Photo by Kevin Gwin/Choctaw Nation
New in 2016 is the Choctaw Country lights display at “Christmas in the Park.” The holiday lights display is free and open most nights through New Year’s Eve.
Choctaw Appointed to Native Farm, Ranch Council
DURANT — Earlier this month, the United States Department of Agriculture appointed Shannon McDaniel, a Choctaw tribal member and Executive Director of Agriculture for the Choctaw Nation, to the Council for Native American Farming and Ranching.
McDaniel has been employed 28 years with the Choctaw Nation. In his current position, he oversees the ranches, pecan farm, and commercial hunting activities of the tribe. A resident of Durant, McDaniel also is a farmer and rancher. He joins five other new appointments and the re-appointment of five members to the Council. The Council serves as an advisory committee that provides recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture on changes to USDA regulations to build program involvement for American Indian farmers and ranchers. The appointments are for two years each.
Landing a spot on the council took perseverance.
“We applied two years ago and didn’t get it,” McDaniel said. “We tried again, a letter of support from Chief Batton helped, and we got it this year. We needed to be on the council; it just makes sense.”
McDaniel noted that the Choctaw Nation’s agricultural interests have grown considerably and that the developments are science-based.
“We can showcase what we’re doing,” he said, “and hopefully help other tribes.”
The Choctaw Nation is already recognized for its Ag Tourism.
“We’ve become a destination spot by creating something to see,” he said. “We’re known for our black fence posts and black cattle, Certified Angus. We clean up properties that we acquire, they’re improved, and we take pride in that.”
McDaniel noted that there is one other Oklahoma Indian in the group – Jerry McPeak, a Muscogee Creek of Warner, who is a farmer, rancher, and former state legislator. The council meets quarterly, once in Washington, D.C., and then three other locations during the year.
Between meetings, McDaniel added, “I will be promoting agriculture throughout Indian Country. It will take some time, but it’s putting your time in a right place.”
On Dec. 5, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement of McDaniel and his other selections. The Council consists of fifteen members: Four are USDA officials, and 11 are American Indian representatives.
Vilsack stated, “The Council for Native American Farming and Ranching strengthens our partnerships with tribal governments, businesses, farmers, and ranchers. Their work encourages participation of new and historically underserved agricultural producers in USDA programs, and reflects a strong intergovernmental relationship built upon shared values and inclusion.”
Christmas Lights up Historic Choctaw Grounds
TVSHKA HOMMA – The historic grounds of the original Choctaw Nation Capitol are again transformed into a winter wonderland that sparkles in the night. “Christmas in the Park” is an opportunity to drive through a holiday light display like no other in Southeast Oklahoma. The final evening for this season will be Saturday (Dec 31).
Located at Tvshka Homma, “Christmas in the Park” is a nightly drive-through from one end of the historic Choctaw Nation Capitol Grounds to another. Entry is at the main gate, near the two-story, brick Council House. Traffic cones and barriers direct the path through brightly lit arches, and by colorful lights and holiday displays. The exit is through the woods to the RV gate.
“Many more lights have been added and three new big displays this year,” said Shelley Garner, Director of Cultural Arts & Affairs for the Choctaw Nation. It is an event that has been going on for more than five years, she said.
The tour is free and open to the public from dusk to 9:00 pm nightly through New Year’s Eve. The Choctaw Museum and gift shop, located inside the Council House, operates 8:00 am until 4:30 pm Mondays through Fridays, year around. Both the “Christmas in the Park” and the Choctaw Nation Museum is closed Friday through Monday (Dec 23-26).
Kevin Gwin, Senior Director of Tvshka Homma Grounds and Special Projects for the Choctaw Nation, said, “There are seven big display and lots of smaller ones. It’s well worth coming to see.”
While the Cultural Events program does the planning and installation of the displays, many Choctaw Nation departments and employees volunteer to lend helping hands each year to make “Christmas in the Park” a success.