Washington State University

Alumni Spotlight: Roger Amerman

Class Gets Lesson in Choctaw Clothing

by Stevee Chapman

Roger Amerman
WSU alum, Roger Amerman, shares his knowledge of Choctaw traditional dress with an apparel merchandising class. 

Apparel merchandising students at Washington State University were given a great opportunity to learn about traditional Native dress when Roger Amerman came and spoke to them in December.

Amerman, a WSU alum, is a prominent Choctaw beadwork artist, whose work has been displayed and admired in many places including the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C.

During his lecture at WSU, Amerman focused on the history of traditional dress for Choctaw males, and how it reflects the tribe’s cultural values.

Amerman explained that every aspect of traditional Native clothing, from the patterns to the materials used, is meaningful in its own way. To traditional Natives, the clothing worn is not simply for protection and looks, it holds sacred value.

“Sacred in a traditional Native American’s life means you’ve gotta have it,” Amerman told students. “It’s not ‘I’m kinda gonna wear it’ or ‘I kinda might do it’; it’s sacred in a Native American’s belief system. ‘I have to have that’; ‘I have to do that in my life, in my family’s life’.”

Dawson Amerman
Amerman's son Dawson was on hand to model traditional Choctaw clothing.

At the base of any clothing is the material it is made from. Amerman said that the traditional clothing worn by Southeastern tribes was primarily made from the skins of deer and elk, as well as hawk and heron feathers.

“It’s so important with any traditional Indian people to have the skins, the feathers, and the designs of our relations, our non-human relations,” he said.

Amerman said that by including natural elements the wearer affirms his relationship with different aspects of their environment.

He pointed out many of the designs characteristic of Choctaws included half and full diamonds, the sun, turtles, and the serpent.

“The point of having these symbols on clothing is so that the wearer can bring the aspects these symbols posses into their own lives,” Amerman said. “When we see a turtle it’s supposed to remind us of the things of our culture that we’re supposed to nurture, carry, and pass on. So, the turtle sort of represents this sacred knowledge.”

Black, red, and white are the colors commonly used by the Choctaw people. Amerman explained that these colors came from elements in the tribe’s natural surroundings such as shells in the Gulf of Mexico.

Roger Amerman and his son Dawson.
 

“I’ll be the first to say sometimes I overstep the boundaries a little bit by using a little more color, a little more flair, for my own individual clothing. I’ve actually been criticized by my own tribal members that know traditional dance and clothing for stepping out of the boundaries a little bit,” he said.

After his lecture, Amerman took the time to answer questions students may have had. Before they left, students also had the opportunity to get an up close and personal look at pieces of Amerman’s work which he brought with him.

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