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Old 08-18-2005, 10:45 PM   #5
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Part 2

Non-Indian settlers to the area applied the term "Cajun" to our ancestors' community, a term borrowed from a nickname given to French-Canadian immigrants to the Gulf Coast area originating in Arcadia, which our ancestors clearly were not. We consider the term a pejorative, but nevertheless, this is the term often used to document our community in the literature, including a 1948 Smithsonian Institute description of the Cajun Indians of southwest Alabama (Gilbert 1948:144).

Unfortunately, such erroneous descriptions of our culture have been the rule rather than the exception in our history. The ultimate irony is that the very isolation and persecution contributing to our bonding together as an Indian community have, even today, impeded our ability to receive acknowledgment that we are who we say we are. We were denied federal recognition primarily on the basis that the BAR found insufficient written documentation by outsiders to substantiate the reality of our history and our lives.

The second section of this document entails a critique of the BAR denial of federal recognition for our people. At this juncture, it is important to make the point that we did provide the BAR with substantial documentation of the type that is acceptable to them in these matters. We maintain that we provided clear evidence to them that should have been more than sufficient to prove by their standards that we are who we are.
In brief, the BAR accepts that Indians remained in the area inhabited by the MOWA Choctaw today after the 1830 Removal Act. They also accept that our MOWA Choctaw community demonstrates clear ancestry from late 19th century core ancestors with Indian traditions. The crux of the denial is that our ancestors from the mid to late 19th century who lived as a separate community with Indian traditions cannot provide a level of documentation of Indian ancestry written by the non-Indian peoples who persecuted them that is considered acceptable to the BAR. Logically, it defies reason that non-Indians of that time period would desire to voluntarily adopt Indian traditions that would only invite persecution. Even if such self-destructive individuals were to exist, then one would have to presume that another as of yet unidentified Indian community existed in the MOWA Choctaw area from whom these non-Indians would be able to acquire foreign traditions. This is a bizarre and irrational scenario. Our MOWA Choctaw ancestors had Indian traditions because they were Indian.

Our people are, and have always been, a self-governing community following traditional ways of our ancestors and not accommodating ourselves to the rigid institutional organization that the majority of the nation adopted. Traditional ways, our people rightly feel, are more precise and enable the community to meet the needs of our people whereas the institutional process serves only people who fit into rigidly defined categories of assistance. Thus the political and social profile of our MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians does not always fit into the neat and narrow categories required by the federal acknowledgment process. Although the Alabama legislature officially recognized the MOWA Choctaw as a tribe in 1979, as did a U.S. Senate committee in 1991, the Bureau of Indian Affairs denied our petition. Nevertheless, as our revered elder, Mr. Leon Taylor stated to Congress in 1985,

“Today, I am Choctaw. My mother was Choctaw. My Grandfather was Choctaw. Tomorrow, I will still be Choctaw.”

This abstract and timeline form the basis of the petitions and supporting documents submitted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs-Branch of Acknowledgment and Research in 1988, 1991, and 1996. A more in-depth treatment of the material summarized here can be found in Jacqueline Matte's, They Say the Wind is Red: The Alabama Choctaw--Lost in Their Own Land (2002, New South Books).

