Preserving Our History Through Fiction

In March 2013, I led a workshop for Choctaw writers. It equipped advanced and beginners alike with knowledge and resources to write a Choctaw Removal story in fiction form, based on family histories. Why is this important? Because each year, these stories are lost with the passing of our elders. 

This workshop had a twofold design. The first was to help the attendees in their writing journey. The second was focused on the honorable task of preserving Choctaw Removal stories. These stories are in danger of not only being lost forever with the forgotten memories of our elders, but obscurity in online and federal archives. Our mission is to preserve these in a way that not only insures our children and grandchildren can someday read them, but that they reach the mainstream audience in the United States and perhaps around the world.

How do we accomplish this? Through fiction. In our media driven society, we can provide highly entertaining yet highly informative stories to share with the hearts and minds of all.

Those who attended the workshop and met the guidelines for publication joined their fellow scribes in a special anthology of Choctaw Removal stories entitled Touch My Tears: Tales from the Trail of Tears. The goal of this book was to accurately portray the tragedies of that period while including the aspect of hope. This Removal is more commonly known as the Trail of Tears, and each year the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma holds a commemorative walk along the original route to honor our ancestors who died and those who survived the long march. The title of the workshop, Historical Fiction, Preserving Choctaw Removal Stories, best explains the content. The historical fiction genre presents historical events, but in an entertaining fashion.

In 2012, I was selected to be a part of the Artist Leadership Program of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). This workshop was a continuation of that project, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma supported it as well. Twenty writers from Oklahoma, Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Texas attended. NMAI Outreach Coordinator for the Artist Leadership Program, Keevin Lewis from Washington, D.C., also joined us for the all day event.

Another aspect of the workshop was my mom advancing her art with producing the video of my project. She did an incredible job, and that’s not just me saying it. Dan Davis, Acting Manager in the NMAI Media Department, signed off on it with the comment, “Thanks for creating such a fine video for this program. I will make it available to future participants as a reference to show them how to create a successful video.”

Among those interviewed for the video was Jerry Colby, a ninety-year-old lady from Asheville, North Carolina who attended with her sister, Ramona Schrader of Knoxville, Tennessee. Ms. Jerry commented, “One reason I need to write about the history of my family, is because my children have asked questions. I’m the last one of my family who remembers a lot of these anecdotal stories and true stories about the Choctaw family.”

“In my own family, so much of our heritage has been lost,” said Bruce Darrell, who is from the Dallas, Texas area. “I have to learn about my Native American culture through other families because it hasn’t been passed down in my family.”

Leslie Widener, also from the Dallas area, remarked, “There’s a lot of emphasis on multicultural books right now for children, but there are not a lot on Native Americans that I’ve noticed. That’s what I’m here for.”

Jason Lewis, of Carthage, Mississippi said, “Just seeing the energy of people working on this part of our history as Choctaw people, that’s impacting me and inspiring me to get to work.” Jason Lewis was part of the Choctaw Tribal Language Program for the Mississippi Band of Choctaws.

NMAI Outreach Coordinator Keevin Lewis commented that, “I think the overall impact of Sarah’s project will be in the stories that come in the future. When one of the writers left, she looked me in the eye and said, ‘Thank you very much for giving us this opportunity, because I haven’t written in so long, and now, I want to write.’”


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