The MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians are a state-recognized American Indian tribe located in southern Alabama, primarily in Washington and Mobile counties. The MOWA Choctaw Reservation is located along the banks of the Mobile and Tombigbee rivers, on 300 acres near the small southwestern Alabama communities of McIntosh, Mount Vernon and Citronelle, and north of Mobile.
Official Tribal Name: MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians
Recognition Status: State Recognized
Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning: Chahta – The name of a legendary chief
Common Name: Choctaw
Alternate names / Alternate spellings / Mispellings:
Chactaw, Chaktaw, Chatha, Chocktaw
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Confederacy: Five Civilized Tribes, Muskogean
The Choctaw signed nine treaties with the United States before the Civil War, beginning with the Treaty of Hopewell in 1786 – which set boundaries and established universal peace between the two nations. Subsequent treaties, however, reshaped those borders and forced the Choctaw to cede millions of acres of land. In 1830, the United States seized the last of the Choctaw’s ancestral territory and relocated the tribe to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi
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In addition to those members on the reservation, about 3,600 tribal citizens live in 10 small settlements near the reservation community. They are led by elected Chief Wilford Taylor. They claim descent from small groups of Choctaw people from Mississippi and Alabama who avoided removal to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma at the time of the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek.
Since the late 1900s, the MOWA Choctaw have attempted to gain recognition as a federally recognized tribe. They have encountered difficulties in trying to satisfy documentation of continuity requirements of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). So far they have been unsuccessful. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, both federally recognized tribes that operate successful gambling casinos in the area, oppose recognition of the MOWA Choctaw Band.
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Bands, Gens, and Clans
The Choctaw like all of the Muscogean tribes was a matriarchal and clan culture. There were two distinct Moieties: Imoklashas (elders) and Inhulalatas (youth). Each moiety had several clans or Iskas, it is estimated there were about 12 Iskas altogether. Identity was established first by Moiety and Iska, so a Choctaw identified himself first as Imoklasha or Inhulata and second as Choctaw.TheChoctaw clans include the Wind, Bear, Deer, Wolf, Panther, Holly Leaf, Bird, Raccoon and Crawfish Clans.
Related Tribes: The Five Civilized Tribes are the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole. They are so called because they were some of the first tribes to adopt European culture as their own.
The Chickasaw and Choctaw were once one tribe. Some Choctaw were once part of the Cherokee tribe.
The Choctaw were early allies of the French, Spanish and British during the 18th century.
In the 1750’s the tribe was involved in a Civil War that decimated whole villages. The division was driven by factions affiliated with the Spanish and the other the French. In the 18th century the Choctaw were generally at war with the Creeks or the Chickasaw Indians.
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Choctaw People of Note:
Lane Adams – Major League Baseball player, Kansas City Royals (Nephew of Choctaw Tribal member and attorney Kalyn Free)
Marcus Amerman (b. 1959) – bead, glass, and performance artist
Michael Burrage (b. 1950) – former U.S. District Judge
Steve Burrage (b. 1952) – Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector
Choctaw Code Talkers – World War I veterans
Clarence Carnes (1927–1988) – Alcatraz inmate
Tobias William Frazier, Sr. (1892–1975) – Choctaw code talker
Samantha Crain (b. 1986) – singer/songwriter, musician
Kalyn Free – attorney
Rosella Hightower (1920–2008) – prima ballerina
Phil Lucas (1942–2007) – filmmaker
Green McCurtain (d. 1910) – Chief from 1902–1910
Cal McLish (1925–2010) – Major League Baseball pitcher
Devon A. Mihesuah (b. 1957) – author, editor, historian
Joseph Oklahombi (1895-1960) – Choctaw code talker
Peter Pitchlynn (1806–1881) – Chief from 1860–1866
Gregory E. Pyle (b. 1949) – former Chief of the Choctaw Nation
Summer Wesley – attorney, writer, and activist
Wallis Willis – composer and Choctaw freedman
Scott Aukerman (b. 1970) – actor, comedy writer, podcaster
Although their first encounter with Europeans ended in a bloody battle with Hernando de Soto’s fortune-hunting expedition in 1540, the Choctaw would come to embrace European traders who arrived in their homeland nearly two centuries later.
