail or even lose your property.

Lindsey’s mother was a full blooded Chickasaw. His father was not. Lindsey is making up for those lost conversations today as he travels across the U.S. as a native dancer and an oral historian.

The Chickasaw Troupe was invited to Wickliffe to dance during the weekend of the solar eclipse, to share something that the artifacts here can’t--a verbal history.

“Our ways, we don’t write down anything.” Traditions and tribal history are often learned through stories with family, said Lindsey.

The eclipse this weekend in the Wickliffe region will give the Chickasaw Dance Troupe a wider audience as they share their stories. The national prayer day for the Chickasaw Nation also falls on the same day as the eclipse; the Troupe made no connections to the two events.

“Today we say we have put our bows and spears down...and our suits on.” Lindsey said as he introduced the Chickasaw Dance Troupe.

Chickasaw Dance Troupe Performance

  The men and women in the dance, wear bright colored regalia, with a mix of native dress like turtle shells filled with river rock. The women attach the shells to their ankles, the sounds of the shells and rocks enhance what would normally be just an ordinary stomp.  

Multicolored ropes hang from the left side of their hips--the same side as the heart. The ropes serve as a conduit as they dance around the fire-- their prayers lifted to the sky.

The Troupe’s show starts with “The Friendship Song.” A song when heard by neighboring tribes years ago, would symbolize times of peace.

The Chickasaw were known as fierce warriors, said Lindsey.  When their people lived among the Southeastern U.S. there wasn’t a single battle the Chickasaw lost, he said.

Of the 64,000 thousand Chickasaw that relocated to Oklahoma, now home to the Chickasaw nation, fewer than 75 people are fluent in the language, and only 40 are full-blooded. Or as they say: four fourths.

Lindsey said the Chickasaw have created a language revitalization program to increase awareness. Part of that is a program through Rosetta Stone.

Felix Shico works with Lindsey at the Oklahoma Chickasaw Cultural Center. He is one of the 40 full blooded Chickasaw left in the tribe. He also plays the cedar flute.

According to the Troupe,  the first flute was made by a woodpecker that pecked tiny holes in a cedar limb. One day, as man sat in anguish over the loss of his wife, he overheard a song. It was wind passing through the tiny holes of that cedar punctured limb.  Through that branch, the man found new purpose in his life. He would take the limb and replicate the sound for others to hear for the rest of his days.

Story of the flute

Shico has found purpose in music and dance as well. He said “I put my heart into our efforts” to continue growing the Chickasaw nation.

“I looked in the dictionary and in there it says, ShicoUmpa. ShicoUmpa means old story. And I thought well, through time names got misspelled or cut in half and I was thinking, that's got to be it, Shico Umpa.” He said.

Shico is considering introducing himself with Troupe as ShicoUmpa in the future.

Artifacts & Answers

Wickliffe State Park manager and archaeologist Carla Hildebrand has been with the site for 19 years.  

“These native people of the Mississippi lived on this site from 1100-1300 AD. thirteen 50 A.D.” Hildebrand said. For decades, she said “this was a major tourist attraction on Highway 51, known as the ancient buried city.”

Wickliffe used to publicly display these ancient burials, said Hildebrand. She said, “That’s very disrespectful. Terrible. And so we didn’t have very much contact with native people.”

Then the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act passed. “So we needed to go move to re-burial,” said Hildebrand. Former Director at Wickliffe Mounds Kit Wesler talked to archaeologists from all over.  

And after 20 years of consultations, Hildebrand said an agreement with the Chickasaw Nation was met to oversee the burial of the remains. “That took place in 2011 and in 2012,” said Hildebrand.

The museum exhibits stone tools, Mississippian pottery, bone and shell implements as well. A glimpse into how the native people may have gone about their daily lives.

“And that's where we're still learning and we're still trying to talk to native people today because for many many decades archaeologists and native people didn't communicate.” Hildebrand said.

The 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, enacted by the U.S. Congress to decrease federal control of American Indian affairs helped pave the way for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Which helped to initiate the dialogue between the Wickliffe State Park, and the Chickasaw’s homeland. Still today,  the Reorganization Act remains the basis of federal legislation concerning Indian affairs.

Felix Shico says he hopes to bring people outside of the Chickasaw nation on his own journey of learning.

“I've also learned that between US and Canada there are over 500 different tribes and none of us have a word for goodbye.” Shico said. “We feel it is too sudden, because we feel that we will meet each other again in the never ending cycle of life. So when we leave we say ‘ Chi pisalacho’and it means, until we see each other again.” He said.


Nicole Erwin is a Murray native and started working at WKMS during her time at Murray State University as a Psychology undergraduate student. Nicole left her job as a PTL dispatcher to join the newsroom after she was hired by former News Director Bryan Bartlett. Since, Nicole has completed a Masters in Sustainable Development from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia where she lived for 2 1/2 years.