Harry Thompson, of Henning, Tennessee, is a native Choctaw speaker and chanter for the West Tennessee Choctaw Social Dancers. Harry’s uncle, the late Wood Bell, led the West Tennessee Choctaw Social Dancers prior to his passing and taught Harry the traditional chants. Harry began dancing the traditional dances around the age of twelve. After he returned from the Army in 1972, he began traveling to different events such as festivals, gatherings, and invited performances.
The Choctaw social dances carry great significance in gatherings and festivities. The dances are a part of Choctaw history, and reveal the identity of who Choctaw people are and where they come from. As time passes, traditional knowledge of the dances and chants has begun to fade. Many of the Choctaw elders who held important skills and knowledge have already passed on. Currently, there are only one or two people who lead the chants for the group. Harry wants to teach these skills and the traditional knowledge to the next generation.
As part of the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program this year, Harry will be teaching is son, Jamison Thompson, the Choctaw chants. Jamison has chanted in public a few times and will work with his father to become proficient in the chants and dances. Harry is fluent in the Choctaw language and is able to translate meanings in the chants. Harry will work with Jamison on being confident that he is chanting the correct lyrics and tunes. They will also work on being more comfortable singing in front of a group, as well as in leading the dancers in music and dance. “It is a part of our culture and traditions,” says Jamison. “I believe this must be learned to be able to carry on to future generations.”