Following the Revolutionary War, many Choctaw had already intermarried, converted to Christianity and adopted other white customs. The Choctaw became known as one of America’s Five Civilized Tribes, which also included the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek and Seminole.
The Choctaw Tribe of Oklahoma ended up in Oklahoma after a forced march from their homeland, now referred to as the Trail of Tears. Many different Indian tribes had their own trail of tears, but the Choctaw were the first tribe to make this trek to what was then Indian Territory, now called Oklahoma.
How the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians lost their identity
This area of frontier Alabama had been inhabited for thousands of years by indigenous cultures. The Mississippian culture is believed to have been ancestral to the historical tribes of the Muskogean-speaking Creek and Choctaw.
The first European settlers in Mobile and southern Alabama were Roman Catholic French and later Spanish. English and Scots traders before the American Revolutionary War were followed by settlers arriving in the early 19th century.
During the cotton plantation era, the wealthiest white planters were the ones most likely to take mistresses from among enslaved African-American women and to have more than one family, with the “second,” or shadow family, having mixed-race children.
Some Native Americans who came to this area were refugees after the Creek War. Others were Choctaw who refused removal to the Indian Territory in 1830. By their treaty, they were allowed to stay as state residents if they gave up Choctaw self-government.
In 1835 the state government built an Indian school at Mount Vernon, Alabama, with labor supplied by the Choctaw. Before the American Civil War, the Choctaw were at risk in periodic “Indian roundups” by the federal government, as well as in raids by slave traders.
Whites in Alabama and the South hardened racial lines as they worked to restore their social and political dominance after the Reconstruction era. Following paramilitary intimidation at the polls, whites regained power and disfranchised most Blacks and Native Americans, and many poor whites after the Reconstruction era through passage of a new constitution and laws making voter registration more difficult.
The state government arbitrarily included the Choctaw and other Native Americans remaining in the state among the “colored” or black freedmen population, in part because whites had observed intermarriage between the groups. The whites thought that black ancestry outweighed a person’s cultural identification; they discounted mixed-race Choctaw as not really Indian. Through racial segregation during the Jim Crow years, the state effectively barred blacks and Choctaw from the use of most public facilities.
Because the freedmen could no longer elect representatives, the legislature consistently underfunded services for the “colored” (blacks). Combined with blacks in a binary system, the American Indians living in the South became a group of people who officially did not exist. They were made, in effect, extinct by reclassification.
In the 1890s the state legislature defined a mulatto as anyone who was five or fewer generations removed from a black ancestor. By 1927 the state legislature defined mulatto as any person ‘descended from a Negro. The one-drop rule often went against appearances and the community with which a person identified. Alabama passed laws imposing Jim Crow and divided society into only two races: white and “colored.” They created legal segregation by two races, but in Washington and Mobile counties, there were too many mixed-race people to fit into those simple categories. Another factor affecting this was the region’s relative isolation up until World War II.
During the Jim Crow era, which lasted deep into the 20th century, the state senator L.W. McCrae popularized the term “Cajan” for the mixed-race population along the counties’ frontier. The difference in spelling indicated recognition that the people were different from the Acadian descendants (Cajuns) in Louisiana. People also called the people “Creoles”, as they seemed similar to the mixed-race Creoles in the next state, although their European-American heritage was primarily English and Scots-Irish rather than French, reflecting the major European settlers in Alabama. The surnames among Cajans and Choctaw descendants are primarily English or Scots. As of 2006 about 5,000 of self-identified Choctaw live along the Mobile-Washington county line.
Mid-twentieth century magazine articles described varied speech and cuisine that borrowed from black, Creole, American Indian and European-American traditions. In one article from 1970, the Cajans were described as the “Lost Tribe of Alabama”. The terms of Cajans and Creoles were both used by the white majority population to reflect their perception that the Choctaw also had black heritage; this was part of the way the white society divided Alabama society into two parts: white and all other.
During World War I and II, the U.S. Military used members of the Choctaw Nation for secure communications. They became the first code-talkers.
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