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Chikashshanompa': Keeping Chickasaw Culture and Traditions Alive

Chikashshanompa': Keeping Chickasaw Culture and Traditions Alive

Emily Shon-she Johnson Dickerson — The Rich Cultural Heritage of Last Monolingual Chickasaw


Emily Shon-she Johnson Dickerson was the last known person who spoke only Chickasaw. With Dickerson’s passing in December 2013, fewer than 100 fluent, bilingual Chickasaw speakers were left. A way of life and an important perspective left us when she passed. She was the last who saw the world, thought and communicated only in Chickasaw. As modern Chickasaws, either bilingual or monolingual English speakers, we cannot fully appreciate the nuances of culture and tradition we have lost in translation. When we translate meaning into English, it loses the some of the power of expression of our ancient language.


Emily Shon-she Johnson Dickerson — Chickasaw Culture and Language Passed to the Next Generation


Dickerson’s son, Carlin Thompson, relates the stories about learning traditional Chickasaw ways of healing from his mother in a February 2014 article in the Chickasaw Times (pp. 1-2) and his grandmother, Julia Alexander Gipson, in an April 2007 article in the Chickasaw Times (pp. 37, 41). He talks about growing up with a family who spoke only Chickasaw and lived according to traditional Chickasaw ways, observed traditional Chickasaw ceremonies and told Chickasaw stories. His mother, grandmother and the stories about his great-grandfather, were essential to him.

Thompson remembers his mother growing, canning and cooking traditional foods, quilting and doing hard work to earn money to provide for her family. She chopped and sold wood and did whatever was necessary to care for her family. Thompson says that she fed anyone who came along to their house at mealtime and made space for people to spend the night. He says, “She had a good heart. She welcomed anybody.”

Thompson also shares what it was like growing up in a home where only Chickasaw was spoken. He shares the trauma of going to school in the first grade and not being able to understand or be understood because, like his family at home, he spoke only Chickasaw.  


Emily Shon-she Johnson Dickerson — Keeping Chickasaw Language and Culture Alive Today


Thompson has actively participated in ensuring Chickasaw culture and language are kept alive and taught to future generations. He worked for the Chickasaw Nation as a ranger at Kullihoma and has worked with the Chickasaw Nation Language Preservation Division to create materials to teach the language. Thompson says, “Chickasaw was my first language. I am in the last generation of Chickasaws who can say that.” While future generations may not have Chickasaw as their first language, Thompson is committed to seeing that they can learn it as a second language and continue to pass it on.

Emily Shon-she Johnson Dickerson — Honoring the Legacy of the Last Monolingual Chickasaw


Modern Chickasaws must share the commitment to continue learning about our history, heritage, culture, traditions and language. We do not want our culture or language to be lost, lest our identity as Chickasaws be lost along with it. The Chickasaw Nation is working diligently to ensure that our culture, traditions and language live and grow. The way we honor our elder, Emily Shon-she Johnson Dickerson, is to learn, practice and live what it means to be the unconquered and unconquerable Chickasaws.

Learn about Chickasaw Culture, History and Language with AYA Today


If you are not an AYA user, download the app and start walking with us today. You will learn about Chickasaw culture, history and language on the way. If you are already an AYA user, be sure you are getting the most out of your fitness journey with us by using all the features in the app. You can find out about all AYA’s features and answer questions about the way the app works by visiting AYAWalk.com.

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Make your fitness journey more successful by walking every day with AYA.  

Chipisala'cho (until we meet again),

Your AYA Team



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