LeAnne Howe (Choctaw) Discusses Native Resilience Through Stories and Sports

How do we learn? Who do we learn from? How do we carry their lessons? These are some of the thought-provoking questions Dr. LeAnne Howe asked the group of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates gathered for her recent talk at Emory, “Embodied Tribalography in Fictional Characters and in Native History” on October 12. Dr. Howe is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation and the Eidson Distinguished Professor at the University of Georgia.

Dr. Howe’s talk began with an acknowledgment of Emory’s occupation of Muscogee land and  reaffirmed Emory’s commitment to build relations with the original caretakers of this land.   She then read selections from her new novel, 1918 Union Valley Road. Weaving evocative imagery of their family’s farm in Ada, Oklahoma, Dr. Howe recounts her grandmother’s stories life, love, and the lessons the birds taught her during the 1918 flu pandemic. Through a dramatic reading of the text, Howe connected directly with her grandmother’s anguish on the night her first husband succumbed to the deadly influenza.

Afterward, Dr. Howe spoke about embedded historical and spiritual knowledge in Choctaw games, particularly “base and ball.” She narrated a traditional Choctaw story about a dispute between the animals and the birds at the Nanih Waiya Mound. In this origins story, the central themes of hospitality, sportsmanship, and consensus formed the basis of Choctaw cultural identity.  At the pivotal point in the story, the birds were short a player. Eagle granted squirrel wings, and the flying squirrel played for his adopted team with as much dedication as his own. This story is embodied in the position of the Fani Mingo/Miko (squirrel chief) within traditional tribal governance, as this office served as an advocate for other communities outside the Choctaw Nation. In this way, sportsmanship ensured all views had representation in council discussions.  These values enabled the Choctaws to persist through the traumas of colonization and removal. Dr. Howe concluded by noting how these embodied stories enable resurgence and return of Indigenous peoples to their homelands through these ancient yet enduring ball games.

Dr. Howe’s talk kicked off the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative’s week celebrating Indigenous sports and was made possible through the generous co-sponsorship of the Hightower Fund, the Department of English, the Program in Creative Writing, and the Department of History.

View more of Dr. LeAnne Howe’s work: