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Old 08-18-2005, 10:30 PM   #4
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Part 1

Actually, my brother/friend is Mowa Choctaw. The following document may help to provide some background information on what the recognition process has been so far.

Wilford “Longhair” Taylor, Tribal Chief, MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians
Testimony Before the Committee on Resources
Unites States House of Representatives
Hearing on the Federal recognition and acknowledgment process by the
Bureau of Indian Affairs March 31, 2004

Testimony of Chief Wilford “Longhair” Taylor
Mr. Chairman and committee members: good morning. My name is Wilford “Longhair” Taylor and I am the elected tribal chief of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians. Thank you for granting me the opportunity to testify on the federal recognition and acknowledgment process by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

The Choctaw Indians of Mobile and Washington Counties, Alabama (MOWA) are the descendants of American Indians who occupied this territory prior to European discovery. We selected the acronym, MOWA, to represent our modern day geographic location. We live in an area transected by the county line between south Washington and north Mobile Counties. Although the State of Alabama legislature officially recognized the MOWA Choctaw as a tribe in 1979, and an official recognition proposal was approved by a U.S. Senate committee in 1991, the Bureau of Indian Affairs later denied our petition for Federal acknowledgment.

The criteria for Federal acknowledgment which a petitioning group must satisfy were designed to provide a uniform and objective review. However, the immense latitude granted to and demonstrated by the agency in its evaluation of the evidence submitted has clearly yielded arbitrary and subjective decisions. One example is the radically different standards applied in evaluating the petitions of the MOWA Choctaw and the Jena Choctaw. The oral histories of our venerated elders were discounted as "allegations" while the oral histories of the Jena Choctaw were described as even more reliable than written records. Identical types of written documentation that we were required to produce for BIA were characterized as an impossible and unreasonable expectation for the Jena Choctaw. Our petitions were evaluated within just months of each other. In all fairness, the same criteria should have been applied.

The Federal recognition process was designed to take two years, but in reality, the process often places a petitioning group in an endless "loop" of research and expense that, for most tribes, is overwhelming. It took seven years for our initial petition to be processed. It took ten years for the final determination report. If you include the years needed to undertake the research the BIA requires for documentation and our continued fight today, my people are in the twenty-third year of this process.

Although it is obviously not practical for me to present to you today my tribe’s entire struggle with the recognition process, it is spelled out in detail in my written testimony. Therefore, please allow me to share with you just a few comments of independent experts from across the country regarding our failed effort to achieve recognition.

In the words of the well-known and renowned Native American legal scholar and member of the Standing Rock Sioux, Professor Vine Deloria, Jr. writes “The Federal acknowledgment process today is confused, unfair, and riddled with inconsistencies. Much of the confusion is due to the insistence that Indian communities meet strange criteria which, if applied to all Indian nations when they sought to confirm a Federal relationship, would have disqualified the vast majority of presently recognized groups. He further writes, “The MOWA Choctaws have a typical profile for Southeastern Indians. Their credentials are solid and the historical data that identifies them as Indians extends back to the days when they were integral villages in the Choctaw Nation....the fragmentation of the Five Civilized Tribes before, during and after Removal makes their history a fascinating story of persistence and survival but certainly does not eliminate them from the groups of people that should rightfully be recognized as Indians.”
Dr. Richard W. Stoffle, Ph.D., an anthropologist from the University of Arizona wrote to me in response to the BIA decision to deny recognition saying, “I can only express my deepest disappointment in the BIA’s decision. As someone who has reviewed your petition at length and has talked with your elders, there is no just argument against recognizing your status as an American Indian tribe… After working for 27 years with more than 80 American Indian tribes, it is my considered opinion that the MOWA Choctaw people are a persistent tribal society. It is difficult for me to understand how that point could have been missed by the BIA.”
Dr. Kenneth York, Ph.D. and Member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, after critical review of our evidence writes, “It is my belief as a member of MBCI that members of the MOWA Band are descendants of the Great Choctaw Nation which was disbanded by the U.S. Government during the Indian Removal Period. It is my professional opinion that the MOWA Band has provided documentation regarding the history, culture, and ancestral relationship as well, if not better, as any tribal petition in recent years.”

Dr. Loretta A. Cormier, Ph.D., an anthropologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham recently wrote, “As you are well aware, I have had the opportunity to work among the MOWA Choctaw over the course of the last three years and have researched your cultural history. Let me say unequivocally that I have no doubt that the MOWA Choctaw are an American Indian community. I am astounded by the BIA’s denial of your Federal recognition and find the technical report they prepared to be seriously flawed in terms of its historical, cultural, and even logical analysis of MOWA Choctaw history."

The work and words of these individuals, and many other informed professionals, should provide ample support to prove that the BIA’s recognition process is, flawed and riddled with inconsistencies. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, as a federal governmental agency, has a duty to make decisions on a rational basis, which are neither arbitrary nor capricious. I find it quite disturbing that the BIA can selectively “pick and choose” the evidence it uses to deny a petition and, at the same time, not even consider, or in fact, totally and completely disregard stronger, more solid and compelling evidence that it normally uses as support to acknowledge other tribes.

The federal acknowledgment process was originally designed to be fair, objective and neutral. Today, the process is dehumanizing and insulting. As American Indians, we are the only people in this country who to have to prove to the United States government who we are. I strongly believe that as long as the BIA has the power to serve as judge, advocate or adversary, the issues we discuss today will never be resolved and the recognition process will continue to be widely held in contempt.
Thank you.

Introduction: The Choctaw of Mobile and Washington Counties, Alabama
We, the MOWA Band of Choctaw, are a community comprised of the ancestors of American Indians who escaped the 1830 Indian removal act and remained in our traditional homeland in southwest Alabama. We chose the acronym "MOWA" to refer to our location in the area bordering Mobile and Washington Counties.

Our credentials are solid and the historical data that identifies us as Indians extends back to the days when we were integral villages in the Choctaw Nation. Few people realize that not all people were removed when the Army marched our nation to the West. Our ancestors have been documented as a distinct American Indian community since shortly after the 1830 Indian removal act. In 1835, a government Indian School was built in Mount Vernon, Alabama and described in the Library of Congress Historic Building Survey as built for Indians by Indian labor (Russell 1935 [1835]). Census records, birth certificates, sworn court testimony, government correspondence, military records, and anthropological descriptions provide written documentation of our continuous history in the area. However, the strongest evidence of our American Indian ancestry is not found in written documents, it is found in our lives. Our ancestors passed to us our Indian identity and traditions, persevering and preserving our heritage despite a long history of injustice and persecution.

Our ancestors essentially became fugitives in their own homeland. After the Indian Removal Act of 1830, they retreated into heavily forested, marginally desirable land along the Tombigbee River, married amongst themselves, and maintained a separate community. It is critical to understanding the experience of our ancestors to know that such segregation was not only due to the amalgamation of our Indian ancestors who escaped removal: it was an imposed isolation. Isolation helped to spare our people from persecution, although not completely. Elders describe atrocities against our ancestors such as being hunted down and imprisoned; killed, dismembered and stuffed in a gopher hole; or taken West in periodic Indian round-ups by government-paid contractors. These types of events are well documented in the literature (e.g., Debo 1972 [1934] and Forman 1982 [1932], Matte 2002).

(continued)
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