Travel decoy carver Josh Hinson was my tour guide and duck hunting host smack in the middle of the modern-day Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma. Fascinating adventure. We got into the thick of things, regarding living and duck hunting on the reservation, his decoy carving style and cultural ancestry. Having driven through this part of Oklahoma many times while going elsewhere, visiting for a few days was makings for one of the most uniquely informative conversations in a long time.
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, today I am in Ada, Oklahoma, which is smack in the middle of the Chickasaw Nation. I’ve driven through Oklahoma a bazillion times because unlike Nashville, Tennessee, Oklahoma, if you’re traveling east and west, north and south from Mississippi, you’re going to come through Oklahoma, heading to great place to hunt. And you see the tipi at the rest areas, you see the sense of the Wild West and Native American. But have you ever thought about it? What does it mean? How did it? Well, I did. Today’s guest, Mr. Josh Hinson, is my host for some duck hunting on the Chickasaw Nation, the Indian Rez, they call it and I hope Indian ain’t a bad word, Josh.
Josh Hinson: Oh, no, it ain’t bad.
Ramsey Russell: Okay. But anyway, it’s a great hunt. I know a lot of people, at least 200 people or more, have signed a very special gadwall effigy that he made for me, that’s been this year’s travel decoy and everybody that’s touched it had never seen anything like it and I’ve heard a lot of interesting comments on it and everybody proud to hold it. Let’s start with that, Josh. That’s what I want to start with, is that’s a gadwall effigy, it’s a gadwall, obviously, but it’s different than what I’m going to find, it’s different. It’s got some different characteristics that we talked about. Describe this decoy.
Josh Hinson: Sure. Obviously that people that follow you on Instagram, they’re going to see this thing. I mean, it’s in so many posts, so you can get a sense of the scale. But when we were talking initially about me making your travel decoy for this season, I just really wanted to make a gadwall and there’s something beautiful about the subtleness of a gadwall, like the beautiful speculum that sort of rusty red and so forth. So it also was significant to me that the first tribal style, the first effigy bird I ever made was also a gadwall and it’s owned by the National Museum of the American Indians. So when we talked about this one, a gadwall was just a gimmy. So it’s oversized, it’s about 18 inches front to back, it’s fairly wide and the thing that makes it, technique wise, the way I make these decoys is the way that I was trained to make them by Jerry Talton, who’s a decoy maker out of Stella, North Carolina, it’s Carteret county on Core Sound.
Ramsey Russell: So this is kind of a core sound decoy style. It’s got a very unique style. Body shape, head tuck.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. So the flat bottom, I get a lot of inspiration from hunting quarters, which is also on the sound, but hunting quarters style decoys. So flat bottoms, also similar to some Canadian makers that also do flat bottom decoys. Generally speaking, the decoys that I make for hunting here on the Rez are not weighted, they’re just flat bottom and they float that way, I don’t need them to self ride or anything like that. But yeah, flat bottom, they’re hollow, so bottom board, hollow body, one piece head and I use Northern white cedar that I get from a fellow that harvested in Canada and sends it down to me.
Ramsey Russell: And you paint a monochromatic, it doesn’t have a lot of vermiculation stuff in it. And I told you, even if it was, I said, let the signatures be the vermiculation, the stipulant.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. So sort of one of the fundamental characteristics of core sound style birds is the simple block painting, it’s not variegated painting, they’re not doing super detailed speculums, they’re not doing any of that stuff, these were working birds based on Northern models created by watermen that were using them initially, like, in market hunting times. So it’s simple block painting, highly decorative, high contrast. You want to have something that really pops on a big body of water, like core sand. So super simple, decorative, but what I did when I first started making decoys, Jerry taught me how to make a working bird and then since I was a tribal artist, I’ve been doing work since I was a little boy, but I wanted to incorporate my own know heritage. We have a long standing tradition in the southeast of wooden carving, like sculptural carving, both animals and human forms and stuff like that, so this is sort of like an idea. Like, if my Chickasaw ancestors back in the old country in Mississippi were to make a carving of a duck, what would it look like and how it would be painted? So, in the case of this gadwall that all you all have seen on Instagram, it has this forked eye motif. It’s repeated in red and black, and then the pupil itself is white with a black cross. And then if you look at the speculum, it’s the same color pattern, red, black, there’s a red circle. And then this sun motif, again with the four direction symbol in the middle. So, color wise, for our ancestors, Chickasaw ancestors, red was a color of either medicine or war, black denoted death and white denoted life. So if you look at my regalia, like the clothes that I wear for ceremonial dances or even just, like, the beaded ties that I wear to work, this color pattern is really significant because it was so meaningful to our ancestors and it still is today. So what I’m really doing is sort of drawing upon our ceremonial religious tradition 4 directions.
Ramsey Russell: Okay, so that’s what the cross is, the 4 directions.
Josh Hinson: 4 directions, 4 seasons of life, the 4 arbors at the ceremonial ground.
Ramsey Russell: You showed me that.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. It all hums and resonates across all these things, I mean, it means everything all at once. Even the sun motif, the sun is considered to be a part of the creator and the representation of the sun on Earth is the Sacred Fire. And the sacred fire was fed from 4 directions with logs in a cross shape. So that’s everything, all those things I’ve been talking about are here in this one decoy.
Ramsey Russell: We talked about this making an effigy, a decoy that reflected your ancestry and it resonated with me, because as a Mississippian, your people originated in Mississippi, up in northeast Mississippi. Now, I’m coming down the road off I40 the other day and 40 miles ahead of me was the sign Tishomingo and I’m like, wait a minute, that’s Tishomingo County, Mississippi, where your people originated. But there’s Tishomingo here and I’ve seen some other Mississippi Avenue right here in downtown, Ada. What is Tishomingo? Tishomingo County, the people came here at some point in time, we’ll talk about. But where is Tishomingo? What is it?
Josh Hinson: Tishomingo was a really significant 19th century leader. The name Tishomingo means the assistant chief or the assistant to the chief and it was a title, it was an honorific title, it would be like president or secretary or whatever, it wasn’t like a personal name. And so this particular man, Tishomingo was the assistant chief during that time of removal, he was very old when he removed. He made it here to Indian Territory and he died in the territory about a year or 2 after he removed, his wife died roughly the same time. And then we know many of his descendants because we have records of them, but he was a really significant figure. Like, when you think about the great leaders of Chickasaw history, this last Tishomingo, he’s right there at the top. So, of course, when we reestablished our capital city at Good Springs, that’s Kali Chokma, that means Good Spring in Chickasaw. They renamed it for Tishomingo and in English, it just comes out as Tishomingo.
Ramsey Russell: And it’s now like you all’s nation’s capital here.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. The national capitol building is located in Tishomingo. Headquarters is in Ada, but the national capital is in Tishomingo and we have long standing relationships with both communities.
Ramsey Russell: Do you think the former national capital was in modern day Tishomingo county? Right up in the northeast corner of Mississippi, would that have been your -?
Josh Hinson: Well, don’t quote me on this, but as I recall, the last national capital and really, the best way to say it would be like the council house, like the National Council House was located in near a community that’s now called Black Zion, Mississippi.
Ramsey Russell: Never heard of it.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. And I cannot remember what county it’s in, but at any rate. No, you wouldn’t name a place for a person, so we wouldn’t have a Tishomingo city in the old country prior to removal, place names were based on natural characteristics of a place like a spring or a grove of post oak trees or an abandoned house, stuff like that.
Ramsey Russell: It’s in Pontotoc County, south of Tishomingo County.
Josh Hinson: Okay.
Ramsey Russell: So, that’s very interesting stuff. And just to get it off, I asked you this right when I got here, but I’m going to ask you again for listeners benefit, you and I are friends, for somebody I just talked to on the phone and driving down the road, I’ll call Josh, say how’s it going? We’ve had some surprisingly deep conversations.
Josh Hinson: Oh, yeah, real talk.
Ramsey Russell: Right off the bat, but it was awkward. Are you an Indian? Are you a first American? Are you a Native American? It’s very confusing times, reason we’ve talked about, sometimes it gets a little daunting this day and age, titles, because nobody wants to offend nobody. But what are you? Can I ask that question?
Josh Hinson: Yeah, of course. Well, first of all, just say, I’m not here to speak for all Indian people, I am a very particular kind of Chickasaw person, mixed Chickasaw person, I’m not phenotypical, I’m not a brown Chickasaw person. Like, you walk next to me in the grocery store and you think –
Ramsey Russell: I would have guessed you were Irish or English.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. I mean, we’re incredibly racially diverse tribe, but in terms of sort of big terms of identity, Native American, American Indian, first American, Indian and then tribal affiliation, Chickasaw or Choctaw or Creek or whatever the case may be. And people respond to those terms, individual Native people, indigenous is another one. But that’s sort of worldwide, connects to indigenous people worldwide. But people have different reasons for disliking different terms. Like, I don’t really like Native American necessarily, it’s been co-opted by people with a political agenda. American Indian is okay, but in the community, you ask somebody, the elders that we work with every day, they’re not even going to say, I can talk Chickasaw. Like, oh, I talk Indian, we were talking Indian and even the term Indian country, it is a legal term to refer to first American community.
Ramsey Russell: You all were and literally the first Americans. What was America called back in the day, back preceding European settlement? Did it have a name or was it just the land that was kind of within your boundaries?
