Choctaw dance and a glimpse into the Tribe's past were part of the third annual Nanih Waiya Day Celebration Friday which culminated with a meal of fried fish and chicken and the traditional hominy and fry bread.

The event was held near Nanih Waiya Cave, on land that Miko Beasley Denson called "sacred" to the Choctaw.

"It's important that we hold sacred this land that has kept us together and once again, brings us together," Denson told the crowd. "Long, long ago we would have perished but the strength of our people kept us together. They kept us together and today we are 10,000 members strong. We are not getting less, we are getting more populated. And, as we grow, we need to remember where we come from."

The celebration began with a special performance, Choctaw Journey: Chahta Aleha Anowa (places the Choctaws have walked).

The performance gave the audience a glimpse into the past of the Choctaw people through reminiscent stories as told by Choctaw grandparents to their grandchildren.

The drama trekked back in time unfolding the migration story of the Choctaws, the removal era and the struggles that followed, the resurgence of the nation and the recent triumphant reclaiming of Nanih Waiya, their ancestral Mother Mound and "the heart of the Choctaw People."

Miko Denson praised the performance, which included numerous children.

"I hope that we have this as a reminder to our youngsters that we struggled to get here, we worked to get here," Denson said.

He said it was important for the Choctaw to stand united as a tribe.

"Even though we have nine communities including Ripley, Tenn., we are united to stand as Choctaw."

Following the performance, several groups including many Tribal elders joined in traditional Choctaw dance. Afterwards, those in attendance were served fish or chicken plates along with traditional Choctaw foods such as fry bread and hominy.

Newly crowned Choctaw Indian Princess Mahlih Rene Vaughn sang the national anthem. The Rev. Thomas Ben Jr. gave the opening and closing prayers. Josh Breedlove welcomed those in attendance. The Choctaw Color Guard presented the colors.

Ownership of the Nanih Waiya Mound, which rests in the corners of Winston, Kemper and Neshoba counties, was given back to the Tribe by the state of Mississippi when Gov. Haley R. Barbour signed the deed in August 2008.

Nanih Waiya, which means "leaning hill" or "place of creation" in Choctaw, is the cultural and religious center of the Tribe and is thought to be the birthplace of the Choctaw people. It was built over 1,000 years ago and its construction is thought to have taken two or three generations to complete.

The Choctaw Tribe has cherished the mound for centuries as their "Mother Mound," the place which is the center of all origin stories. In one story it is the place through which the Choctaw emerged onto the surface of the earth; in another it was the ending place of the migration into what would become central Mississippi. It has always been the figurative heart of the Choctaw homeland.

It is believed to have been built sometime between 100 B.C. and 400 A.D. The mound is 25 feet high, 218 feet long and 140 feet wide.

It also has major historical significance to all the people of Mississippi and Choctaw people around the country since it is probably the best documented mound site in the southern United States, if not the entire country, with published descriptions of it going back to at least 1775, tribal officials said.