MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians
|Regions with significant populations|
Protestant, traditional beliefs
|Related ethnic groups|
The MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians are a state-recognized Native American 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 (1.2 km²) near the small southwestern Alabama communities of McIntosh, Mount Vernon and Citronelle, and north of Mobile. 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 of Mississippi and Alabama, who avoided removal to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma at the time of the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek by intermarriage with African slaves.
Since the late 20th century, 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 in gaining recognition. In addition, 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.
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.
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.
"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 was an example of hypodescent classification that 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.
Numerous references in historical records note the presence of Choctaw Indians in this part of Alabama. Historically, there were recognized Indian schools in the counties. In the 1970s, the American Indian Policy Review Commission (AIPRC) described the four thousand Choctaw in Mobile and Washington counties as a "non-recognized tribe." The AIPRC had been formed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to "examine the historical and legal background of federal-Indian relations and to determine if policies and programs should be revised. The commission found that the results of non-recognition were devastating for Indian communities."
In 1979, the Choctaw in this area of Alabama organized as the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians. "MOWA" is a contraction of Mobile and Washington, the two counties which this group inhabits. Its tribal office is located in McIntosh, named after a prominent Creek chief of Scots and Creek ancestry.
Tribal members purchased their first 160 acres (0.65 km2) of land in south Washington County in 1983. They claim descent from several Indian tribes: Choctaw, Creek, Cherokee, Mescalero, and Apache. Their annual cultural festival, which includes Choctaw social dancing, stickball games, a Choctaw princess contest, and an inter-tribal pow wow, occurs on the third weekend of June on their reservation lands.
The MOWA petitioned the federal government for federal recognition as an Indian tribe. In 1994 the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) denied the MOWA petition because the petitioners failed to prove Indian ancestry by BIA standards, one of seven requirements for tribal recognition. The BIA requires tribes to prove "internal cohesion, external boundaries, and a distinct Indian identity," the latter traced by genealogical descent from members of historical tribes listed in the early 1900s in records such as the Dawes Rolls. According to the BIA spokesperson: "What we found was that the Indians that the MOWA claimed as their ancestors were not their ancestors."
The Choctaw note numerous historical factors have made it difficult for them to satisfy BIA requirements: differences in traditional naming practices and difficulty in following name variations through records; the US government inconsistency in record keeping, not only in recording names but also races (for instance, listing all people with visible African ancestry as Choctaw Freedmen, regardless of whether they had direct Choctaw ancestry as well); the state's classifying all Choctaw as among the black population and recording them as black, effectively ending separate record keeping of them as Choctaw or Indian; and the reluctance of federal officials to accept oral histories of family lineage.
The MOWA filed a lawsuit against the BIA, requesting that the federal court overturn the BIA's decision. The suit was rejected in 2008 by federal court on a technicality. The court ruled the tribe had waited too long to file the lawsuit and had passed the six-year statute of limitations. It noted a 1999 letter from the Secretary of Interior that had rejected any further consideration of the tribe's claim.
 Ethnic identity
The historian Jacqueline Anderson Matte notes that the Choctaw have preserved their identity by cultural practices:
"The strongest evidence of the MOWA Choctaws' Indian ancestry is not, however, found in written documents; it is found in their lives. Their ancestors passed to them their Choctaw Indian identity and traditions, persevering and preserving their heritage despite a long history of persecution and discrimination. Interviews with elders reveal stories of survival by hunting, fishing, trapping, and sharing the kill; rituals related to marriage, birth, and death; customs associated with gardening, medicinal plants, logging, dipping turpentine, and restricted communication with outsiders; and ancestral relationships told generation to generation. Despite hardships, the Choctaw Indian community north of Mobile persisted as a system of social relationships solidified within ceremonial gathering areas, churches, schools, cemeteries, and kin-based villages. Reduced in numbers, and increasingly a dominated minority in their own homeland, the ancestors of the MOWA Choctaws made new alliances."
=.251 8295000. 1976, Dr. William S. Pollitzer published an analysis of gene frequencies found in a survey among 324 MOWA. He concluded from an analysis of serological (blood) traits that the MOWA have .5% white ancestry, 90% black ancestry, and little discernible American Indian ancestry. His team described the group as traditionally considered a tri-racial community, and noted that its members at one time had remained isolated by marrying within the group. Their conclusions were that the gene frequencies showed that the physical isolation of the group has been dissipated by intermarriage with people outside the group over the years.
These findings of virtually no Native American biological ancestry does not mean that the members of MOWA Band of Choctaw are not culturally Native American. Since before removal, through intermarriage they have absorbed new members from outside the original tribe and continued to practice Choctaw culture.