Josh Hinson: Well, I mean, there’s certain tribal groups like Great Lakes, for example. I think particularly of Anishinaabeg, they referred to the Americas as Turtle Island. And in Chickasaw, we don’t really have anything like that. The idea of Chickasaw Nation was takshina iti’ ahia, it just means the land that belonged to our people. And so over the river, you would have the land of the Creeks or the land of the Cherokees or whatever the case may be. And then the word rather for Earth was just Yageni Moma. And then sort of earlier than that, we do have traditionalists who referred to the world as Mother Earth, which is something you hear in English, but Yageni Ishki means the mother of the land, Mother Earth. And that’s something that I learned from Native speakers. So in some families, Mother Earth was a legitimate term in the language.
Ramsey Russell: Have you ever read anything historical, any historical accounts? I mean, let’s just say the Chickasaw, because you’re Chickasaw. How big was the world to them?
Josh Hinson: Well, so when you go back and look at, let’s say in the 18th century, we have a copy of a hide map of the known world that was created by a Chickasaw leader, 1723 hide map, paper copy, it’s in the British archives, we discovered it, rediscovered it, whatever. And that map shows all the way up to New York, New England, down to Florida, over into Texas and all the way up to the Great Lakes. So those were lands that were traversed and familiar by our people.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a pretty big area.
Josh Hinson: Oh, it’s big.
Ramsey Russell: It ain’t the whole world, but that’s a lot of the present day United States.
Josh Hinson: Right. And obviously our ancestors knew that there was land know, west of the Mississippi past Texas, because the trade relationships – like these are not primitive peoples, these are complex, incredibly interconnected societies. And the trade relationships, there’s things coming from Gulf of Mexico or Florida coast, copper from the Great Lakes down into the territory, into Chickasaw territory. Yeah, our ancestors were well aware of the broader world in a way that I think your average person wouldn’t think of if they think of Indian people as primitive or small or simple or whatever the case may be. They weren’t like that.
Ramsey Russell: When did you start hunting? And when did you start duck hunting in particular?
Josh Hinson: So I grew up hunting with my father, we did largely deer hunting. We would take a turkey, maybe just like by catch, but we never targeted them, we did some dove hunting, but it was sort of casual. And then when we moved to the reservation to Ada, I started hunting again pretty intensely. And then I want to say it was maybe 2015, 2014, so not that long ago, a friend of mine who’s a citizen of Creek Nation, he has some land on Chickasaw reservation and he was like, hey, you like hunting? Let’s go shoot some ducks. And I’d never done it before. I mean, I remember as a kid, I was a deer hunter and I was like, man, who would get up early in the morning for 6 dumb little ducks? It’s crazy. If I’m going to suffer, I want 160lbs deer at the end of it. Well, anyway, took me out, it was me, my youngest son, Labachi and him, we laid up on a pond dam covered in a cheap camo tarp and we shot 2 gadwalls, a hen and a drake and then we shot a ringneck and that’s all she wrote. From that moment, that first experience, I mean, I was all in.
Ramsey Russell: What do you remember most about that hunt?
Josh Hinson: It was super clear, super cold, wind was pretty light, but the way we were set up, the north was behind us, it was a good north wind and the sun coming up, just slowly breaking the horizon, the moon was out and it’s like the world woke up and all of a sudden, just ducks everywhere and then there they were. It was bonkers, absolutely bonkers. It’s just magical. All you all listeners that are duck hunters, you understand what I’m talking about?
Ramsey Russell: Oh, yeah, we do.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. I don’t even need to explain it. But there was something about just the mystery of the earth waking up, the birds starting to fly, the sun’s coming up, the silhouettes of the decoys on the water, it was something else. So, of course, I went in crazy, just like any other. I was in my 30s, but I felt like a kid. Chinese decoys, big rig, all the cool camo gear, bought a Benelli, all that kind of stuff. So I went pretty hard, I’m still going hard.
Ramsey Russell: Still going hard. You said when you all moved here, so where did you grow up and how did you end up here?
Josh Hinson: Yeah. So I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, which is within the historical homelands of Chickasaw Nation, Memphis was our territory, so I was born there.
Ramsey Russell: I think there’s still the Chickasaw bluff overlooking a river.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. Our word for it is Saktislafa Okina, which means the water road, where the banks erode down the bluffs, right?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, the bluffs.
Josh Hinson: So, Saktislafa Okina is the word for any navigable river, means a water road. Anyway, I was born there, we lived in West Virginia for a while and then moved to West Texas. So I grew up in Abilene, Texas, which is west of Dallas Fort Worth. My father was a professor of marriage and family therapy there, graduated from there in 1997, moved to Albuquerque to pursue a degree in Native American art history. So we lived there for a while, we had our first child, his name is Chokfi, which means rabbit in 2000. So obviously, we all moved to Albuquerque together, I was doing graduate school and working on my thesis and so forth. And when I finished coursework, I was offered a job and we moved to Ada and I was a photo archivist. So we’ve been in Ada since like, 2004.
Ramsey Russell: So your dad ended up working for the tribe?
Josh Hinson: Yeah. So dad had a private practice in Abilene and he was a professor at Abilene Christian University. And when he was getting closer on to thinking about retirement and so forth, I mean, he wasn’t really ready to retire, but he was thinking about, like, what’s my next move? And we had the boys, we were building up our mental health care system within the tribe and I thought, my father’s the kind of man who can help us do that. And it just kind of fell into his lap, it happened. He moved here, he worked for the nation, I want to say, like, maybe 8 years, something like this. Anyway, and then he retired, moved to Denison, my brother is living there and he has 4 children and so they wanted to be close to those babies in the same way that they were with our kids growing up.
Ramsey Russell: You’re born in Memphis, moved to Texas, went to high school in college, I’m assuming public school, State University? Just regular school?
Josh Hinson: Yeah. My undergrad was just a private Christian school.
Ramsey Russell: What about high school?
Josh Hinson: Initially, I went to junior high in public, elementary through junior high in public and then I went to Abilene Christian High School, which is a small religious school there in Abilene. So I graduated from ACHS in 1997. Then I got my undergrad and I got a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and then the MFA, rather, the MA in art history at Albuquerque and then I got my PhD from OU.
Ramsey Russell: You’re an artist and you were saying last night we were walking and looking around for some ducks and you told me that how you got into decoy carving was, you’re an artist and you got hook, line and sinkered after hearing them wings over the water and duck hunting and bought the plastics, bought the stuff you buy when you get into duck hunting, ran across some real decoys and said, I’m an artist, I can make these. But here’s a question I’ve got about why I asked about high school is, were you an Indian in high school? Okay, here’s what I mean by that. You went to a regular high school in Texas where there were all kinds of folks from all walks of life and now you work on the reservation. Did you evolve since high school? What was it like in high school being – does that make sense, you get what I’m saying?
Josh Hinson: Absolutely. I remember, November, of course, is Native American Heritage Month.
Ramsey Russell: Were you all doing ceremonies? Were these motifs? What was your exposure to that in public high school in Texas?
Cultural Disconnect Outside Reservation Boundaries: Navigating a Chickasaw identity while growing up beyond reservation boundaries.
All of us Chickasaw citizens, there’s 70,000 of us. We all descend from maybe 1200 people who managed to not die from smallpox, intertribal warfare.
Josh Hinson: In Texas, the stories you get are about the tribes that were removed that are no longer here. Like, we learned about the Wichita and the Caddo and the Comanche that are all in Oklahoma. And I grew up not unlike many other Chickasaw citizens who grow up outside the reservation boundaries, culturally disconnected. I think I mentioned I descend from 3 generations of Chickasaw women that went to English only boarding schools, they were forced to give up their language and their culture and so forth. So really, my experience as a Chickasaw person was mixed ancestry. A white person who grew up knowing that I was part Chickasaw and then growing up with my Chickasaw granny and getting all those stories, that kind of stuff really set the stage for me, so that when my son was born and then we moved to Albuquerque, I described myself as a college onset Indian, moving outside of that little world in Abilene and spending time and going to school and developing real relationships with other native people really changed the way I felt about myself and more importantly, the way I thought about myself. Because being an Indian person, it’s not about being part this or part that, you’re a part of something, you’re a part of something bigger than yourself, right? And that’s the community. All of us Chickasaw citizens, there’s 70,000 of us. We all descend from maybe 1200 people who managed to not die from smallpox, intertribal warfare and all this other terrible stuff in the 18th century. And so regardless of where you are in the world, how you look, your race, are you full blood Chickasaw or mixed blood Chickasaw or whatever, we’re all Chickasaws. And that’s the thing that is such a defining and uniting characteristic, as in a young adult where I realized, I can take this Chickasaw identity and it will do things, it will change me, it will change the way I interact with other people, it set my career path. So now I’m a Chickasaw person who happens to have white ancestry and that’s a very different thing than saying, oh, I’m a Southern white fella who happens to be part Chickasaw, ain’t part nothing. You either are or you aren’t, right? Like, we can take coffee and add cream to it, it’s still coffee. And that’s something I learned from the Maoris in particular, they don’t do this whole blood quantum thing, you either are a Maori, you descend from ancestors or you are not. And so that was really sort of liberating for me as a Chickasaw person to be able to come back, embrace the culture, learn the language and then be able to work for my own people. I didn’t quite think it would end up this way, when I was a little boy, I never thought I’d be able to be doing my work and helping our language continue to be vibrant and living in 2022. It’s pretty crazy.
