The Choctaw Nation has a guiding vision: “Living out the Chahta spirit of faith, family and culture.” With a goal of promoting growth and prosperity within the Choctaw communities of Oklahoma, the organization sought to create a cultural space that enabled them to champion these values. Thus began the conception of the Choctaw National Center in Oklahoma. After nearly a decade of research and taking input from thousands of Tribal Members, a landmark museum and educational venue now stakes a central site in the city of Durant, which serves as the Nation’s headquarters.
Designed by New York City-based firm JCJ Architecture, the museum and exhibition space that is informative and reflective of the nation’s rich history — and its vibrant culture today. Alongside exhibition areas geared to both children and adults, the complex also features an auditorium, dining facility, offices and classrooms, among other uses.
Informed by extensive consultation with Choctaw elders and the broader tribal community, the design emerged through a collaborative process, integrating contemporary architecture within an Indigenous context. Framing the building, a landscape of native grasses and plantings — including soybeans and corn — offers a fitting welcome.
This contextually attuned sensibility is also evident across the exterior. A diamond-shaped pattern embellishes the brick facade, establishing a motif that is carried through the building.
An important symbol in Choctaw culture, the diamond — derived from the natural markings of a diamondback rattlesnake — represents respect for nature and the earth. Meanwhile, the slatted wooden pergola that frames the entry walkway takes inspiration form traditional Choctaw summer dwellings.
Upon entering the building, guests are immersed in a warm and woodsy ambience inspired by traditional Choctaw homes. Locally sourced flagstone flooring is used throughout the lobby, while a stone fire pit sits in the heart of the space, beckoning guests to gather around as members of a family. A dozen stump seats surround the fire pit, each representing one of The Choctaw Nation’s 12 districts. Guests are encouraged to take a seat and reflect, as they begin their journey through Choctaw culture.
Working with a team of expert consultants, JCJ Architecture meticulously designed the exhibits to display, catalogue and archive historical data in effort to preserve significant cultural artifacts. (The structure itself was constructed to withstand a category three tornado in order to ensure that no relics are lost through natural disaster.)
Choctaw artists were also commissioned to model for life cast figures, or hand make artifact replicas and traditional Choctaw clothing used in each display. The exhibition and collections spaces were designed to align with Smithsonian Institute criteria, and will allow the Choctaw Nation to borrow artifacts from other museums.
The educational children’s exhibit engages youth with an immersive glimpse into Choctaw culture through multi-sensory displays. An interactive play area consists of a corn crib slide, traditional house replicas and a massive, whimsical snapping turtle with a hidden reading nook. It’s a small, sheltered space, but one that feels like the beating heart of Turtle Island.
JCJ Architecture designs a hub that reflects the Nation’s rich history — and contemporary culture.