Press Release

Release Date: March 06, 2024
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

“Our past allows us to tell our children, and grandchildren, where we come from.” -Catie Hamilton

Every year a group of 10 college students from across the U.S. participate in an exciting two-week program to learn more about Chickasaw history and culture. Through an immersive archaeological experience and guided heritage tours, the Chickasaw Explorers (explorers) program piques the interest of the group’s shared Chickasaw legacy.

“The Chickasaw Explorers is an immersion program,” Catie Hamilton, director of cultural enhancement for the Chickasaw Nation, said. “It provides students the opportunity to learn and conduct archaeological surveys in the field while also allowing them to explore the Chickasaw Homeland.”

The group will gather in Ada, Oklahoma, May 17, where they will begin their learning experience with a series of heritage tours. The tours are designed to showcase historic locations within the Oklahoma area, culminating with archaeological fieldwork in the historic Chickasaw Homeland, which consists of portions of northern Mississippi, western Tennessee, northwestern Alabama and southwestern Kentucky. Additional heritage tours will also take place in Mississippi.

“The Chickasaw Explorers program lets participants see what archaeology and anthropology is really about,” Hamilton said. “It is hard but rewarding work. We are out in the field eight hours a day Monday through Thursday. We start our weekend on Friday by touring our heritage sites. We are back in the field by Monday.”

The heritage tours within Oklahoma include visits to the Chickasaw National Capitol, the Council House Museum, the Chickasaw White House and the Chickasaw Cultural Center. While in Mississippi, sites visited will include the 1736 Battle of Aahikki'ya area, Chokkilissa' (Old Town) and Chisha' Tálla'a' (Chickasaw Preserve).

“The heritage tours permit students the ability to learn about their history, and the important people and places within their culture,” Hamilton said. “For many, these tours are their first introduction to Chickasaw history.”

Explorers learn how to identify and record ancient artifacts and participate in an archaeological survey and excavation. Students will also take part in discovering artifacts in towns and communities from 17th and 18th centuries.

“Our goal is to document Chickasaw sites and settlements. Our overall goal, and our hope, is to one day find the 1541 Hernando De Soto site,” Hamilton said. 

Participants will gain knowledge of how to protect and preserve historic and cultural sites. For many, this program will serve as their first opportunity to converse and bond with others who share their culture.

“How cool is it to find things our ancestors once touched, to document these items and to walk the same land they did?” Hamilton said.

The Chickasaw Explorers program is open to Chickasaw citizens ages 18-35 who are full or part-time college students.

“We serve students that have interest in anthropology, archaeology and Native American studies,” Hamilton said.

While in the Chickasaw Homeland, the explorers will collaborate with archaeologists and students from Mississippi State University.

“Our collaboration with the university allows them to send out faculty to help with the archaeological dig, providing a place where their students learn as well,” Hamilton said.

The Chickasaw Explorers program has taken 40 students to the Chickasaw Homeland since it began in 2015.

“Our sites change from year to year,” Hamilton said. “This past summer we were in Tupelo, Mississippi. We have gone (to sites) anywhere from Columbus, Mississippi, to Starkville. It depends on the location of the dig site being worked on.”

In 2019, the program focused on the Natchez Trace and Chickasaw Presbyterian Mission, where two centuries separate these Chickasaw students from the Chickasaw students once residing there in 1820.

“It is important for people to know where they come from,” Hamilton said. “When students are working in the Homeland, they connect with their cultural identity. We want them to experience their identity, as well as drawing an interest in archaeology and anthropology.”

Application deadline is April 1. For more information and eligibility requirements, visit or call (580) 272-2553.