MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians
|Regions with significant populations|
|English, Choctaw|
|Catholic, Holiness, and Protestant,|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), Chickasaw, Seminole, Cherokee African American|
The MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians are a State recognized Tribe. The Choctaw Indians of Mobile and Washington Counties, Alabama are also recognized by the Congress of the United States via the House of Representatives Committee on Indian Affairs 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 MOWA Choctaw Indian Reservation, about 3,600 tribal citizens live in 10 small settlements near the reservation community. They are led by elected Chief Lebaron 'Big Man' Byrd. They descend from the Choctaw Nation and other Native Americans of Mississippi and Alabama, who avoided Indian Removal to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma at the time of the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek.
The Choctaw Indians of Alabama (Mobile and Washington Counties) have been recognized Federally and Internationally as follows:
- The Treaty of Paris in 1763 - The Proclamation of 1763, whereby the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations were recognized to exist below the 31st degree North latitude from the Pearl River to the present-day state line of Georgia and Alabama.
- The Treaty of Paris in 1783 - The treaty that ended the American Revolution recognized the Choctaw Line at the uppermost limit of the 31st north latitude (which was marked at 31 degrees and 28 minutes north latitude. The Choctaw Line was established.
- The Treaty of Hopewell in 1786 would again make note of the Choctaw Line and the provide recognition by the Confederation Congress of the United States of America of the Choctaw Indians in Mobile and Washington Counties, Alabama in the Eastern section of the Natchez District. Natchez, Alabama is located in Clarke County and to the North of the Choctaw Indians of Mobile and Washington Counties, Alabama.
- The Treaty of San Lorenzo in 1795 and the subsequent Treaty in 1798 would secure the Choctaw Indians in Mobile and Washington Counties, Alabama the perpetual title to the land within the boundaries of the 31st and 32nd degree north latitude from the Mississippi River to the Eastern Georgia State Line as a demilitarized zone between the United States and Spanish Florida which was then located in Mount Vernon or Fort Stoddard(t), Alabama.
- The Treaty of 1803 with France known as the Louisiana Purchase would again reference the Indians and their Title to the lands the already had the Right to Soils, Use, and Possession of which has always been conceded to outweigh the Doctrine of Discovery.
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. During the American Revolution, the Galvez conquered Mobile and Pensacola and in 1781 took control of Mobile. Galvez was surrendered the city of Mobile and welcomed by various prominent citizens and Zenon Orso was amongst them. Zenon Orso is a progenitor of many of today's MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians. Although Zeno Orso is recorded to be from New Orleans it is often forgotten that the capital of the Louisiana Territory under the French was at present-day Axis or Bucks Alabama where the Alabama Power Plant is located today. This is even more notable that this same property was deeded from the Jazun(called Juhan) in the deed to the DuPont family who own a nearby Chemical Plant within a mile of the Alabama Power Plant. The Natchez Indians referred to the area as the Juzlin's Nigra or Walnut Hills. The Juzan family still owns property nearby as well, one of the ancient Nova Scotia Acadian Families who settled here and became known as Cajuns - Louisiana Cajuns. In fact, many of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians are also descendants of the Nova Scotia Acadians who were relocated to this very same Natchez Country as it was known by then, including prominent families like that of John Andry(Andre/Andrews) who still has a road in the area, the Lofton's (called Lofton's Heights in Mississippi along that river), however, ancient land deeds of Mobile will reveal that Lofton's Road is almost directly across from the Alabama Power Plant and about 4 miles up the road and across the Mobile River one will find an Island which also once belonged to the Lofton/Loftis families, the Krepes, and the Mims (as in the Fort Mims Massacre of August 30, 1830), etc.