Ramsey Russell: That’s your job description, is preserving the native tongue?
Josh Hinson: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: It’s interesting to me that your grandmother, her mother, her mother, 3 generations of women that were removed and forcibly assimilated language, religion, dress, behavior and yet they still knew the native tongue. I guess, got well enough along, like me, trying to get through high school, I didn’t understand a dang thing a teacher said, but I got out of school. But then it was important to them that your granny’s grandson know the language and know the history and know the stories.
Josh Hinson: Ultimately, in my family, we descend from 9 documented generations of Chickasaw women. And so the furthest we can go back was a woman named Minta Hoya and she was Koisto Iksa, which means Panther clan and her house was Imatapo, which means, like, lean to, like, a temporary structure that a hunter would build in the woods. And so because we descend, me and all my cousins, we descend from those 9 generations of women, we still carry that clan and we still carry that house, at least those of us that were born to my mother. So my brother and then my auntie’s children, her daughter and her son, because the clan only comes through the mama. So they carried that knowledge over the generations and even after being forced to go to boarding school, they lost the language, they lost much of the culture, sort of indoctrinated into a western sense of being landowning, Christian, white American, that was the program. But what they didn’t lose was that Chickasaw identity. If anything, going to boarding school in a Chickasaw run institution, the Bloomfield Academy, for Chickasaw females, it reinforced their identity as Chickasaw people. And that’s a really interesting choice that the government made, the tribal government. They realized that in this rapidly changing world, we needed our own people to be just as educated, if not better, to be competitive in the white man’s world, that’s how the old folks will say it. It’s a white man’s world, you got to know how to play that game, but you got to remain Chickasaw at the same time. And so I think that’s something that I really appreciated for my great granny and then my granny that I call Meme, they really instilled in me an intensity and a pride in what it means to be Chickasaw. And so what I did was I just turned back around and I ran with it. I’ve done everything I could since 2000 to reclaim what had been forcefully stripped from my family and then give that to my children and then, of course, give it to everyone else. Professionally, I’m the executive officer of the Division of Language Preservation and our whole mission is to sort of better the quality of life of Chickasaw people through exposure to their language. Language education, high quality language learning materials, intensive adult immersion programs, we truly believe that language is what separates us from all other people on the planet and that we were given that language for specific purpose by the creator to communicate with one another. So we don’t want it to be a liturgical language or a dead language, like Latin or something like that, I want to be able to say, hey, how’s your mom? Do you need anything at the store? What are you going to do this weekend? But in my language. So when I took over the language program in 2007, we really just started building on the work that native speakers had done, beginning really in the 1950s. There’s this convergence between the traditionalist community and the Chickasaw grassroots movement, all of whom were speakers, they were all Chickasaw church members, Chickasaw Christianity is a really strong influence in the community, but all of those people, native speakers were the ones that were saying, we want to reform our government, we want to popularly elect our own governor. The author of our first dictionary, Mrs. Humes, her son was the first popularly elected governor, Governor Overton James, since statehood. So, like the power of that community, it shot all the way throughout, not just in terms of Chickasaw identity, but our reformation as a modern political entity really rests on the shoulders of those native speakers. So we just picked up that work, the ones that had been doing community classes, had created that first dictionary and we’ve just been carrying it forward and now we have a really strong – there’s hundreds of people, really thousands, that are learning the language and we’re doing our level best to make sure that it remains spoken language, not an artifact. We don’t preserve it, it’s not a pickle, we preserve that knowledge, but we want to keep it active and living on the tongues of our people and in their hearts.
Ramsey Russell: Josh, what is a reservation? For those of us that have driven through here a million times on I40 going some places that have seen it depicted in media or what is a reservation?
Josh Hinson: So early on in the history of our country, treaties were established between the young United States or even before that.
Ramsey Russell: The first treaty I learned today at the first American Museum in Oklahoma City was in the 1600s.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. Between the Cherokees and the British, if I’m not mistaken.
Ramsey Russell: Or Dutch, one or the other.
Jostling Among European Powers: The complex geopolitical landscape and competition for control in the Americas.
There were some Dutch, the Lenape people that were living in Pennsylvania and then also into, what’s now New York City and stuff like that.
Josh Hinson: Well, yeah, there were some Dutch, the Lenape people that were living in Pennsylvania and then also into, what’s now New York City and stuff like that. But at the time, sort of the young, newly emerging United States needed land, they needed the military power of the nations, there was lots of jostling between European powers about who was going to control the Americas. And part of that process is through treaty. Later on, treaties would continue to be developed. And so what happened was, through a series of land session treaties, the Chickasaw Nation, which was northeastern Mississippi, northwestern Alabama, parts of Tennessee and parts of Kentucky, it was systematically reduced until, Indian Removal act of 1830, we signed a treaty following in 1832 that said, we will remove to the Indian Territory on a land reserved for us.
Ramsey Russell: Andrew Jackson.
Josh Hinson: Andrew Jackson, 1830. We hemmed and hawed and it took us about 5 years.
Ramsey Russell: And it wasn’t like a unanimous vote among Americans, I learned today reading in the museum, there were strong opponents to this. In fact, if I read correctly, one of the signs, Congress and popular opinion was that he not do that and he middle fingered him and said, no, we’re doing it.
Josh Hinson: Well, I mean, there were 2 Supreme Court decisions that said, you can’t do that.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right.
Josh Hinson: And Andrew Jackson said, last time I checked, Supreme Court don’t have a military behind them, you guys are gone. 100,000 Indians were removed from the Southeast. So when we think about reservation, the contemporary Chickasaw Nation is South central Oklahoma, it’s bounded by Choctaw Nation to the east and by Kyowa, Comanche and Apache to the West.
Ramsey Russell: There were Indians here already, I just want to add this to your description. Something I read today is that in another treaty, late 1700s, early 1800s, the Choctaws defined America at the time and the border kind of ended right over here in Arkansas. America then ended there. So Oklahoma at the time was just beyond America, that’s why Oklahoma.
Josh Hinson: Texas was Mexico, I guess, at the time.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, absolutely it was.
Josh Hinson: And, in fact, our ancestors, some of my ancestors that were on these parties that were searching for a new land, they loved East Texas, they wanted to settle Piney Woods like Livingston, Texas, down there where the Alabama and Kashadas are, they wanted to be there and the feds were like, well, no, that’s not ours, you can’t go there, how about Indian Territory? So they traveled to Indian Territory, we agreed through a series of treaties with the Choctaws, we were a district within the Choctaw Nation until 1855, when we signed a new treaty reserving that land that was later diminished following the Civil War. So today, the reservation boundaries are a matter of law, defined by treaties, it is our home country in exchange for the old country, the old homelands, where we were from. And according to that treaty, that will remain Chickasaw land as long as the waters run and the grass grows. And unfortunately, the history of the United States is making promises and breaking them, in particular in terms of treaties. But it was recently the McGirt decision by the Supreme Court reaffirmed the status of the eastern part of Oklahoma so that the reservations were never terminated, they’re still in existence and in particular, for the purposes of criminal law, they still exist. And that has real ramifications all across the board for a variety of things, principally criminal. But in some cases, there may be civil ramifications, too. But yeah, this is our Rez, here we are.
Ramsey Russell: Did your grandmother tell you about the Trail of Tears? Did you have any stories about that?
Josh Hinson: Yeah. Most of family history was centered around Itiyaomba, Minko, Levi Culbert and his wife Minta Hoya. He was an influential, politically connected, he belonged to really powerful clan, he was a Red Skunk clan person. And so he and his family had access to sort of hereditary systems of power. And so he was one that negotiated these removal treaties and really, because of his insistence, it took those 5 years before we finally were just forced, we had to go. And so in terms of, like, we left in 1838, the first removal party left in 1837, but our family, following Levi Culbert’s death, removed in 1838. We removed to the eastern part of Indian territory in Choctaw Nation, remained there until the 1850s just because of intertribal warfare with the Kaiwas, Comanches and Apaches, it was very dangerous to live in Chickasaw Nation at the time. So Minta Hoya ultimately died around Wayne Payne, which we passed through earlier today, she’s buried in an unmarked grave out there. And after the feds came in and established a series of forts to protect us from the Western tribes that were stealing horses and stuff like that, Chickasaws were able to move out of the know into the rest of Chickasaw Nation. And so my family principally is actually Culbert Calera down in the very southeastern portion of Chickasaw Nation in the Pinola district of the Chickasaw Nation. And we’ve been there since 1838.
Ramsey Russell: Walking through the first American museum today and seeing some of the films and I just want to say this because it’s hard to get the modern day, mind me born in 1966, now it’s 2022, it’s hard to get my mind around imperialism as it was expressed. And basically you had Europeans show up with a religion Zale and capitalism and their treatment of wildlife as a commodity, passenger pigeons, bison, seals, other places in the world that they were beginning to go to, they treated it as a raw commodity and they often depleted it with a moral superiority given to them through their religion, they exercised that land as a resource, the people that aren’t like us on it are expendable, like I said, Andrew Jackson had military on his side. And that must have been dawning for people living with arrows and stones and hand implements like that. I just can’t imagine what it must have been. It’d be like a flying saucer landing in your backyard and shooting me down with a laser beam to see cannons and that kind of armament come and start pushing me around. And my point being, it’s hard for me to get my mind wrapped around it then, as the story is factually told, not in a lot of high school history books, but beyond, there’s a lot of history that we don’t hear about, but it still exists today. Religions of Muslims versus Hindus or elsewhere in the world or land or power, Russia versus Ukraine, it’s still continuing. It’s a heart of man, it’s a human problem. It’s not like Indians were living here absolutely in this idyllic world, they were human also.