In 2007, Wilford Taylor, the Chief of the MOWA Choctaw Indians, agreed to participate in a DNA autosomal test that would map his genes, as part of the Genographic Project administered by the National Geographic Society. This type test looks at the full make-up of a person's genes, rather than only Y-DNA or mTDNA from the paternal or maternal direct lines. The study team found that Taylor's ancestry was mostly of the N1B Haplogroup, which is concentrated in Western Ethiopia.
Most of his ancestors split away 40,000 years ago from those related to Native Americans ancestors.By contrast, the two primary Haplogroups of deep ancestry for Native American males prior to European contact are C and Q3. Contributions of the maternal line may also be tested. Female haplogroups that indicate deep Native heritage include A, B, C, D and X. These were the haplogroups of the peoples found in northern Asia by 30,000 years ago. Their descendants moved east over the Bering land bridge about 22,000 years ago. Eventually their descendants migrated and settled in the Americas as Paleo-Indians in waves beginning about 15,000 years ago, after the ice barriers broke up.
Like Taylor, many Native Americans are of mixed-race ancestry but identify with the Indian culture in which they grew up. For instance, the haplogroup R1b has been found among numerous men of the Cherokee Nation, as the DNA was passed on by European white male ancestors of mixed-race descendants. The Cherokee allowed non-Native men to marry into the tribe; as they had a matrilineal system, the children belonged to the mother's clan and took their status in the tribe from her people. Traditionally the mother's brother in this system was always more important to the children's rearing, especially of boys, than the biological father, who was of a different clan. Beginning with European traders in the eighteenth century, there were marriages between European men and Cherokee women.
The N1b Hapolotype in a Y-line test does invalidate a male claim to Native American heritage, as it attests to only one line of ancestors.
 See also
- Jacqueline Anderson Matte, "Extinction by Reclassification: The MOWA Choctaws of South Alabama and Their Struggle for Federal Recognition", originally in The Alabama Review, Vol.59, July 2006, accessed 20 Mar 2009
- W. Ralph Eubanks, The House at the End of the Road: A Story of Race, Identity and Memory, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009, p. 14
- Eubanks (2009), The House at the End of the Road, p. 16
- Eubanks (2009), The House at the End of the Road, p. 12
- Laura Frances Murphy, "The Cajans at Home", Alabama Historical Quarterly 2, Winter 1940, pp.416-427
- Richard Severo, "The Lost Tribe of Alabama", Scanlan's 1 (Mar 1970), pp. 81-88.
- Bunty Anquoe, "MOWA band denied federal recognition", Indian Country Today (Lakota Times), 12-29-1994, accessed 20 Mar 2009
- “Judge dismisses tribe’s bid for federal recognition", News From Indian Country. Thursday, 17 July 2008, accessed 20 Mar 2009
- William S. Pollitzer 1, Kadambari K. Namboodiri 2, William H. Coleman 3, Wayne H. Finley 4, Webster C. Leyshon 5, Gary C. Jennings 6, William H. Brown 7, "The Cajuns of Southern Alabama: Morphology and serology", American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Volume 47, Issue 1 , Pages 1 - 6, 1977, accessed 20 Mar 2009
- Tiffany Craig, "Mapping Mankind, Part 2", WKRG CBS Affiliate, Mobile, AL
- Roberta Estes, "Proving Your Native American Heritage", Searching for the Lost Colony DNA Blog: The Lost Colonies of Roanoke DNA Project, accessed 20 Mar 2009
- Stefan Lovgren, "Americas Settled 15,000 Years Ago, Study Says", National Geographic, 13 Mar 2008, accessed 20 Mar 2009
 Further reading
- Calvin L. Beale, “An Overview of the Phenomenon of Mixed Racial Isolates in the United States,” American Anthropologist 74 (June 1972): 704–10.
- Renée Ann Cramer, Cash, Color, and Colonialism: The Politics of Tribal Acknowledgment, Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma, 2005
- Angie Debo, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic (1934; repr., Norman, Okla., 1972)
- Virginia Easley DeMarce, “‘Verry Slitly Mixt’: Tri-Racial Isolate Families of the Upper South—A Genealogical Study,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 80 (March 1992)
- B. Eugene Griessman, “The American Isolates,” American Anthropologist n.s. 74 (June 1972): 693–94
- B. Eugene Griessman and Curtis T. Henson Jr., “The History and Social Topography of an Ethnic Island in Alabama” (paper, annual meeting of the Southern Sociological Society, Atlanta, Georgia, 1974)
- Jacqueline Anderson Matte, They Say the Wind is Red: The Alabama Choctaw Lost in Their Own Land, Montgomery, Alabama: NewSouth Books, 2002
- Jesse O. McKee and Jon A. Schlenker, The Choctaws: Cultural Evolution of a Native American Tribe (Jackson, Mississippi: 1980)
- Laura Frances Murphy, “Mobile County Cajans,” Alabama Historical Quarterly 1 (Spring 1930), 76–86