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Simple Living, Chickasaw Style

by Gip Plaster on June 7th, 2011

It isn’t surprising that so many people find comfort and power from examining the Native American people. Many tribes had figured out minimalism long before hippies, Gypsies and back-packing twenty-somethings took up the cause.

Last week, David and I took a quick two-day trip up to Sulphur, Oklahoma to visit the Chickasaw National Recreation Area and the new Chickasaw Cultural Center. We’d never been to this area, and since it’s only two and half hours from home, it seemed like a nice little trip.

The most accessible part of the Recreation Area is a beautiful wooded site in the not-very-tall Arbuckle Mountains where visitors with more time than we had can enjoy swimming, tubing and other low-impact water activities. Those who need an engine attached to their water activities can drive down a few miles to Lake of the Arbuckles, also part of the Recreation Area.

A couple of miles away, the Chickasaw Cultural Center has only been open a few months, so the landscaping hasn’t even settled in yet. I was interested in visiting it because the pictures online made it seem like a pretty place — which it is — but the message of the Chickasaw people is what makes it worth a visit.

Here are three things about simple, deliberate living that the Chickasaw people have figured out.

Take Only What You Need

Like many Native Americans, the Chickasaw believe in two related and very minimalist principles: tread lightly and take only what you need.

Taking only what you need — not hoarding, gorging or overbuilding — is a key concept in what we now call minimalism.

Treading lightly simply means leaving as little impact on the environment as possible. That, in turn, means cleaning up after yourself and repairing any damage you cause. In addition to being both simple and deliberate, treading lightly seems like the right thing to do as well.

McMansions, second homes and car racing tracks that hold 100,000 fans (like Texas Motor Speedway, located ironically between here and the Chickasaw Cultural Center) are examples of things that leave weighty imprints rather than light tracks.

Forgive Your Enemies

The Chickasaw’s greatest enemy was not another Native American tribe but the federal government. The process of “removal” forced them to leave their lush Mississippi homeland and move to a small piece of Oklahoma. Unlike some tribes, they were at least lucky enough to get a lush and beautiful section of Indian Territory.

Many of their people died on the long journey from Mississippi to Oklahoma. Plus, their new homeland wasn’t completely unoccupied, and that caused clashes with a nearby tribe. Some Chickasaw people must surely bear a grudge toward the heartless officials who forced them to move, but they’re careful not to show that at the Cultural Center.

Maybe their present-day leaders understand that forgiveness is the only path toward wholeness.

Dance And Sing

The Chickasaw make time for celebrating.

On the Wednesday morning we visited, only five or six of their people — three of them in traditional attire and the others in their center uniforms — danced in the amphitheater at the center of the facility, but there weren’t that many of us in the audience either.

Even on a slow day, they took time for a celebration.

It might be good if we all remembered to dance and sing a bit, even if no one is watching. Do you take time to do that?

The Chickasaw people made mistakes along the way, and I suspect if you study them more, you’ll find they’re far from an ideal model of how to handle life’s challenges.

Still, if you take only what you need, forgive and celebrate, I suspect your life will look and feel pretty good.

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12 Comments
  1. Great post. There is an old saying that goes “Forgive your enemies, nothing annoys them more”.
    I think quite often we can’t forgive our enemies because that would simply mean parting with this huge pain body (as Eckhart Tolle calls it) that quite often fuels our actions, not only against our enemies.

    • I think you’re right, Thomas. I have read one of Tolle’s books. It’s not exactly interesting reading, but he’s definitely got the right idea.

      Thanks for commenting here. I seem to be running short of comments on this post.

      Gip

  2. Still quite haven’t snapped out of my cynical/morose mood so I would amend to ‘ignore your enemies’ – to forgive is to pay them heed – indifference is the way to go in my book. Aiming to get back to my sunny self soon! ;-)
    Jo@simplybeingmum recently posted The Simple Guide to Meal Planning

    • I’ve never had an enemies, but I’ve certainly had people who intentionally tried to damage me. Some were probably temporarily successful.

      Life is too short to hold grudges, but have to say I have simply cut some people out of my life. Ignoring is a step that comes before forgiveness, I would think.

      Gip

  3. tammy permalink

    thanks gip for the lovely tour of the center. i have read your site many times and never commented before, but i like it very much.
    as to the native americans… i think it would be wonderful to have a cultural past that only belonged to me. as a blend of european ancestors (as lots of, or maybe even most, of americans are) we tend to nationalize ourselves even more i think. except on st patricks day, when we’re all irish of course!!!
    my brother works for the bia. there will never be a way to ‘re-pay’ what they did to the native peoples hundreds of years ago… but few americans know, or maybe realize that the tribes are given billions of dollars every year, collectively, by the government. it’s never mentioned in the budget news you hear in washington and, no doubt for good reason.

    • I appreciate you taking time to comment. I hope you’ll comment regularly.

      I’m from mixed European ancestory, too, although it’s mostly English. There’s also a healthy dose of Native American genes mixed in with mine, as is the case with many Texans.

      Yes, lots of money goes to Indian nations every years, and it isn’t discussed — not even by the tribes apparently. I didn’t see any mention of it at the Cultural Center. In fact, much of the money spent by the federal government is for the benefit of only a small part of society. Apparently, we accept that. At least I don’t hear anyone complaining.

      Thanks again for commenting.
      Gip

  4. I have always admired the Native American respect for nature and its resources, Gip, but I hadn’t really given much thought to their obvious capacity for forgiveness and tolerance. Thanks for the reminder.

    On the subject of forgiveness, I have learned that forgiveness is something we do for ourselves, not for the other person. Forgiving an act does not condone it; it simply allows us to get over it and get on with our lives.
    Mike | Homeless On Wheels recently posted Successful Shopping- Counterfeit Condiments

    • I think you’re right about forgiveness.

      It would be easy for Native Americans to be bitter and I know that many are, but I appreciate the Chickasaw telling the positive side of the story. There are many problems in Native American societies today, but other segments of the U.S. population also have their issues. I think focusing on overcoming is the right way to handle things.

      Gip

  5. tammy permalink

    i’m like you gip. i don’t think i’ve ever had any enemies. at least none that i knew about! i had a very jealous and unhappy mother-in-law, who managed to push all my buttons for awhile, til i realized it was her problem, not mine. i just happened to be very happy with her son, as he was with me, and she couldn’t handle that.
    i would simply rather be happy. always. and dr. wayne dyer says something i love… “whenever you have a choice to be right or be kind… ALWAYS pick kind. ”
    wow… have i gotten off course? sorry. this went from native americans to mothers-in-law!!! see what you get for inviting my comments? lol.

  6. Mary permalink

    I understand what Jo is saying about ignoring your enemies but have to disagree somewhat. I believe that Mike is right that forgiveness is for ourselves and our relationship with God. As far as dancing and singing goes I respect their ability to do that. People who know me will be glad I only dance and sing when no one is watching or listening.

    • I believe it was Mark Twain who said “Dance like nobody’s watching; love like you’ve never been hurt. Sing like nobody’s listening; live like it’s heaven on earth.”
      Mike | Homeless On Wheels recently posted Why I Don’t Carry A Smartphone

      • You’re right, Mike — although I don’t don’t dance (much) when anyone is watching. That day at the Chickasaw Cultural Center, there were many more people watching than dancing, but we all got something from the experience.

        Gip

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