The Choctaw-Chickasaw legend of the leaning pole aptly captures the reflection, vision, love and labor that built the new tribal headquarters of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
Jason Holuby, architect and Native American market principal for Oklahoma City’s FSB Architects & Engineers, recounted the myth, which helped inform the design of the five-story, 500,000-square-foot building in Durant and root it in tribal lore.
“There were two brothers, Chahta and Chiksa’, and as they were on a journey they would stick a pole in the ground each night,” he said. “And whichever way that it was leaning in the morning is the way that they would travel. And they would continue doing that until they stuck the pole in the ground and when they woke up it was still standing straight up. That’s where they settled permanently.
“As you drive to the campus, the first thing you see is a leaning pole that was created by a tribal artist. It’s leaning toward the headquarters building. As you continue the drive up, there’s all kinds of cultural symbols, even in the pavement. You get up to the building and there’s another standing pole, right in front of the building, that represents that they’ve found their permanent home: This is where they’re going to settle for good.”
All in one place
The $200 million Choctaw headquarters, at 1802 Chukka Hina Drive, consolidates tribal operations, programs and some 900 employees in one place — the largest office building in Durant.
The campus includes nearly all offices for the tribe that are located in Durant, a cafe, conference center, a data center, two-story parking structure for 800 vehicles and numerous outdoor amenities for both employees and tribal members.
Previously, the tribe leased space in more than 30 places across town, Holuby said.
The headquarters is more than a workplace, though, it’s a showcase of tribal history, culture, art — and people, past and present. Large photos of everyday Choctaw people are incorporated into the design, as well historic images.
“The facility is awesome, just the highlighting of our culture,” Chief Gary Batton said in a video of the late-June grand opening. “You know, we say ‘faith, family and culture,’ and to see it on display is just awesome.
“It’s a great place for our employees, all of our family, to come together and share, collaborate and build relationships, and, at the end of the day, make sure that we do better things for our tribal people, our community, and for the state of Oklahoma.”
Culture and design
The Choctaw Nation’s work with FSB was “truly a partnership,” Batton said. “One thing that I really love as a client is they listened to us, and they designed what we wanted.
“They were so able to get so many of our things, and they actually pulled things out of us, our history and our culture. They helped us even start getting excited, and helped us want to relive some of the glory days and to see them brought to life.”
Holuby said more than 30 people from FSB trekked to Durant for a daylong cultural immersion workshop to jump-start collaborative creativity by considering tribal life both before and after the 1830s removal from Mississippi to Indian Territory.
“They talked about traditional dances, traditional arts, basket weaving, bead work, dress making — all of these kinds of things. A traditional meal. They played stick ball for us,” he said, “It was a pretty fantastic experience. It was this really collaborative thing, and everything that we learned then, and even moving forward, found its way into the building.”
Manhattan Construction, based in Tulsa, was the construction manager. FSB did architecture, interior design, site design and all engineering except civil, which was completed by Barker & Associates in Durant.
HESMAN Group in Tulsa assisted with food service design for the cafe. Howard-Fairbairn Site Design in Oklahoma City handled landscape architecture.