MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians
|Regions with significant populations|
|English, Choctaw|
|Catholic, Holiness, and Protestant,|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), Chickasaw, Seminole, Cherokee|
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 Framon Weaver. They claim descent from small groups of Choctaw and other Native Americans 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.
Since the mid-19th century, the MOWA Choctaw have attempted to gain federal recognition.
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, who dominated the area in historic times.
The first European settlers in Mobile and southern Alabama in the 18th century were Roman Catholic French and later Spanish. The area was governed by nationals of these two countries before the British took it over. English and Scots traders arrived before the American Revolutionary War and were followed by settlers arriving in the early 19th century.
Some Native Americans who came to this area were refugees after the Creek War (1813-1814). Others were Choctaw who refused removal to the Indian Territory in 1830. By their treaty, they were allowed to stay as state (and US) residents if they gave up Choctaw tribal membership. In 1835 the state government built the Weaver 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. During these decades they sometimes intermarried with European Americans.
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.
With increasing Native American activism across the country, the Choctaw insisted on their right to self-identification and recognition. 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. The MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians achieved the honor of becoming the first State Recognized Tribe by the State of Alabama in 1979.
State Recognized Tribal members purchased their first 160 acres (0.65 km2) of land in south Washington County in 1983. The State of Alabama has recognized their land as a reservation. They descend 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, is held 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. 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's inconsistency in record keeping, etc.
One such example which ties more than 70-75% of the tribal members ancestry to the so-called Cecil Weatherford since her name was to be Cecil Weathers in the Catholic Baptismal Records in 1814. However, her name was Cecil Weather however, and she was the daughter of one William Weathers from the U.S. Census of 1810 in Baldwin County Alabama. Cecil Weathers was also the daughter of Nancy Fisher of the Creek "Fish Clan" (several other Fishers would later be removed to Oklahoma after the 1830s removal period. However, Cecil's Children of Dave Weaver, became Weavers and Chestangs and then married into the Reed families (Hardy Reed and Rose or Rosa Reed) both of Alabama Indian descent (Creek/Choctaw).
The issue presented here is that Nancy Fisher is recognized as Creek, Hardy Reed is recognized as Creek, and even Cecil Weathers (not Weatherford is recognized as Creek - all Alabama Indians - Creek/Muskogee/Cherokee/Choctaw/etc. being names given by Europeans). Cecil is the daughter of William Weathers (later the family surname would be changed to Weathersford and then to Weatherford finally and he was later given the moniker "Red Eagle" and made a "Chief" as well - but he lived in a Planter's Home and was given quite an estate by General Andrew Jackson for his clever role in the Fort Mims Massacre).
So the result is that the BIA was not submitted the evidence which Matte was privileged with that would tie the Weathers family surname to the Weatherford family name and thus, no Federal Recognition was granted to the MOWA Choctaw Band of Choctaw Indians. Hardy Reed and his descendents were also summarily discounted by review since the attention was aimed at Rose Reed and her upbringing by her father's slave and not the Native American Indian husband to which she had several children with. Dave Weaver and Byrd families are historical Cherokee but these families are also discounted from the review by the BIA as not enough evidence was submitted or not in time.
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 and African 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."
- Jacqueline Anderson Matte, "Extinction by Reclassification: The MOWA Choctaws of South Alabama and Their Struggle for Federal Recognition", The Alabama Review, Vol.59, July 2006, accessed 20 Mar 2009
- 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)
- 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
- MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians, official website