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Old 08-18-2005, 11:09 PM   #8
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Part 5

The conclusion drawn here is particularly troubling given that when the Jena proposal contained ambiguous census date, oral history was described as more reliable than census data,
“The Dawes Commission testimony suggests that tribal members born before 1872 were born in Mississippi, while those who were younger than that were born in Louisiana during the 1880’s. Census data on individuals’ place of birth does not support this conclusion, but the census is less reliable than personal testimony” (TR-Jena 1994:16).
In multiple instances, the BAR discounts our oral history as legitimate evidence. In the first example below, it is belittled by stating that our petition “alleges” a family connection. In the second example, even sworn court testimony is treated as allegation and discounted because we were expected to produce additional written documents to support the testimony.
“The MOWA petition alleges, also on the basis of oral tradition, that a George W. Reed, supposedly the son of Hardy Reed and a Creek woman whose maiden name was Elizabeth Tarvin, was the brother of Daniel Reed, as were Amos Reed and Squire Reed, but provides no documentation for the assertion, and the BAR researchers located none” (TR-MOWA 1994:31).
“According to the witness in the 1920 trial, Mrs. Rush testified that Rose Reed, who had died in 1878, had told her that her mother was a “Choctaw squaw.” This hearsay testimony was not documented by any contemporary evidence” (TR-MOWA 1994:6).
The oral history of the Jena is treated with more respect and regarded as legitimate in terms of both historical dates and social relationships,
“In the oral history of group members, William Bill Lewis is remembered as the group’s leader from the time of his arrival from Catahoula Parish about 1917 until his death about 1933…as the eldest male among the Choctaw residents of the Jena area after the death of Bill Lewis, Will Jackson was expected to play the role of community leader…”(TR-Jena 1994:30).

Another example of information that was accepted for the Jena Choctaw and rejected for the MOWA Choctaw is the presence of Indian Schools. The Jena Choctaw petition states,
“Local authorities and private individuals made efforts to create a school specifically for the Indian population. During the 1930’s the Penick Indian School operated with some funding from the Federal Office of Indian Affairs” (SUC-Jena 1994:4).
We provided the BAR with virtually identical information about a separate, federally funded Indian school for the MOWA Choctaw. In our original petition, we provided evidence of federal funding being sought in 1934, the same time period identified for the Penick Indian School of the Jena Choctaw (see timeline). Moreover, as previously described, the Indian school for the MOWA Choctaw ancestors was established 100 years earlier than that of the Jena Choctaw. In addition, since 1965, we have received federal funding through the Title IV and Title IX Indian Education Programs (Exhibit 4: Federal Agencies Recognizing the MOWA Choctaw, Department of Education).
Another extraordinary example of the BAR applying wholly different criteria to the Jena Choctaw and the MOWA Choctaw is in their evaluation of virtually identical events involving a Choctaw family moving into the community around 1900. For the Jena Choctaw, the addition of the Choctaw Lewis family in the early 1900’s is described as a positive event which allowed a dwindling Jena Choctaw community to remain viable. For the MOWA, the addition of the Choctaw Laurendine family is described as irrelevant because they did not marry into the community until the early 1900’s. The BAR description of the Lewises states,
“Before the arrival in LaSalle Parish about 1917 of William Bill Lewis and his extended family from Catahoula Parish, the Trout Creek settlement may have shrunk to two families, those of brothers Will Jackson and Chris Jackson….At that time, the two Jackson families may have consisted of only eight people…The arrival of the Lewis family gave the Trout Creek settlement the potential to remain a viable community” (TR-Jena 1994:28).
But the description of the MOWA Choctaw states,
“The Mississippi Choctaw Laurendine family did not, apparently settle in Mobile County until after the Civil War….No Laurendine descendants married into the petitioning group until after 1900…”(TR-MOWA:87).
The inconsistency is incredible. The BAR completely dismisses the intermarriage of the Choctaw Laurendine family into the ancestral MOWA Choctaw community as anomalous because it did not occur until around 1900. However, for the Jena Choctaw, the intermarriage of the Choctaw Lewis family around 1900 is viewed as critical to the very existence of the Jena Choctaw today.
c. The BAR Placed little value on oral history as the traditional American Indian means of transmitting heritage.
Finally, it is disappointing that the BAR, as an Indian agency, places so little value on oral history. For all American Indians, oral history is the traditional Indian way of transmitting our heritage from generation. Disregarding these traditions demonstrates disrespect for our venerated elders and more generally, disrespect for Indian cultural traditions. Moreover, the very existence of our oral history, passed down through generations to multiple descendants could not be been motivated by any other logical reason except as a means to preserve our heritage. Cedric Sunray’s “MOWA Tribal Council Presentation” put it well,

