My mom was half Choctaw Indian. On her birth certificate she was labeled “Illegitimate Half Breed,” a pejorative classification given by the government to identify those of Native American Heritage.
The Choctaw are a proud and independent Nation. They are descendants of the peoples of the Hopewell and Mississippian cultures, who lived throughout the eastern Mississippi River valley and its tributaries.
At the age of nine, my mom’s life took an unexpected turn when her mother passed away from tuberculosis and she was adopted by another family with strong ties to the Choctaw Nation. My mom became one of twelve adopted and biological children in a large and loving traditional family.
Being a free spirit, and with the love and guidance of a new family, the journey of embracing her heritage began. Along with learning all the aspects of her Choctaw culture, she inherited a strong sense of service to the community and a love of music.
Focused on pursuing a singing career, my mom preformed the blues in clubs throughout Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans. After struggling to make a living, she returned to California and landed a small part in a country western show.
It was there that she met my father, who was a stage coach driver. They were married 52 years.
Although my dad was not Native American, he was just as passionate about passing on the Choctaw Indian heritage, as well as his own Amish heritage, as my mom was.
My brother and I were brought up with a strong sense of our heritage as well as the customs, culture and traditions of the Choctaw people.
From my dad, we learned to hunt with a bow, respect the land, handle horses, play the flute and we attended powwows.
From my mom, we learned how to jerk meat, weave and perform “woman’s work”. My brother successfully avoided many of these lessons and at the time I thought it wasn’t fair but the torch was passed to me, I am grateful!
After my mom passed away, I realized the importance of sharing the unique ways of my ancestors. Now, I am fortunate to be teaching my niece about our heritage and culture so it is not lost forever.
With the recent expansion of the Sodexo Employee Network Groups to include non-exempt administrative, technical and professional employees, I was able to join the Native American and Aboriginal Council (NAAC).
Being a part of NAAC allows me to share the Choctaw culture as well as maintain a ‘sense of self’ within the organization.
Our Native American traditions are not documented in textbooks and cookbooks, but through storytelling and hands-on learning, so it is so important to share, carry on traditions and celebrate who we are.
Thanks to my parents, I am able to take bits of my heritage and weave my own tapestry, sharing with my family, friends, co-works and my community.
Karey Herriman has been with Sodexo seven years and is a Government Services Business Development Proposal Coordinator.