Josh Hinson: That’s one thing that I think, people either intensely romanticize Indians or they intensely denigrate Indians. It’s like, you’re either a museum specimen of a noble savage or you’re a drunk Indian drinking beer on the side of the road in South Dakota. And that’s just not true, it’s not true. Complicated, people just like anybody’s else. So when you think about another stereotype is the noble savage that is in perfect harmony with nature. Now, I mean, our ancestral worldview is such as that we are a part of the world, we’re not the master of the world, but we are equal to any other created being. There’s no difference between a human and a deer and a squirrel, we’re all related to one another. So that’s a quite different worldview. That’s shockingly different worldview from this western mindset that says, we’re Christian, it is the intent of the Lord that we manifest this destiny and make it all the way to the Pacific coast. And these people are going to convert, we’re going to move them or we’re going to kill them. You don’t find Indian folks proselytizing. No one’s coming to your door and being like, do you have a moment to talk about a Babanilli? And their intent for your life or whatever the case may be. But I was thinking specifically about this sort of, like, hippie, trippy granola idea that Indians are somehow in perfect tune with nature. And that’s just not true. We know in the case of our ancestors, there was a residence pattern of about 40 or 50 years where people would live in a town loosely organized based on clan and they would use the resources in that area, you get further and further out as you’re cutting down trees for firewood and stuff like that. Game gets more and more scarce. Well, the whole community would pick up and move 20, 30, 40, 50 miles away, whatever the case may be. And then you see a generation or 2 later, when that natural environment had recovered because of the lack of human presence, they would move back to that place. And that’s the kind of sort of responsible stewardship that I think is fine to talk about without romanticizing our ancestors.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’ve always heard as a forester, that southeastern Indians as they were moving, they’d light the woods behind them on fire and it would rejuvenate.
Josh Hinson: Oh, yeah. I mean, that whole black prairie around Tupelo was actively managed. The entire East coast was actively managed by indigenous people. You get these early accounts of this idyllic, park like settings where there’s no underbrush, beautiful mass trees everywhere, tons of wildlife, well, there was a reason. It’s because our ancestors were engineering, they were engineering the land just like anybody else.
Ramsey Russell: One interesting thing I saw, just an interesting observation at the museum, one of the first little, extremely high quality, a very entertaining, PBS quality documentary type little short films. And the first one was about the origins of a few of those tribes in the same way that Adam and Eve and theory of creation were the first. The stories that were told about how certain people came to be. And it just struck me, there were similarities. There were certain similarities about first people and origins and the original people and the land and the creation of all creation. But if you weren’t raised in a Christian setting and understood creation and believed the Bible or exposed to that, it’d be easy, if I just landed on Earth and heard both those stories, it’d be easy to say, well, those are complete fictional traumas. That makes sense?
Josh Hinson: Oh, yeah. Everyone on the planet, all people, want to know where they’re from, how they got here, why they’re here, what’s their purpose. The difference is, like, the people that came to colonize this country, they believed, like verbatim, the literal truth of the scripture, which means that that is true and all other beliefs are not true. I mean, there was literal debates amongst Christians whether Indians were even people. I mean, it’s crazy stuff. So when you think about –
Ramsey Russell: In the same way, we’re talking about a period of time, Andrew Jackson, when this whole event was taking place, we’re talking about a human time that humanity traded in other humanity as slaves. That was a prevailing acceptance at the time, which is kind of hard for me to get my mind wrapped around.
Josh Hinson: I mean, that’s in the Bible, too.
Ramsey Russell: And they were obviously less than human because they were slaves.
Josh Hinson: Getting back to the experience, we had the introductory film in the first Americans Museum is about 4, I think it’s 4 distinct tribal communities, like Oto, Missouria or maybe it’s 3, anyway, Yuchi’s a couple of other ones. And the Yuchi, they call themselves children of the sun and their creation story is very much like ours. Crawdaddy brought the earth from up under this sort of primordial flood, like the earth was covered in water. Crawdaddy goes down, brings up the earth and then in our version, it’s either a buzzard or a raven and through the action of those wings, creates mountains and valleys. And in the case of Zoyaha, blood dripped from the sun and where the sun’s blood hit the ground, Zoyaha people emerged from that place and became the Yuchi people or Zoyaha people. In our case, our sort of supreme deity is called Ababanili, and it means the one that sits above. It’s likely that our ancestors thought of Ababanili as male because all of our hereditary leadership were male. But it was not unlike the Christian God this deity was composed of multiple things. Sun, the sky, clouds, he who lives in the clear sky, that sort of thing, that composed.
Ramsey Russell: He who lives in the clear sky?
Josh Hinson: Yeah, the one that lives above, he who lives above, whatever the case may be. So in our case, Ababanili took the earth, not unlike the creation story in the Bible in Genesis and he formed humans from dust of Mother Earth and breathed into them, creating the first humans and then from there, created humanity in general. Now, there’s other versions of our creation story where we emerge, along with related tribes, from a mound Nanih Waiya, which is located on the Choctaw Reservation in Mississippi. And we’re described as, I recently saw a really old manuscript in Choctaw and it describes the people coming out of Nanih Waiya like locusts with wet wings and then sunning themselves. And then as their wings hardened, they know they went off, which is kind of cool. It’s really interesting because it does connect us with linguistic relatives, like the creeks emerged, the Choctaws, the Chickasaws, Alabama Kashadas, all those people that are related to one another. But it also includes the Cherokees, which is fascinating because they’re not related to us at all. They come from the north, they were relatively speaking, later transplants into the southeast several thousand years ago. But, yeah, it’s pretty fascinating. Creation stories that also reflect, like, current political reality, linguistic reality, these are our relatives, even though we may have been separated from one another for thousands of years.
Ramsey Russell: A lot of similarities, a lot of differences and to the college kids, college educated, that have been taught theory of evolution, humanity originated in Africa, spread through land, bridges come across up around Alaska and came down and that’s where the original Native American flourish and do its thing.
Josh Hinson: Or walking on the water routes.
Ramsey Russell: But you were telling me that, like, the story about the crawdaddy, it’s really not about – that’s not the point of the story, it’s about who you are.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. I mean, the tension between what the west would consider objective, scientific reality and this story over here, the creation of the world. The creation of the world tells us, in our understanding, how we got here, how were we created? Our obligations and relationships to other non-human beings and to one another as human beings, that’s what we’re getting at. Even in our migration story, the hero twins appear all across North America in our case, it’s Chikasha and Chatta that were brothers and we followed this sacred pole that would lean each evening from the West. It was a land of strife and trouble and intertribal warfare, our religious leaders called upon Ababanilli to sanctify this pole and so we followed it as a people. All the Muskogee speaking peoples have a similar story that involves a pole, a white dog, some of them involve a volcano, but it’s all this strife. So we’re leaving, we get to the Mississippi river and so forth. The white dog is lost in the river, we made it over to Mississippi and then the Choctaws, where they live now, said, Chatta, the leader said, oh, the pole is standing straight, we’re going to stay here and Chikasha said, no, I don’t think so. So he said, what’s leaning? So we’re going to follow it. So they ended up around Huntsville, Alabama and then some generations later, it leaned back and that’s where we landed in our traditional homeland, centered around Tupelo, Mississippi. And see, that’s an origin story of how did the Chickasaws and Choctaws come to be? But it also speaks to our current political and social realities. Like, why are the Chickasaws and Choctaws so close? Why can we understand for the most part each other’s languages? Why are we politically and culturally so tightly connected? Well, it’s because we’re brothers and we’ve been brothers for thousands of years.
Ramsey Russell: What do you do? You translate language, preserve language here on the reservation, why is that important to you and why is it important to Native America. This is a question coming from someone who was born in Mississippi and can go back 2 or 3 generations and I really don’t know much about my origins other than just Mississippi redneck. Why is it important? Why is it important to speak 2 languages instead of one?
Josh Hinson: Right. Everything that we know is things that we’ve received in teachings from our elders. We’re just trying to do right by them. So when they tell us, the creator made us, as Chickasaw people, we receive this language as a gift from the creator. It’s our obligation to use it to speak to one another, even sort of like, in a prophetic sense. There are families that have prophecies that the world will end when the last speaker of Chickasaw dies. I mean, it carries everything that we are as a people. The language, it holds the key to ancestral worldview, it helps you understand your relationships, your obligations, how you’re supposed to live in a community, how you’re supposed to treat your elders, how you’re supposed to treat your children, how you’re supposed to live in relationship with animals, how we treat them when we’re hunting them, how we speak to them, when we kill them, what we do when we consume them, everything that makes us Chickasaw is held in that language. Now, that’s not to say that we as a people will cease to exist if we don’t have a spoken language, because there are many tribes that unfortunately have lost, their languages are sleeping now because they have no living speakers. But we have the opportunity and frankly, the gift that in 2022, we still have 30 some odd native speakers that grew up with this as a first language. And by God, we’re going to keep that thing going because it is our obligation. We weren’t given this gift by a creator just to lay it down and say, oh, it’s 2022, we don’t need to talk Chickasaw anymore, let’s just speak English like everybody else. That’s how it is.
