Series #3 & #4 – from A Choctaw Story of Land and Blood

Karen Clarkson, Choctaw artist, has put together a collection of compelling and provocative original art that reflects the heart-rending issues besetting the Choctaw throughout their long history. The collection is titled “A Choctaw Story of Land and Blood.”

Her collection will be featured in a one-artist show opening Tuesday, January 9, 2018 in Flagstaff, Arizona at the Coconino Center for the Arts.   The show will continue through February 10, during regular hours 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an opening reception on Saturday, January 13.

See the blog from last week – Choctaw History Through The Eyes Of An Artist –  which featured the first two paintings of the collection.

This week the focus is on two new paintings, and highlights two words that send chills up the spine: Christianity and Boarding Schools.  Both brought much good to the Choctaws, but both had  insidious, detrimental effect on our culture. The religious fervor of the missionaries sought to stamp out the “heathen” ways of the Choctaws and replace our native ceremonies with religious practices from the white-man’s society. Spiritual leaders and medicine men with their native healing disappeared. The boarding schools, likewise, repressed the speaking of any native languages and taught the world view of the white man.




Beginning in 1819, Mushulatubbee and other Choctaw chiefs welcomed Christian missionaries into the Choctaw nation. From the missionaries they were taught the English language, basic math, new farming techniques, and Christian teachings. The first translation of the three Gospels was as early as 1831, followed by the complete New Testament in 1848.

“…American Indian Christians have constructed and maintained their . . . religious identities with a variety of considerations in mind. . . . Many native Christians accomplish this identification without abandoning or rejecting native religious traditions. Thus, the appearance of native hymn traditions, for example, has helped many tribes to maintain the cultural and spiritual power of language and belief according to traditional ways. In the late nineteenth century, moreover, mission stations often became associated with kin-based bands, thus serving as a focal point for new communities in which Native people who became deacons or lay leaders continued to maintain and express traditional ideals of generosity and kinship.

In these and other ways Christianity gave many of Oklahoma’s Indian people a way to accommodate the changing social and cultural contours of their world, and in doing so to maintain an important sense of ethnic identity and pride

American Indians and Christianity, The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

coconino christianity 4674x3456.tiff

Illustration: Choctaw child painted on 2 pages of the printed Bible translation into the Choctaw language.


1884 – 1980


Assimilation by Separation – Arguing that Indian families stymied assimilation, many if not most government officials, missionaries, and reformers believed it best that Indian children be separated from their parents and families and institutionalized in boarding schools. By 1902 about 17,700 Indian children attended one of more than 150 federally run Indian schools. This practice created a climate in which the separation of children from their families became naturalized. Because Indian families did not always conform to the standard of the nuclear family customary among white middle-class Americans, many white women deemed indigenous children orphans. White women rarely recognized the role extended family members played in the upbringing of children, and rarely could parents bring their children home when they wished. – “On the Borders of Love and Power: Families and Kinship in the intercultural American Southwest” by David Wallace Adams et al, (2012), Regents of the California University.

Over 18,000 students attended Chilocco  Indian Agricultural School near Ponca City, Oklahoma between 1884 and 1980, nearly half of which came from four tribes – Cherokee, Choctaw, Navajo and Creek – National Archives Southwest Region.

Few textbooks discussed Indian boarding schools before the twenty-first century. In the 2000’s, however, many historians study them as the tools of ethnic cleansing. The genocidal policies the schools’ staffs carried out aimed to destroy the essential foundations of the lives of American Indian students. Their objective was the disintegration and destruction of the culture, language, and spirituality of the American Indian kids under their care. The policies they implemented led to the deaths of thousands of students through disease, hunger, and malnutrition, and have left a legacy of intergenerational trauma and unresolved grieving in many boarding school survivors and their families across Indian country.

Adams, David. Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875–1928. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1995.

coconino Education 4501x3217.tiff

Illustration: Native children painted standing next to a cover of the Chilocco School periodical dated 1925. Many Chilocco childhood deaths were attributed to tuberculosis as the practice of housing children together regardless of health proved disastrous.

Photo-Karen Clarkson Karen Clarkson lives in Prescott, Arizona, with her husband Bill and their three little dogs. Although many of her works are of Native Americans, Clarkson also creates landscapes and still life, as well as portraits in other mediums.  Among a variety of other awards and juried competitions, Clarkson won Best in Show at the Choctaw Indian Arts Show in 2013, 2015, and 2016. Her current work can be seen at the Lyn A. Fox Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico and on her personal website.

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