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Old 08-26-2005, 05:57 PM   #14
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This is more information I just received from yet another Mowa Choctaw friend.
Historian
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Dear Friends and Family,

I hope this note finds everyone well. I’m writing to ask for your help in a very important matter. After a quarter century of struggle and bureaucratic foot-dragging, my family’s people, the MOWA band of Choctaw Indians, are up for federal recognition. We were officially recognized as a tribe by the state of Alabama in 1979, and approved for federal recognition by the US Senate in 1991, but then the BIA arbitrarily denied our petition for acknowledgement. Our case is well documented and we have been appealing it ever since. Our elected chief, Wilford “Longhair” Taylor testified before the House Committee on Resources in March of 2004 as to the BIA’s flawed and capricious handling of our case. On July 28, Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Mobile) introduced HR 3526, the MOWA Recognition Bill into the House, where it was referred to the House Committee on Resources. Congress is currently in recess, but is scheduled to return to work the first week in September. At that time, the Committee is expected to vote on the bill. If the bill is approved by the committee, it will then be introduced on the House floor for debate and possible vote. The committee process is crucial to the bill’s final approval. This is where all of you come in!

In order to get our recognition bill over this major hurdle, we need to let the Resources Committee know that there is public support for the bill. Our people don’t have money to hire lobbyists, so they are counting on a grassroots effort to make this happen. Written letters, phone calls, and personal e-mails (in that order) have been proven to have the greatest impact in Washington. I want to ask everyone to write a letter or call the Committee members and their local representative to express their support for HR 3526. For those of you who are short on time, I’ve included a sample letter- feel free to cut and paste! I’ve also listed the contact information for the Committee and a link to the House of Representatives website where you can find your local representative’s information. Attached to this message is a copy of the bill and a list of the Committee members.

The passage of this bill means a great deal to our people. Native Americans are the only group in the US who have to prove their identity to the government, a government that has spent centuries trying its best to erase that very identity. While we don’t need the government to tell us who our relatives are, federal recognition would afford us some important legal rights. In our case, it would give us the right to hold our land in trust. Our people would be able to access needed social programs. Most importantly for our future, our young people would be eligible for more college scholarships and better access to employment. Over the years our people have given the US doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, soldiers and citizens. We are excited and hopeful that this congressional process will lead to recognition of those contributions and a respect for our rights as a people. Thanks so much to all of you for helping us move one step closer to finally achieving our goal of federal recognition!

Sincerely,

Analiese Richard

If you want to send an e-mail to the entire committee, use this link: [email protected]

You can also contact the entire committee through the Chair:

Richard Pombo, Chairman
House of Representatives Committee on Resources
1324 Longworth House Office Building
Washington DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2761

This site will take you straight to your local State Representative, all you need is a zip code!

http://www.house.gov/writerep/



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SAMPLE LETTER

August 25, 2005

Dear Rep. X,

I am writing to you to express my support for HR 3526, the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians Recognition Bill, which now stands before the House Committee on Resources. If approved, HR 3526 would afford federal tribal recognition to the Choctaw Indians of Mobile and Washington counties in Alabama, who have organized under the acronym MOWA to denote their present geographical location. The MOWA Choctaw are descendants of the native people who occupied the area prior to European conquest and who have continued to live there and practice their way of life despite the 1830 Indian Removal Act. They were recognized as a tribe by the State of Alabama in 1979 and were approved for federal recognition by a US Senate committee in 1991. However, the Bureau of Indian Affairs subsequently denied the tribe’s petition for federal acknowledgement in spite of the ample documentation and extensive expert testimony presented in favor of the tribe’s federal recognition. HR 3526 would correct this grave injustice and grant the MOWA Choctaw the federal recognition they deserve and have struggled for over the course of more than two decades.

Among experts in Anthropology and Native American law, the MOWA case is regarded as a textbook example of the inconsistency and arbitrary application of

the BIA’s recognition process. The process was designed to take two years, but BIA mismanagement has caused the MOWA Choctaw to wait twenty-three years for a ruling. In the end, the BIA denied the tribe’s petition for acknowledgement on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to establish the group’s continuous existence as a distinct self governing community from the nineteenth century on. The BIA argued that the oral histories gathered from tribal elders were not credible evidence of the tribe’s existence. However, the tribe presented ample oral and written documentation (much of it derived from government and military documents) which was backed by expert testimony from renowned anthropologists. To add insult to injury, during the same time period the BIA approved a recognition petition by the Jena Choctaw whose petition was evaluated according to wildly different standards. As MOWA Choctaw Chief Wilford “Longhair” Taylor said in his testimony before the Committee on Resources in March 2004, “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 the BIA were characterized as an impossible and unreasonable expectation for the Jena Choctaw.” This inconsistent application of recognition criteria has resulted in a grave miscarriage of justice. Many experts (as quoted in Chief Taylor’s testimony) have characterized this case as emblematic of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ inefficient, unprofessional, and capricious approach to the recognition process. Well-known Native American legal scholar Vine Deloria Jr. said concerning the case, “The Federal acknowledgement 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…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.” In a similar vein, Dr. Richard W. Stoffle, Ph.D., an anthropologist from the University of Arizona, wrote the following to the tribe in response to the BIA’s denial of their petition for federal recognition, “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.”

As a concerned citizen, I also find the BIA’s treatment of the MOWA Choctaw case difficult to understand. This tribe deserves a fair and just review of their claim to federal recognition. As a (Member of Congress/Chair of the Committee on Resources/Member of the Committee on Resources), I ask you to do your part to support HR 3526. Over the course of their history, the MOWA Choctaw have contributed much to the United States. Now it is up to you to finally grant the MOWA Choctaw their rightful place on the list of federally recognized tribes.

Sincerely Yours,


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THANK YOU SO MUCH EVERYONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!
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"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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