Ramsey Russell: I knew that later, 100 years after your people had been dispropriated to Oklahoma, I knew that many Indians were active in World War I and World War II, I knew that. But for some reason, what I found so damn surprising today was to learn that many Chickasaws and other tribes around the United States were active on both sides of the Civil War. And I tell you why, because that’s right around the time that your people came here, Choctaws, some came here, some stayed, other tribes were forcibly removed by bayonet to come here, they’d been lied to in a lot of different treaties and yet they took sides, that just blows my mind. Because they could have just sat right here in Oklahoma and not done it.
Josh Hinson: Well, there’s 39 tribes now in Oklahoma.
Ramsey Russell: How many were there originally? 4, 3? And Oklahoma is a Choctaw word I learned today, red people.
Red People Interpretation: Signifying “Oklahoma” as “Red People” or “Red Town” in Chickasaw.
Okla is a people and then Homma means red. So Oklahoma is actually pronounced Oklahomma in our language.
Josh Hinson: Yeah, it means red people, it can also mean red town in Chickasaw, but yeah, red people, Okla is a people and then Homma means red. So Oklahoma is actually pronounced Oklahomma in our language. But you have traditional lands of Kiowa, Comanche, the Plains Apache, the Caddos, the Wichitas, Osage down here hunting many tribes, I can’t give you a number, but the totality now, including the removed tribes is 39, 38 federal.
Ramsey Russell: Some as far as a West Coast, Pacific coast, when they struck gold, got to get rid of.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. The Modoc, Captain Jack’s people were removed here, in addition to Geronimo’s people, the Cherokawa Apache.
Ramsey Russell: They just showed up and said, we want this part of Arizona. See you.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. And they ended up here. So back to the question about the Civil War, again, Indian people are not monoliths, there were significant factions that were loyal to America and many of them left. They went to Kansas and other territories to get away from this impending conflicts. And there were some that had been practicing chattel slavery for several generations that saw that the United States was leaving the territory, not meeting their treaty obligations, they believed that their lot was best thrown in with the Confederate States of America. So it was both political, economic, social.
Ramsey Russell: Hopeful for a better future.
Josh Hinson: It’s complicated.
Ramsey Russell: Because the United States broke treaties, maybe the Confederate States won’t.
Josh Hinson: Right.
Ramsey Russell: Okay.
Josh Hinson: Well, in the Confederate States of America come in, they were like, oh, yeah, we’ll make right, we’ll do right, we’ll honor these treaties. So there were factions of all the tribal governments here in the east, many of whom were slaveholders themselves that aligned with the Confederate States of America. And in fact, I think the last Confederate unit to surrender was Stan Waity’s unit and he was a Cherokee fella, the last one to stand down after the war was over.
Ramsey Russell: Very interesting. Talk a little bit about tribal life, life on the Rez, some of the traditional ceremonies, because we were riding somewhere and we drove by just a little farmhouse, you said, this is where the first family moved, I couldn’t tell you nothing about where my family moved in Mississippi, I think Greenwood, but I’m not sure. And then we went up to a ceremonial –
Josh Hinson: Yeah, the stomp ground, ceremonial ground, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And you all still practice that.
Josh Hinson: At removal, I mentioned earlier that the fire is a sacred symbol on earth of the creator and in the old country, there was a sacred fire that was never extinguished until one time a year at Greencorn, the fire would be put out, every household fire in the nation would be put out. Sacred fire was rekindled and from there, the household fires were rekindled at this ceremony called Greencorn. Well, they carried over the embers of those ashes from our ceremonial grounds, the people that had been sustaining those grounds for millennia brought over those coals, kept those fires going and reestablished what are essentially our churches here in Indian territory. And we were talking about at Kalihomma in Chickasaw, it’s called Kali Homma, which means a red spring, Kali is spring and Homma is red. Those families like the Alexander’s, the Johnsons, the Sticks, they have been in those valleys and hills since 1837 and they were the northernmost ceremonial ground. There were multiple ceremonial grounds across Chickasaw Nation, but principally, it was the Kalihomma ceremonial ground that we saw the hill, that distant hill where it used to be and then there was one down south called Tupans and those were in continuous use from removal until just prior to the Second World War. We have people in our community called Hopayi Prophets or seers, they have this sort of second sight. And there were a series of visions, including some shooting stars and the Hopayet, all of these respective grounds on Chickasaw Nation said, there’s a great war coming, our boys are going to have to go fight, we’re going to put the grounds to sleep and perhaps we’ll bring them back in the future. So those ceremonial grounds were put to sleep. Those ashes were buried and the ceremonies moved to houses. So they continue to do house dances, we have this game called Capocha, which is two sticks, it’s like a stick ball game, it’s two sticks, little leather ball that continued to be played. We practiced the Peshofa ceremony, Peshofa is a traditional corn soup and it’s used in a 4 day curative ceremony. So all those religious practices continued. But because of the Second World War, the grounds based ceremonialism for us was put to sleep. And so you had a generation or 2 that carried those things forward and it wasn’t really until 1993, 1994 that we reestablished Kalahomma ceremonial ground and we’ve danced with the exception of one summer during COVID we’ve danced there 4 times a year since 1994.
Ramsey Russell: Do those dates mark the seasons or just -? What’s the significance of 4 dances and the timing?
Josh Hinson: 4 is a sacred number.
Ramsey Russell: North, south, east, west.
Josh Hinson: Right. 4 scenes in life, all that stuff we were talking about earlier. And so our ceremonial cycle, different tribes do it differently. Like, I got friends at Cherokee grounds and they dance every month, some of them will follow a lunar calendar, some will follow just the Gregorian calendar. But yeah, they’re dancing even in the winter. Our ceremonial cycle began in the spring with a men and women ball play, big hunt and a feast. So that was the first dance, they would have 3 more dances, the last being in the fall, like September, October and then we wouldn’t dance over the winter. Winter was time to stay close, tell stories, survive the hunger months, January, February, before the world reawaken. And then our big sort of southeastern Indian New Year is Greencorn and that happens early to mid summer. Our sort of cognate for Greencorn is Chickasha reunion and that generally happens in May or June. And Chickasaw people will come back from all over and dance and eat and play ball and do all the things that make us Chickasaw.
Ramsey Russell: What are some of the similarities and differences beyond the ceremony? Some of the good and the bad of Rez life for Chickasaws here on the reservation versus outside the reservation?
Josh Hinson: When you think about the Chickasaw Reservation or Creek or Seminole or any of the Sort of the eastern part of the state, if someone drives through here, it’s not dissimilar from any sort of rural communities in southeast, it’s not any different. The singular difference being, like, there are Indian people everywhere in Oklahoma, I mean, 300,000 to 400,000 tribal citizens, Native people live here in the state. So, I mean, it’s just like any other rural community, there’s areas of affluence, there’s areas of poverty. We got dirt roads and good highways and bad highways and all that stuff, it wasn’t always that way. Tribal government really struggled early on, like 60s, 70s to provide adequate housing. I mentioned earlier people who came back from multiple tours in Nom and it wasn’t until then that they had running water in their house or electricity. Poverty in eastern Oklahoma was a really big deal. But yeah, I mean, your average listener just coming through this state, it’s not going to be any different than community you’d run into in Alabama or Mississippi just a different accent. And you’ll see people that white Indians that look like me, you’ll see black folks that are Indians, you’ll see brown people that are Indians, you just don’t ever know. But in Oklahoma, there’s a good chance the person you’re talking to has indigenous ancestry of some sort.
Ramsey Russell: There’s a misperception of alcoholism and drug abuse. And it is a misperception, isn’t that?
Josh Hinson: Yeah. I don’t know if it’s because the way that American Indian life, contemporary life in particular is presented in Western media. There’s this thing people talk about, poverty porn, this sort of like, reservation trapped, you think of the Rez, you think of, like rosebud or pine ridge or Navajo, huge, endless tracts of land, small, tightly knit communities, dilapidated houses, roofs falling in, I mean, that is a reality. But in terms of substance abuse, mean, it’s just not true, it’s not true. There’s this idea that American Indians, sort of per capita have greater instances of substance abuse than any other.
Ramsey Russell: It’s just the opposite.
Josh Hinson: In fact, economically disadvantaged southern white person will have a greater instance of substance abuse than just about any other group in the United States. And this whole idea that there’s some sort of genetic component to how American Indians process alcohol, that’s way above pay – I am not a tea totaler, I drink a little bit of bourbon on occasion.
Ramsey Russell: Good bourbon.
Josh Hinson: Yeah, I like high quality, good bourbon. Blantons, if you’re hearing this, please send me several cases, thank you.
Ramsey Russell: Yes, it’s interesting, I find this conversation intensely interesting because never having been exposed here in your home, on your reservation with your friends and people we’ve met, there are a lot of non-realities that I was subject to, it was not at all what I expected.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. Well, even in your home state, Choctaw reservations, fairly large.
Ramsey Russell: There are, yeah.
Josh Hinson: Philadelphia.
Ramsey Russell: Never give a second thought.
Josh Hinson: I mean, you don’t think about it, but it’s a different people, different set apart, living uniquely sort of indigenous lifestyles. It’s not to say that they don’t live in houses, we all live in normal houses, we eat normal food just like anybody else, I like bologna sandwiches like everybody else.