The frauds committed against the Choctaw Indians of Mobile and Washington Counties of Alabama, the Mississippi Choctaw, and the Choctaw of Louisiana are both incredible and famous, but there is a reference for any who need to know more about this atrocity of how one larger tribe or at least two tribes would spare little expense to deprive the Choctaw Nation of the East from their own Native American Birthright. The Choctaw Commission of the Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana would eventually be recognized Federally in 1945, however, the Mississippi Choctaw would quietly remove the Alabama and the Louisiana Choctaw from their own rolls in order to obtain a larger settlement of land and cash from the Indian Claims Commission. The same Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians who were denied by the Choctaw Nation of the West (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma as of 1975) and fought by the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations of Oklahoma rather that be required to pay any claims due the Choctaw Nation of the East in accordance with the 1881 United States Court of Claims Decision and the United States Supreme Court decisions in Choctaw Nation vs. United States now sought to actively deny the other remnants of the Choctaw Nation of the East of the Mississippi River.
The tribe is composed of 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. John Johnston Jr. testified in 1842 to being threatened for his property rights before the Congress of the United States, he is a progenitor of some of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians today and a road named after him is one of the main roads in McIntosh as a legacy to his leadership of the Choctaw Indians of the East
Numerous references in historical records note the presence of Choctaw Indians in this part of Alabama. Historically, there were recognized Indian schools in both Mobile and Washington counties, the last of these two were Reed's Chapel in McIntosh, Alabama and Calcedeaver Elementary School in Mount Vernon, Alabama.
The MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians are recognized by the State of Alabama and the House of Representatives Committee of Indian Affairs.
The MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians are politically organized and have adopted a Constitution. The Constitution of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians recognizes an elected Chief, an elected Tribal Council with 1 member representing each of the districts of the tribe, and an appointed Tribal Judge. Various committees as formed from time to time to assist with various projects to address the needs of the community. The tribal council and the chief roles of the tribe are elected every 4 years per the Constitution.
The MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians have been acknowledged by the Supreme Court of the United States of America as a member of the Alabama Intertribal Council of which Chief Framon Weaver is a member to possess inherent sovereignty which is recognized by the Federal Government of the United States to be present in all Indian Tribes, whether or not recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Federal Acknowledgement. The case where this decision was decided is Taylor v ITC United States Court of Appeals 11th Circuit No. 0012280 on December 9, 2001. The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court in 2002 but the decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals was deemed consistent with the Supreme Courts position regarding the Inherent Sovereignty of all Native American Indian Tribes and in this case their councils of organizations of which they are a member of.
"Indian sovereign immunity is a unique legal concept and, unlike state Eleventh Amendment immunity, it can be more freely limited by Congressional enactment. Sanderlin, 243 F.3d at 1285. Therefore, as we recognized in Florida Paraplegic Association Incorporated v. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, a Congressional statute of general applicability presumptively applies to Indian tribes absent some clear indication that Congress did not intend for tribes to be subject to the legislation. 166 F.3d 1126 (11th Cir.1999) (citing Federal Power Comm'n v. Tuscarora Indian Nation, 362 U.S. 99, 80 S.Ct. 543, 4 L.Ed.2d 584 (1960)). Review of the cases on Indian sovereign immunity shows that courts will only rule that a generally applicable statute does not govern an Indian tribe when the statute would "(1) abrogate rights guaranteed under an Indian treaty, (2) interfere with purely intramural matters touching [on an Indian tribe's] exclusive rights of self-government, or (3) contradict Congress's intent."4 Id. The AIC has not suggested that any treaty right is at issue in this case; therefore, we review Taylor's § 1981 claim to determine whether permitting the AIC to be sued under this statute would run contrary to Congress's intent, or would infringe on the tribal organization's "exclusive rights of self-governance in purely intramural matters.""
It is worth noting that the Executive Branch of Government in the form of the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General was also consulted on this very same case about the sovereignty of non-Federally recognized State Recognized Tribes and in 2004 agreed with the findings of the United States Federal Courts in favor of the Inherent Sovereignty of Indian Tribes.