Critique of the BAR Technical Report
The following is a summary critique of the BAR Technical Report denying our federal recognition. Our critique addresses four key problem areas we see in their evaluation, 1) dismissal of written documents, 2) arbitrariness in evaluating oral history, 3) failure to appreciate the historical context of the MOWA Choctaw experience, and 4) procedural errors. It should be duly noted that space limitations for this testimony do not allow us to present to the Committee on Resources a complete description of the factual errors, erroneous interpretations, and inconsistencies in the BAR technical report of our people. However, we are fully prepared to present more extensive evidence and inaccuracies of the BAR report and, more extensive documentation demonstrating that we are a legitimate American Indian people.
1. The BAR Discounted Written Documents Presented as Evidence of MOWA Choctaw American Indian Ancestry
a. The Bar Discounted Written Documents of MOWA Choctaw Antebellum Ancestry
We presented extensive written documentation to the BAR of the continuous settlement of our people in the region we inhabit today from 1813 until the present. Included were letters of correspondence to representatives of the U.S. government between 1832 and 1859 which provide a continuous record of our presence for a time period that spans approximately 30 years after the 1830 Indian removal act (Exhibit 1: Choctaw Timeline). In our original petition, we described the segregation of our ancestors from the surrounding community in that they were not permitted to attend either “white” or “black” schools, and built their own. A record of the school exists in the Library of Congress that verifies that the school was built in 1835 “by Indians and for Indians” (Exhibit 2: Original Catalogue Record of Indian School). We presented to the BAR documentation of 120 records in the U.S. General Land Office from 1836 to 1936 of homesteads showing land occupation by the same names listed on the 1910 census who were described as mixed blood Indians (see Exhibit 1 for references for census data and Database of Land Records, 1836-1936). These records demonstrate 100 years of our continued occupation in the area from shortly after the Indian Removal Act until nearly the middle of the 20th century. We also provided the evidence of an 1855 “Census Roll of the Choctaw Indians” which describes Indians living in our present-day area as well as evidence of a “Choctaw Regiment” in Mobile county during the Civil War (see Exhibit 1: references for the Cooper Roll 1855, showing Choctaws in Mobile, Alabama and the 1862 Choctaw Regiment of Mobile, Alabama.)
The evidence above contradicts the conclusion of the BAR which states,
“the petitioner’s attempt to demonstrate the existence of a continuing American Indian tribal entity, or community, in southwestern Alabama in the first half of the nineteenth century was not documented” (Technical Report: MOWA Band of Choctaw 1994:72 [cited hereafter as TR-MOWA]).
Not only did we provide such evidence, it should be duly noted that BIA regulations under which the final determination was made do not require evidence of ancestry prior to 1900. The BAR required a burden of proof in violation of BIA standards and failed to acknowledge documentary evidence that indeed met the inappropriate standard they imposed upon us.
In addition, although the BAR relied most heavily on genealogical historical records, support for the material we presented is found in genetic research published in professional medical journals that characterize our contemporary MOWA Choctaw people as a community of Native American ancestry that have intermarried and been genetically isolated since antebellum times. Our community has been a subject of study by medical geneticists from the University of South Alabama due to the high frequency of Marinesco-Sjorgren syndrome, an extremely rare autosomal recessive genetic disorder. The community of these patients was described as,
“each patient was a member of an inbred population living in a well-defined area of South-Western Alabama. The ancestry of this population is Indian, with White and Black admixture” (Superneau et al. 1987:9).
“all come from a remote, rural area of southwest Alabama that has been virtually isolated since before the civil war” (Brogdon, Snow, and Williams 1996:461-462).
b. The BAR Discounted 1910 U.S. Census Evidence of American Indian Ancestry
The 1910 United States Census for Washington County, Alabama contained marginal notes which identify MOWA Choctaw families in the Fairford and Malcolm precincts of Washington County. The original identification of Indian was written over with the word “mixed.” The interlineations were written by an official taker of the United States Census. The note explains: “These people entered as mixed are composed of Indian, of Spanish, some of them French, some with White, and some with Negro. The prevailing habits are Indian. Called "Cajun” (see Exhibit 1 references to 1910 Census Identifying Indian People and Communities in Washington County).

Despite this direct proof, the BAR concludes, “nor were the core ancestors identified as an Indian entity on the 1910 U.S. Census.” It should also be noted that the core ancestors were dead by the time of the 1910 census, and these would have been descendants of our core ancestors. Moreover, the BAR concluded that “none of the primary records demonstrate that the petitioner’s members descend from a historical tribe or tribes which combined to form an autonomous political entity” (Summary under the Criteria and Evidence for Final determination of the MOWA 1997:5 [cited hereafter as SCFD-MOWA]. We offered the report of Professor Richard Stoffle (1996) entitled, “A Persistent People: A Rapid Ethnographic Assessment of MOWA Choctaw Federal Acknowledgment Petition.” Stoffle, using an anthropological approach, concluded that we were operating as an Indian community at the time of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830.


"Be good, be kind, help each other."
"Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

--Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)
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