Ramsey Russell: You dang sure like tender brisket or wet brisket. I found that out at lunch.
Josh Hinson: Yeah, all day long. But yeah, what really makes the reservation interesting is these and we keep on talking about relationships, it’s these tight connections across family lines, across generational lines, we know who is us and who isn’t. And we strive to be not only accountable to one another, but also good neighbors. And the more our neighbors understand us, the more likely we are to work in a positive way for not just the reservation and the citizens of our nation but the citizens of Oklahoma.
Ramsey Russell: Talking about relations, things of that nature, today we were coming back and we were passing by a duck hole and there were some young hunters there, young, high school, I’m guessing.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. High school kids.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. High school kids. And they struck me as any other high school kid I’ve ever known their dress, their hunting style just everything about it. The pickup truck he drove looked just like a teenager’s pickup truck 4 wheel drive jacked up big tires, wide tires, that guy. But one thing that occurred to me as we were visiting they were out there gathering up their ducks with kayak, one thing that struck me is here on this reservation, we’re in Oklahoma, in this part of Oklahoma there’s not just an overabundance of high quality duck hunting properties, duck hunting places, you don’t worry about your tires getting cut while you’re out there duck hunting. You don’t worry about a lot of things that you might experience in Arkansas public land or Mississippi public land or any public land. We sat out there and talked like just fellow duck hunters, very civil. It wasn’t conflictual at all.
Josh Hinson: That interaction is we’re driving down a county road on the reservation but that particular piece of property that they were hunting is tribal land. And so all 3 of those boys were tribal members. And we have a sign in board, we have a wildlife department, you sign in, you go hunt, we don’t jump in each other’s spots or they came on one time, they didn’t know what they were doing. I said, all right, boys, you can go around the dam or you can just hunt with me. So they hunted with us. It was like me and my two buddies and then two of them and they’re young duck hunters, they don’t know what they’re doing, their calling is okay, but they’re sky blasters, they’re just making mistakes because they’re young. You got to learn 17, 18 year old kids. So when we roll up I’m checking on them like I see them out there in the kayak and all that, I just want to see what kind of hunt they had. Was it cool? Did you have a good time? What species did you get? They gave us a bunch of their ringnecks because they’re hard to clean.
Ramsey Russell: Because you make hot tamales with it. I was going to give them one wee shot, you’re like, no, don’t give my duck away.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. My buddy Dan has the hookup on a place that’ll make, if you got a 40 pound minimum, they’ll make you a mess of killer duck tamales, so we’re saving them up.
Ramsey Russell: Speaking of Dan, speaking of good eats. So we’re out there duck hunting this morning and it was cold, not too cold, but it was cold, there was more ice when we left than there was when we started.
Josh Hinson: Yeah, it was cold.
Ramsey Russell: And when I got in the blind this morning, Dan had hung a little lamp in there and we were out putting out your wooden decoys, whole spread of wooden decoys. And when I got in, the first thing I noticed was not only did Dan have a blind bag, a big, loaded, heavy, square shape, he also had a big black box and something else, I’m thinking, this is a lot for a morning duck hunt. And it wasn’t until the sun came up, we shot a few ducks and Dan said, I’m going to make breakfast, that I realized what was inside that black box. Now, Dan, if you’re listening, you’re welcome to come jump in that black truck and go meet anywhere, anytime, he made the absolute best breakfast tacos I have ever eaten anywhere.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. Dan is a fascinating guy, just super cool guy. He lives across the street from tribal land, he had seen us hunting there and he happened to be pulling out of his gate one day, we struck up a conversation, we probably talked for an hour right there at the gate and we’ve spent a lot of time hunting together since then on the reservation, not on tribal property, but on the reservation. And that’s where we went today and Dan loves duck hunting, he loves cooking ducks, he’s got awesome recipes and he’s just a cool guy. And he’s say, 69, I’m 44 different generations, he could be my dad and you know how it is with duck hunters, it’s just instantaneous, it’s like connection. Do Hank Shaw? How do you like cooking your ducks? What’s your favorite species? What’s your favorite preparation? That kind of thing, just instantaneous. And he likes having a 44 year old to help him haul his stuff around and set up so he does not hunt solo. And now I got my buddy Bradley, who’s 25 or 26, I’m teaching him the ways I need another young one or two, because I’m getting old.
Ramsey Russell: I would be your age the rest of my life, if humanly possible, 40 something is not old.
Josh Hinson: 40 something ain’t that bad.
Ramsey Russell: No, 40 something ain’t that bad. Talk about duck hunting here on a reservation. How you hunt, what you hunt, prevalent species. Of course, you use your wooden decoy, very traditional, we talked about that earlier. But talk about the scouting and how you’re setting up and what the habitats are like.
Average Hunt Composition: Describing the Typical Mixed Bag Composition, with a Predominance of Puddlers.
I mean, Oklahoma is a big mixed bag. Lots of puddlers, lots of ringnecks, mallards, pintails, occasionally we’ll get geese. You can target geese if you want to, but we don’t really do that around here.
Josh Hinson: So Chickasaw Nation, as I said earlier, is like right in the middle of southern Oklahoma, just south central. And so our land runs like intensely wooded, thick, mountainous terrain to the east to some other mountainous regions, like in the Arbuckles. And then once you sort of go past 35, it breaks into more plains, rolling hills, like one might expect in Kansas or something like this. And so most of the bodies of water, there’s many more impoundments or dam projects like large lakes created in the state, than natural bodies of water. So mostly what we’re hunting are WPA impoundments, where they created a flood control or stock ponds, some natural sloughs, some sloughs that were created by the introduction of railroads and so forth. But in large measure, the land that I hunt on the reservation is weightable depth, it’s a walk in situation. I run my dogs, but I don’t mess with boats, I go in on my feet. We do small spreads. If I’m solo hunting, just me and my dog, I’ll only take 6 wooden decoys, half the time I don’t even mess with a jerk rig, I just stick them out there because I’m a small hunter, but I know the areas where I hunt intimately. I’m not going to be driving 8 hours every weekend and trying to get the most bang up hunt. I want to hunt efficiently, effectively, close to home. I want to understand how that works so I can be the best hunter that I can be. In terms of species, I mean, Oklahoma is a big mixed bag. Lots of puddlers, lots of ringnecks, mallards, pintails, occasionally we’ll get geese. You can target geese if you want to, but we don’t really do that around here. West of 35 towards like Chickasha, the western part of the Chickasaw Nation, you’ll get big flocks, resident Canadas, cacklers, all that kind of stuff. Every once in a while, they’ll shoot something crazy out in western Oklahoma. Like, I heard they shot a brant, I think, 2 seasons ago, European wigeon or Eurasian wigeon, rather weird stuff like that. But yeah, an average hump for us is going to be mixed bag, 60% puddlers and the remainder will be ringnecks sometimes we get good canvasbacks in, it just depends on season of the year. Shot my first redhead on tribal land this season, that was kind of cool. Shot a pair, a hen and a drake. But yeah, on tribal land, we don’t do a lot of permanent blind building, we just tuck in a natural cover. Like, generally, like to work where the creek feeds into these flood controls because it’s shallow there and the ducks like it. But yeah, it’s small, mobile, nothing too whiz bangy, I don’t tend to use a lot of motion or anything like that. Of course, this morning, I figured we probably needed to.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, I wish we had.
Josh Hinson: They had, like, 4 or 5 of the things, the whiz bang electronic things and we was just over there with our old jerk rig.
Ramsey Russell: They had a pair of mojos and most of the ducks we saw, when I saw them, they were locked up, going right into them.
Josh Hinson: Oh, yeah. All about that flash.
Ramsey Russell: It’s all about that flash. I had this question, I’d been out west last year and it dawned on me, Wyoming, Montana, et cetera, it dawned on me that historically, especially, there must have been a lot of ducks and waterfowl throughout the United States. I mean, pre civilization, when it was just Indians. And the oldest decoys known to exist were found in Nevada made out of Tules with canvasback feathers wrapped on. So Native Americans hunted and I’ve wondered how they hunted and nobody ever had an answer until now. I did have an archaeologist on here one time that talked about in Mississippi, he did a lot of mound studies and they did find small game bones and bird bones. 2 questions, 2 part questions. How does your duck hunting, which is not according to one of your language professors, it wasn’t a big part of your tradition here in this part of the world, it was in your homeland, as you call Mississippi? How does hunting connect you to your ancestry? And duck hunting, specifically, how does it connect you to your ancestry? And how do you think or know that a lot of the Chickasaws duck hunted in Mississippi?
Josh Hinson: When we were talking a little bit earlier about cultural memory and in some cases, it can be just a generation or two. And so when you talk to our elders and our elder teachers, our language teachers and other traditional people in the community, they grew up in a time where they were hunting largely small game, we’re talking like rabbits and squirrels for the most part. Back in 20s and 30s the deer were not much of a going concern in Oklahoma, you’d be hard pressed to even find them. So when my language teachers, they found out I started duck hunting, they’re like, well, that’s kind of weird, we don’t do know. When I grew up, we just ate squirrels and rabbits, possums and stuff like that. I was like, well, I don’t know, just really like duck hunting. So I went to one of our tribal archaeologists, Brad, who lives in Jackson, he’s also a big duck hunter, so we like to share photos and stuff throughout season. But he was like, oh yeah, we’ve done work in trash pits, our ancestors created –
Ramsey Russell: And you mean Jackson, Mississippi?