"Michele Taylor worked for the Alabama Intertribal Council, an association of Native Americans that represented several different tribes. We can’t tell from the appellate court opinion when she was hired, what she did, or how her termination came about. But since she sued the council in federal district court for race discrimination, we can safely assume that she was not a member of a Native American tribe and that she was terminated in favor of a candidate who was. Oddly enough, the federal district court ruled against her because she had filed her claim more than two years after being terminated. That court pointed out that Alabama law limits personal injury suits to a two-year filing deadline. Arguing that she deserved four years, she appealed to the 11th Circuit Court, which covers Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.
We say "oddly enough" because the timing of her charges turned out to be irrelevant. Appellate judges promptly ruled that Native American tribes—and, by extension, tribal associations—are immune from suits for employment discrimination. This immunity stems not only from the tribes’ sovereign status but also because "a tribe’s Indian employment preference programs" are part of its anticipated purpose of self-government. To subject a tribe to liability for such preferences would, the judges said, be "wholly illogical." Even so, the court considered other possibilities in its thorough review. One was whether Congress had specifically intended to make Indian tribes immune from Civil Rights Act Title VII employment discrimination claims. The answer was clear: Congress had been very specific about the immunity in discussing Title VII. But Taylor had filed her suit under a much earlier civil rights law, one passed in 1870, when the question of Native American rights had not been considered. Could she sue anyway? No, the judges said, pointing to precedents set by the 9th Circuit Court, which covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Michele C. Taylor v. Alabama Intertribal Council, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, No. 00-12280 (7/9/01).
Comment: Since Taylor acted as her own attorney, we might guess she was simply ignorant of tribal immunity from civil rights laws. But the federal district seems not to have taken note of the immunity either. The moral of the story? As an employer, a Native American tribe can put a tribe member in any job it wants to. "
The fact is that since the organization of the Alabama Intertribal Council is composed of only State Recognized Tribes and it has been found by Federal Court and the Department of Labor to be possess Inherently Sovereign since it is composed of Native American Indians who happen to be Chiefs, that the Tribes of each of the Chiefs are also possessed of Inherent Sovereignty which has also been affirmed by the Supreme Court on other cases not mentioned in this article.
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 and Chickasaw, the Cherokee lines in which the descendants of Dave Weaver were finally enrolled with the Eastern Band of Cherokees in 1909 under the names of Alfred Weaver, Jerome Chestang, and the other children of Dave Weaver and Cecile Weatherford, the daughter of William Weatherford of the neighboring Creek Tribe not more than 20 miles away on present day maps, which attests to the Creek blood as well as that of Hardy Reed, whose wife was listed in at least 2 newspapers during the so-called Creek War when Chinubbee the Natchez Chief who signed treaties for the Chickasaw, Creeks, and Cherokees was under attack by the Florida Indians, and the Choctaw Indians provided relief under the command of General Jackson's Generals as noted by the land patents mentioned in the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830 and the Treaty of Doak's Stand in 1820. Their annual cultural festival, which includes Choctaw social dancing, stickball games, a Choctaw princess contest, and an intertribal 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 were denied on the sole basis of the work performed by the genealogist who prepared the work for the BIA. The BIA Office of Federal Acknowledgement reported a letter of obvious deficiencies to the MOWA Band of Choctaw's Historian Jacqueline Matte who was assisted by her cousin Doris Brown who served as the genealogist. The submitted work was riddled with inconsistencies which were noted in the findings by the OFA's staff but instead of being corrected, were in stead minimized and 30 core ancestors originally submitted were reduced to 4 core ancestors and insufficient evidence was submitted to provide the proof required to satisfy the 25 CFR 83 requirements. Therefore, the petition of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians was denied. The MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians were given more time to contest the findings however the tribe was believed in its research team of outside experts and the team failed the tribe in its submissions. The strange part is that the research team actually had full knowledge of the relationship between William Weatherford (Creek) and Nancy Fisher (whose family are Choctaw Chiefs in Oklahoma - note Silas D. Fisher and Lachlan Durant (her brother's son was also a Chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma). Coleman Cole was another family relation of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians. Numerous members of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians are descendants of Eli-Tubbee/Tom Gibson who was the subject of the Court of Claims Decision by which both the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians have profited from along with John Johnston Jr., etc. The research team also submitted no positive information for the descendants of Dav(e) Weaver who was found to be a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians his descendants named Weaver and Chestang were added to those rolls in 1909, but have since been incorporated into the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians. While William McIntosh was said to be Creek Chief, he led the likes of John Ross and the Sequoyah (who is referred to and both Cherokee and Chickasaw)'s father who was said to be named John McIntosh. John Ross's mother was from the Bird(Byrd) Clan of the Cherokee and a dutiful search of the Bird Clan of Cherokee - the missing Bird Clan will be found was composed mostly of Byrds and Weavers, which strangely enough are the same primary surnames of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians. However, the fact that Nancy Fisher was herself considered a Natchez Indian but her immediate family were both names "Friendly Creeks" in the 1815 petition following the so-called Creek War of 1813-1814 per the American State Papers and Silas D. Fisher would become a Chief of the Choctaw Nation and Lachlan or Laughlin Durant's son would also become a Chief of the Choctaw Nation. Despite the dutiful and exhaustive research conducted by the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians' researchers these facts would go unnoticed. Furthermore, the Tribe itself would be repeatedly told they were denied on several factors and the genealogy was complete. In fact, the genealogy was not complete and the relatively helpless MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians whose elders seldom were educated beyond the 6th grade of school were deceived by those who were paid with Federal Grants to work on their behalf.
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 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."
The Anthropologist Loretta Cormier from the University of Alabama, Birmingham who has studied the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians extensively writes:
"If you go down to the reservation, you’re not going to find people with feathers going ‘woo-woo-woo,’" Cormier points out. "A lot of the ideas that people who aren’t familiar with Indians get from books and history aren’t accurate. That’s looking at the past, and they’re not frozen in time. A lot of their culture and traditions had to be hidden, and some of them were lost. And their culture and group identity has evolved over time, just like any group of people."
Some of the old traditions are still alive and well in everyday life, as well. A few women in the community still craft traditional handmade dresses and shirts, and many still employ the "three sisters" method of gardening with beans, squash, and maize. The Choctaw are a traditionally matrilineal society, which means they trace their kinship through females rather than males, and some still take the mother’s last name. The tradition also survives in the Mother of the Year award, which recognizes an exemplary female leader in the community. Additionally, a group still occasionally gathers on the land that they call "the old stomping grounds" to perform the traditional dances that have taken place on those same grounds for centuries.
"In anthropology, one of the most important things about culture is kinship," says Cormier, "and that’s the most important thing to the MOWA. They have a long history of a few families that have lived together, worked together, know each other."
The last five hundred years of exploitation and discrimination, up to and including their ongoing struggle for federal recognition, have left a deep impact on the MOWA. Nevertheless, the tribe remains resolute, confident, and ultimately comfortable in their own identity. Documents don’t define a people, after all. Family, memory, and culture do.
Leon Taylor, a revered elder, said in testimony to the United States Congress in 1985: "Today, I am Choctaw. My mother was Choctaw. My grandfather was Choctaw. Tomorrow, I will still be Choctaw.
- Alabama Joint Legislative Act on January 11th, 1994, 94-44, previously recognized the State of Alabama Joint Legislative Acts 79-228 and 79-343 called the Turner Acts in 1979 as the First State Recognized Tribe in Alabama
- Indian Policy Review Commission - May 14, 1977
- The Federal Department of Transportation and Alabama Department of Transportation TPO Plan 2003-2016
- Alabama Legislative Act of 1994, 94-123 based on the findings of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers
- Alabama Legislature Joint Act of 1994, 94-123
- Choctaw Nation v U.S. 119 U.S. 1(1886)
- Choctaw Nation v. United States, 119 U.S. 1 (1886)
- 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
- http://mowachoctaw.homestead.com/, official website