“When elder after elder recounts the same story in a relatively similar fashion…how can we discount it? How could an entire group of elderly people be convinced to lie and falsify such a long story? They would need to go against their own collective beliefs, have meetings to get their stories ‘on the same page’ and then, with a straight face, lie to anthropologists and BAR officials. No one could possibly believe that the senior population of the MOWA community organized to this level with the intent to mislead the BAR” (Sunray 2002:15).
3. The BAR failed to evaluate written documentation in its historical context
a. The BAR failed to recognize the widespread American Indian resistance to the Dawes Roll. The BAR equates the Dawes Roll (and similar registers) as a Native American census, failing to recognize both the widespread Native American Resistance to the Dawes Act, and the fraud and corruption in the Miriam Report of 1928 which led to its repeal.
b. The BAR failed to recognize racism and racial designations applied to American Indians in Alabama. The BAR has characterized the documents identifying MOWA Choctaw ancestors with Indian heritage as ambiguous. We have presented clear documentation that our MOWA Choctaw ancestors were described as Indian. However, the BAR describes this evidence as ambiguous pointing to terms such as “free person of color” and “mulatto” that have sometimes been applied to them. Such an attitude demonstrates a lack of awareness of not only historical racial categories in the region, but more importantly, it indicates a lack of awareness of the racism and prejudice that our people have experienced.
c. The BAR applied an unreasonable standard for the level of documentation required for non-literate antebellum American Indians. The requirement of the BAR for the MOWA to present extensive antebellum evidence is an unreasonable standard for an American Indian people who were not literate in the language. Applying such a standard indicates a clear failure to appreciate the cultural, historical, and linguistic history of the Indians who escaped removal in 1830.
4. The BAR deviated from BIA protocol in evaluating the MOWA Choctaw Petition.
a. By the BIA’s own admission, the Federal Recognition process is a confusing, ambiguous, expensive, and time-consuming process (Bureau of Indian Affairs 2001:3-4). One consequence of the confusion and delays is that we presented our petition under the set of guidelines in effect at the time but our petition was not evaluated until seven years later. The rules for federal recognition were changed just months before the BAR evaluated our proposal. We believe our petition should have been evaluated in a timely manner. Further, given that the BAR did not evaluate our petition within the recommended two-year time frame, that our petition should have at least been evaluated under the guidelines in effect when we submitted our proposal.
b. The BAR deviated from BIA protocol in requiring pre-1900 documentation. Much of the criticism in the 1994 BAR Technical Report is directed at their evaluation of our providing insufficient antebellum documentation of our ancestry. As we have already argued, we strongly disagree with this conclusion. But leaving that aside, as a matter of procedure, the requirement for antebellum documentation deviates from protocol. By the BIA’s own admission, the meaning of “historical” has been ambiguous and inconsistently applied for tribes seeking federal recognition. The BIA clarified the time frame in 1997 to mean “since 1900.” However, in the Final Determination, written after the BIA clarified the appropriate time frame, the BAR continued to apply an antebellum standard. We find it particularly unfair, frustrating, and inconsistent that the BAR applied outdated standards in the Final Determination given that our original petition was required to meet standards that had been changed only months before.

(continued)
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