Josh Hinson: Yeah, he’s located in Mississippi, but he works for us. So when our ancestors were creating their houses, they would create these huge borrow pits to dob the walls of the structures and they’re called Oka Kinafa, it means, like, where it falls into itself. And so those were trash pits. So all the know trash would go into these large pits that would be filled up over the years and they can do diagnostic studies about the age of a whitetailed deer in 1760 or like, what were they eating in 1810? And it’s chock full. I mean, our ancestors were smart folks, they were going to hunt what they could hunt, they were going to eat what they could eat because it was a feast or famine sort of thing. And so chock full of waterfowl bones, swans, big ducks, like mallards, bear, even alligator in some instances, tons of deer, deer and bear being the primary large species. But we also know that we were hunting waterfowl in particular, swans, for ceremonial purposes.
Ramsey Russell: Hunting swans in Mississippi?
Josh Hinson: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: And they were big. You explained that today eagle feathers and swan feathers were very big.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. There was really significant use of swan feathers, not just amongst the Chickasaws, but the other tribes, too. In fact, there was one ball play, I think it was between a Nachi group and maybe the Creeks, I could be lying to you, but there was some disagreement over who had the rights to this swan roost. Yeah. And instead of killing one another they went and played a game. And the winner, I think it was the Nachi that won. They got the swan roost and that’s one thing that’s documented, Chickasaws in particular, would use torches to surround these swan roosts at night, blinding them with the lights and so forth and then clubbing them. And obviously, they were being eaten. Like, you just don’t kill things that you don’t eat, that’s what it’s for. But because white was such a significant color, ceremonially speaking, those feathers were used for a variety of things. Naming ceremonies, full feather capes for religious leaders, any number of things. So it was important that we maintained control over those roosts and stuff like that, because those feathers were so significant for our ancestors. So beyond that, we know that our ancestors created cordage, they were probably making nets, we know that they were doing fish weirs and stuff like that. So you could imagine a kind of a trap for ducks, maybe you could imagine them using, they were incredibly proficient with these flat bows, blunt tipped arrows, shooting a mallard in the head, hiding in the reeds and taking him at ten yards or something, that’s nothing. These kids born with a bow in their hand, practically, dead eyes. So we don’t really know in any particular detail, we’re just sort of inferring beyond the taking of swans, because we know that they were getting them somehow, we know where they were eating them and that would be similar situation –
Ramsey Russell: It’s just crazy to think that there were so many swans back then in Deep South.
Josh Hinson: Oh, yeah, lots of them. Trumpeters. Trumpeter swans were actively nesting all the way down Mississippi River.
Ramsey Russell: That makes sense when you talk about them bringing torches and basically night lighting them, it makes me think that the birds were flightless, they’d have to be going through a moult and they were flightless, else they’d flown, they couldn’t be clubbed. So times have changed, something’s changed. There were so many swans down here, but that they lived down there.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. I’d done some research and it wasn’t us, it was largely due to market hunting. The swans quit coming down in large part.
Ramsey Russell: Probably got killed out by market hunters.
Josh Hinson: Oh, yeah. You get a punt gun, you can shoot 300 ducks at one time or however many swans.
Ramsey Russell: Or just a short gun, 3 guys stand up behind a beaver dam, a flat shit with 12 gauges or 10 gauges or 8 gauges.
Josh Hinson: Right. So we continued to use eagle feathers and other raptors ceremonially. In Oklahoma, there’s a use of egret feathers because they’re also white as sort of a cognate for swan feathers. But I went to North Carolina prior to COVID and I shot a swan and then my buddies took two and they sent me back with all the feathers. And so we’re slowly reintroducing swan feathers in the community, people have used them ceremonial purposes, you hang one from your rear view mirror in your car, people using them when they’re getting married, stuff like that. Even at the ceremonial ground, traditionally, a swan wing was used to fan that flame. And so I gave one of the swan wings to one of the ceremonial ground leaders. So, yeah, it’s pretty cool. And now some of the best eaten.
Ramsey Russell: They are good to eat.
Josh Hinson: I don’t know why anybody would hate on a swan, these were tundra swans.
Ramsey Russell: They actually don’t hate on them, they love them so much that I’ve even had hunters, waterfowl hunters, question, why would I shoot a swan?
Josh Hinson: Well, I mean, apart from the beauty of the thing, I mean, I get that, I got a lot of stuff, even from other tribal members, that’s a symbol of love. How could you kill it? Like, well, I’m just doing what our folks did, those feathers mean something. And they have real significance, they have real purpose and it’s delicious. I mean, I had heard from some folks that swan wasn’t very good. And I was no, that’s some of the best waterfowl, I’m not saying it’s spectacular, but it was pretty good.
Ramsey Russell: It was actually the animal for which food was fit for a king. Common people were not allowed to shoot swans in Mary, old England, it was reserved for.
Josh Hinson: Right.
Ramsey Russell: Interesting. I’m going to ask you a question. Change the subject, I’m going to get back on to hunting, last question, it’s going to be hunting. The question I’ve got, it’s going to go back and you brought up cultural, so I’m just going to circle back to a question I forgot to ask you. Atlanta Braves collided the wooden Indian, formerly the Washington Redskins. Boys, Gals of America, Order of the Arrow. We went by a display today, slap full of all kind of Americana, American picker type stuff. A whole cabinet full.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. Like commercial representations of Indian folks.
Ramsey Russell: Commercial representations of Indians. And you find it offensive or no?
Josh Hinson: Well, again, just speaking for me, I think that contemporary Indian people have a variety of issues that are of concern. And when I think of the lack of representation in popular media and the effects of the limited representations on Indian youth, I think that any sort of racialized mascot really can have negative effects on our Indian kids. When you’re not seeing yourself on television or film, but you’re seeing these racialized representations like Chief Wahoo or whatever or even the name Redskins. Yeah, I find that offensive, but as we were talking earlier, offense is sort of a matter of degrees. What I find offensive is active efforts by certain groups politically connected oil and gas industry that are trying to chop down one of the pillars of our sovereignty and ripping away our ability to take care of our own kids through the Indian Child Welfare act, that’s offensive to me. The Indian Child Welfare act was put into place in 1978 because Western Christian education was actively stealing our children away from our communities and putting them into situations where they were completely divorced from who they are. That’s offensive. Active efforts from mining companies to remove our sacred sites and turning them into, like, copper mines and stuff like that, that’s offensive. Like communities in Alaska, fighting against pebble mine, for example, that’s offensive. Chief Wahoo bothers me.
Ramsey Russell: Remind me who Chief Wahoo is, I’m not sure.
Josh Hinson: The braves, the chiefs, any kind of racialized mascot is problematic. But if you’re asking me to sort of rank my concerns as a contemporary Indian people, I’m concerned about our sisters murdering and missing indigenous women.
Ramsey Russell: 3 out of 4 women on reservations are likely to be victimized.
Josh Hinson: 3 out of 4 American Indian women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.
Ramsey Russell: And you don’t hear anything about that in the media, that’s the media representation you’re talking about.
Josh Hinson: Right. And in particular, I was referencing this ICWA case, the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Supreme Court accepted a case, a significant challenge to our treaty based obligations and our abilities to care for our own children. Tribes have a say when a child is removed and we have preference so that we can place our kids with other native kids, because we see when they’re removed from their culture, when they’re removed from their homes, when they’re removed from their places, it’s devastating. You can ask any number of Native people who were adopted out into other non-tribal communities how it affected their self-esteem, their sense of place in the world. I mean, it’s just incredibly sad. And the fact that it’s being funded by wealthy oil and gas who want to remove our ability to self determine to operate in tribal customary law, to operate in tribal governments in the way that we feel is appropriate. They want to chop that down and they’re using our children as an entree to that, that’s offensive. I had a problem with the Redskins and all this other stuff, but there’s a lot more things to make me mad than a racialized mascot.
Ramsey Russell: I was not a boy scout, I started but didn’t finish, I made it through about cub scouts or webelos or something and my kids, my boys, I think whatever comes first, cub scouts or webelos. And we ran through the whole activity book in one sitting, we’d done it all, just about all of it, they were bored. And you showed me the Order of the Arrow. What is it? And somebody had reached out to you and asked for some stuff and they understood why you said no, but explain that situation.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. So there was a newly formed council that was combining, I think, 2 councils and they said, we’re in your traditional homelands, we’d love to use your artwork on the patch.
Ramsey Russell: Your personal artwork.
Josh Hinson: Yeah, my work.
Ramsey Russell: You’re an artist.
Josh Hinson: And I was like, well, does your council participate in Order of the Arrow? Which is basically, it’s scouts dressing up and performing as Indians, certain traditional dances and things like this.
Ramsey Russell: And I asked you, does that offend you? It was a good answer.
Josh Hinson: Yeah, it is bothersome.
Ramsey Russell: I’m sorry to use the word offend because I’m offended by offended people for the record.
Josh Hinson: No, I get you. No, it’s not an honoring, it’s not an honor, it’s not an appreciation, it’s appropriation. Like, if I dressed up as a Catholic priest and then went in to play mass in a church.
Ramsey Russell: Inappropriate.
