What exactly are the Chickasaws selling in all those television commercials?
Lately, it has been spokeswoman Lisa Billy, shown above hyping “the remarkable arrival of Oklahoma City.” The former state representative has reprised her role as acting tribal historian, dishing up snippets from the tapestry of 18th-century North American history.
The Chickasaws fought the French on the Mississippi River, actively, which Billy solemnly intones, and they kept the rest of us from having to speak French all these years later. Want irregular verbs in abundance? Go to Quebec or cross the pond.
Then, the Chickasaws supported the British against the French and, later, the American colonists against the British.
When not thus occupied, the Chickasaws fought their neighbors, a fact that Billy does not care to mention. The Choctaws, Cherokees and Creeks might not like it, and they run television commercials, too. Besides, intertribal warfare doesn’t square with the picture of an idyllic, bucolic world in which everything was hunky-dory until Europeans showed up and ruined it.
Let’s not give them something to talk about
Terms you never hear in Chickasaw commercials include, “Indian Removal” and “Trail of Tears.” Instead, the ads refer to “the time of relocation” or simply “resettlement.” But nothing suggestive of government-sponsored genocide or of banishment to the presumed “Great American Desert” where everybody was supposed to die because the place was unfit for human habitation.
Neither do the Chickasaws claim membership among the Five Civilized Tribes in their spiels, probably because white folks attached the label. And why did whites admire the Chickasaws for their high degree of “civilization”? Because the Chickasaws were sufficiently advanced enough to own slaves, that’s why.
Talk about that stuff, and you open a Sam’s Club-sized can of worms. The Civil War might crawl out, along with the Treaties of 1866. Some tribes fared badly on account of those things. How did the Chickasaws do? Better than some of their peers.
In recent Chickasaw commercials, the latest tribal catchphrase is: Chickasaw history is world history. No, it isn’t, because no part can be greater than the whole. Chickasaw history is part of world history. Or it would be, were it unexpurgated. But it isn’t.
Chickasaws need to tell it all.
Bet they won’t.