Even though you won’t see it on the local news and their sports segments, the biggest game in Choctaw country is Stickball—oftentimes described as the “father of all field sports.” Around before the history of this country was even written, Stickball was a civilized alternative to war, with rival clans battling it out on the game-field, as opposed to the battlefield.
However, when the Choctaws were forcibly moved to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, as time went on, the white man passed laws against most forms of our culture, including Stickball—playing it was actually a legally punishable offense.
“The right people and communities kept it alive and going and eventually it began to flourish to where there is now a youth team in almost every Choctaw community, which wasn't the case when I grew up,” Mark D. Williams said. “I'm probably too old to be as good as the players out there now, but I am beginning to pick it up so I can at least share that experience with my son.”
Williams is a Choctaw (Mississippi Band) filmmaker who lives here in Oklahoma. For years he’s been making films detailing the modern-day Choctaw experience, but it was when he saw the passion and dedication of these Stickball Warriors—most notably, Oklahoma’s own Tvshka Homma players—he felt that it was important to create a living document of a year in the life of the team.
The resulting film is Tvshka Nowvt Aya (A Warrior’s Journey).
“It wasn't until I began making this film that I felt how much of a connection is has to who we are as Choctaw people,” Williams said. “It really is part of our cultural identity. It was being played long before written history and it's still here today. It survived all these years right along with our language, dances and other traditions, so on top of it being a fun and intense game to watch, you also realize it's more than a game.”
The documentary, as nail-biting as any classic underdog story, showcases the home-grown team as they play at various Choctaw events, with the World Series of Stickball in their sights; armed with only a pair of sticks made of hickory, laced tightly with straps of leather, Tvshka Homma faces off against rival teams from all over Choctaw country, showing a sportsmanlike grace along the way that is missing from most popular events these days.
Williams feels that if people can be “moved” by the story of this wholly tribal experience, it’ll bring him a sense of well-earned “satisfaction” to know that the audience is enjoying something he was able to craft and create. It’s all part of Williams ultimate goal in bringing the varied lives of the Choctaws and other Indigenous peoples to the mainstream masses.
“We're not a huge population that makes up America, so what many think of Native Americans are what they saw in the movies—now granted there are more Natives in Oklahoma, but even then our history still isn't accurately told in schools and homes so it's bound not to always be told properly in the media,” Williams said. “But I think it's getting better. With technology and software being more accessible nowadays we don't have to wait for studios now, we can independently find ways to make our own films and tell our own stories.”
Tvshka Nowvt Aya (A Warrior’s Journey) is currently touring Oklahoma. William is now prepping his next film Knifechief, about Pawnee boxer Dennis Knifechief. For more information, click here.