Josh Hinson: Get out of here. You could make the same argument for racialized Halloween costumes. Like, we really do not like it when people dress up as Indians for Halloween. But on my personal list of terrible things to be offended about, again –
Ramsey Russell: It’s low on the list.
Josh Hinson: It is. I’m not saying it’s not deleterious.
Ramsey Russell: I can see for the first time where it might be disrespectful. Especially in the context of the language preservation, the ceremonies, all of the stuff you talked about previously that is because who you are and that is not who you are.
Josh Hinson: No. And that speaks to sort of bigger issues with dominant kind of American or Western society, it’s like they want Indians to be this particular kind of thing. They want our images, they want the Stories, they want all the romantic stuff, but they don’t want to deal with the realities, they don’t want to deal with the realities of being an Indian person in America for good and bad, all that stuff. They just want to sort of appropriate and like, I want to name my Jeep Cherokee after you.
Ramsey Russell: I never thought about that.
Josh Hinson: Cherokee Nation has asked Jeep to stop doing that and Jeep don’t care. But again, that would be sort of low on my list of things to be upset about. We have significant concerns that we’re fighting.
Ramsey Russell: What does upset you the most then? What’s at the top of your concerns.
Josh Hinson: To me, in my opinion, the disregard for the lives of our indigenous moms and aunties and sisters. The states don’t care, the feds don’t give us enough resources. There are members of Congress that actively, they voted against violence Against Women act and the sort of Indian specific aspects of that act, that kind of stuff, the underfunding of Indian health services, it should be guaranteed annual funding, it shouldn’t be discretionary. We gave away our lands for in perpetuity these treaty obligations. And you have to ask yourself, as an American, and I’m an American.
Ramsey Russell: You are an American.
Josh Hinson: I am an American. What do I want my nation to look like? Are we honest? Do we do what we say we’re going to do or are we going to keep on breaking our word over and over again? And for me, those treaties are laws of the land. We are in the Declaration of Independence, we are in the Constitution. Like, our ability to self-govern as Indigenous nations is throughout our history. And I think it’s for the betterment of all Americans that we make right and do right by indigenous peoples here on this continent. And this is not woke, I’m not trying to be some sort of leftist –
Ramsey Russell: You’re anything but woke, I’ve been duck hunting with you, I know better.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. I feel like people should have individual sovereignty and autonomy to live their lives the way they want in the manner that they feel is appropriate, as long as they’re not hurting other people. And that extends not only to me as a person, but to my nation as a whole. All 77,000 Chickasaws, like, we should be respected, the agreements that we made with United States government, those obligations should be met. We should be able to determine who our leaders are, elect them popularly elected, just like we have for generations and generations and we should have some freedom to live our lives the way that we want to. And that should resonate with everybody. That’s the American dream, right?
Ramsey Russell: That’s the American melting pot, which is a – it’s not chocolate, where all the ingredients are one thing, now it’s like a gumbo and it’s delicious. It’s an American gumbo and you’ve got your onions and your peppers and your celery and your duck and your andouille and your oysters and your stock and they’re all together in one form of excellence. But each component, this bite of duck, this bite of sausage, this bite of oyster and it should be that way, we should be able to retain our identity.
Josh Hinson: Yeah, the constituent parts of a good gumbo are still recognisable.
Ramsey Russell: It doesn’t make you not a gumbo because you’re a duck in a gumbo, it makes you gumbo.
Josh Hinson: Well, all of those, whether we’re talking about people or ingredients like that beautiful sort of combination, that’s what makes it hum, that’s what makes a society that allows us to remain individuals within this sort of broader umbrella of what it means to be an American. Bringing in new immigrants, celebrating the old, honoring our treaties, doing what we can to take care of this land. If America sort of, en masse, would think more carefully and accept many of our traditional values, I think everybody would be happier and healthier.
Ramsey Russell: A lot of kids in the south are raised to say, yes, ma’am and no, ma’am. Bear with me on this. And one time, my youngest son, Duncan was up north, Massachusetts and one of the ladies he was talking to, an older lady, took Umbridge to being told, yes, ma’am. And she kept saying, don’t call me ma’am, call me Barbara. And about the 3rd or 4th or 5th time she got serious, I said, whoa, I said, it’s not about age, they’re taught in the south to say yes, ma’am and no, ma’am. Because if they can’t extend respect to another person, they can’t respect themselves. And a lot of what the issues you’re talking about that are hop on the food chain really kind of have to do with a respect. Wouldn’t you agree with that? It’s a respect issue. Anytime a segment of society is so greatly marginalized, it doesn’t reflect well on the overall country.
Josh Hinson: Yeah. I think respecting people, respecting people’s individual autonomy to make decisions for themselves, even if I don’t agree with them. My kids, we’ve had many discussions, my youngster, Labachi, he’s 17. He’s like, dad woke, it ain’t woke, it’s kind.
Ramsey Russell: Amen.
Josh Hinson: So if I care about you as my neighbor or my brother, whatever the case may be and I know that I’m doing something and it actively harms you or hurts you, the question is, well, what am I going to do? Do I give up my sort of individual right to do and say what I want in respect of you or am I just going to hold that point and keep on hurting people? We all have to make individual choices, but I just like to think a little bit more kindness in the world is nothing wrong with that world could.
Ramsey Russell: World can use a lot more kindness. And there’s plenty of examples throughout the world and throughout the country of just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Being kind is too easy.
Josh Hinson: Oh, no, it is. And I think about sort of traditional values in Native America, in Indian country, whatever the case may be, the point is less about individual freedom and more about collective obligation. When we pull ourselves out of our sort of myopia and think about how we affect other people, our societies as a whole are brought up and better. That’s one thing that I really love about the work that I do is that even on a difficult day, I lose an elder mentor, they pass away with some regularity. We’ve lost 9 since 2020. Even when that happens, where the days where I’m like, man, I can’t do this again, I can’t lose another friend, knowing that I’m doing work for the greater good of my Chickasaw people is absolutely amazing. It means something.
Ramsey Russell: It’s given your life a lot of purpose, hasn’t it?
Josh Hinson: Oh, yeah. These beautiful elder people have given me 20 plus years of their lives. They taught me how to speak our language and I’ve learned so much from spending time with them. I mean, it’s my honor, my obligation, frankly to carry this forward. So, I mean, hella high water death or fire, like, I ain’t going anywhere. I’ll die on this Rez, they’ll burn me up and they’ll spread my ashes on that Kalahoma slough. That’s how it’ll be.
Ramsey Russell: Let’s end on this note. You’ve done some hunting trips outside of Oklahoma. You’ve been to Canada, I know you’ve been to Manitoba. You’ve been to, most recently, Saskatchewan, had a great time up there with Mat Schauer, Northern Skies Outfitters. You and Dan talked about that today. You’re not a volume guy, I noticed that years ago when I first met you. And by the way, just so you all listen, how I met him was I discovered his decoys and bought a gun and mallard from you and they’re still in my hand rig. You really align with me, I think some of the common ground we have is we’re both experienced collectors.
Josh Hinson: Absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about some of the places you would like to go throughout the continent or internationally and talk about that a little bit. And would you going to Washington or Argentina or anywhere, Alaska, would there be necessarily, would it be important to you? How important to you would it be? Some of these places you might go to interact with some of the Aboriginal. Because it’s important to me, obviously I’m doing this podcast.
Josh Hinson: I love the idea of hunting the Rez from the east coast to the West Coast. I want to shoot a duck at Shinnecock with a Shinnecock tribal member. I want to throw Charles Sumner Bun decoy in the water, he was a Shinnecock Montauk guy who made decoys. I want to go from there, I want to hunt the Great Lakes. I want to hunt the Rez here. I’d love to go to Montana and shoot ducks on flathead with Salish people going up, man. I would love to do some more subsistent style experiences with inupiac, Inuit, Athabaskin, some of that’s not available to me because I don’t have status up there in Alaska.
Ramsey Russell: But you could observe.
Josh Hinson: But I could observe. That’s some powerful stuff. I mean, I want to go hunt Nevada with the Paiute. I want to shoot ducks on Navajo and I want to end up maybe the chew mash or something or even way up shooting sea ducks with the macaws on the Macaw reservation, Washington State. That would be really cool. And I mean, that would be like, that’s a life changing.
Ramsey Russell: You can go ahead and put me down for a couple of those trips, if you need a wingman.
Josh Hinson: Yeah, I’ll holler at you. There’s just so many beautiful places and so many fantastic communities that I’d love to connect with, but sort of bigger than that. You’re absolutely right. I really consider myself more of a subsistence hunter and less of a trophy hunter. That’s not to say they don’t like adding new species, but I’m really here, I want to be the best duck hunter I can be, I want to have those beautiful sunrises over seeing my wooden decoys. I want to eat what I kill and I want to share this exciting life experience with other people that are similarly minded. So when I think about, like, a bucket list, I want to do 14 days in Argentina. I want to experience wild ducks unpressured in a way that our ancestors did, yours and mine, prior to market hunting and habitat degradation and shifting of temps and climates and all that stuff, as best as I can. I want to hunt like it was like 200 years ago with ducks everywhere, that’s what I want. Pluck them, eat them, hang out with some local Argentinians that sounds like a pretty good hunt to me.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Josh. Thank you for sharing your culture, thank you for sharing your duck hunting here on the Chickasaw Nation. And folks, thank you all for listening this episode of Duck Season somewhere, we’ll see you next time.
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