Witnessing Totality: Choctaw Culture Shines During Eclipse In Southeastern Oklahoma

People traveled from all over to witness the solar eclipse at Wheelock Academy because the historic site was in the path of totality in Southeastern Oklahoma. Dawn Standridge invited people to these historic grounds to witness it and celebrate Choctaw culture.

Tuesday, April 9th 2024, 5:44 pm

By: Katie Eastman


On the morning of April 8, Dawn Standridge stood at the edge of Wheelock Academy, nervous and a little relieved that the day was finally here.

“I’m ready for that squirrel to be gone,” she laughed.

Specifically, a Black Squirrel, Fvni Lusa, who will try to eat the sun on Monday afternoon.

Standridge only learned of the Choctaw Nation legend recently, but because the historic site is in the solar eclipse’s path of totality in Southeastern Oklahoma, she invited people to these historic grounds to witness it and celebrate Choctaw culture.

“Good morning, Halito,” said Standridge to a visitor driving up.

“I’m here to not see the sun,” the driver said.

They both looked nervously up at the clouds, hoping they would part in a few hours.

There were visitors from as far as Brooklyn, New York and Gainsville, Florida, who wanted to witness totality with that cultural context.

“I’m rocking my geo-scientist and my tribal identity all in one look,” laughed Anita Marshall, a Geologist decked out in NASA attire and traditional Choctaw beaded earrings and a barrette.

Marshall traveled from Florida and brought her whole family along because her great-grandmother, Jessie Risner, or “little granny,” as she called her, was a student at Wheelock Academy many years ago.

One of the only things they knew about her time at Wheelock was that she was on the basketball team.

“My little granny was really small,” said Marshall. “She was only 4 foot 11, so I asked her why she was on the basketball team, and she said because I jump good.”

Their family got to Wheelock early to absorb that history.

“We wanted time to take in the place and the context for our family and then switch to science nerd mode,” said Marshall.

Several dozen people set up lawn chairs and picnic blankets around the Wheelock grounds, occasionally glancing up through eclipse glasses to see if the clouds had passed.

A little past 12:30 p.m., and it was clear enough to see the moon or Fvni Lusa encroaching.

“Fvni’s getting busy," said Dewane Stone, a grandson of Risner.

Stone was moved, walking in a place where he knew his grandmother once was, but he wondered why she wouldn’t talk about her experience here.

As a historian at an old Indian Boarding School, she recognizes the importance of seeking out all the stories. For a long time, she believed there were people with good intentions who loved this place but didn’t want to hear any negative stories.  

“Our ladies were not allowed to speak the Choctaw language,” said Standridge. “We found it was the Choctaw general counsel that said we don’t want our students speaking Choctaw. And they saw what was coming with colonization and more white people coming into our territory that we had to learn how to deal with that.”

Now, the Choctaw Nation is fighting for the language and the culture.

“My little granny stopped speaking Choctaw when she came to Wheelock, so she was the last one in our family that spoke it, and I decided it was really important to bring that back to the family,” said Marshall, who is taking a Choctaw language class once a week over Zoom.

“Alright, some of us got pots and pans,” said Standridge in preparation for totality.

Standridge knows she will never have all the stories, but she’ll keep listening and re-telling the ones they know to keep the culture alive.

On April 8th at 1:45 p.m., that means banging pots and pans to scare Fvni Lusa away.

The cheers and laughter were contagious as the sun came back.


Get The Daily Update!

Be among the first to get breaking news, weather, and general news updates from News on 6 delivered right to your inbox!

More Like This

April 9th, 2024

April 8th, 2024

April 8th, 2024

April 8th, 2024

Top Headlines

July 24th, 2024

July 24th, 2024

July 24th, 2024

July 24th, 2024