In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
Framon Weaver, chief of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians. In our Choctaw language we call our leaders miko. In contemporary times we have begun using the term “chief” as our official designation for those who are democratically elected.
Where is the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians located? Where was your band originally from?
Our tribe resides upon lands in what is today southwestern Alabama, lands that have always been occupied by our Choctaw people since the beginning. Nanih Chaha (High Hill) in the northwest corner of our territory is further proof of our continual land occupation here in this area.
How is your tribal government set up?
Our Tribal Council is comprised of 11 members and a chief. This is similar to many tribal governments that were set up in the era of the Indian Reorganization Act. This form of governance was created to interact more easily with federal and state agencies who require such models and who are not knowledgeable of our traditional ways of governing ourselves. Our tribe also has state-sanctioned tribal police and a tribal court system that engages issues arising on reservation lands.
Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?
Traditional leadership has always been held within our 10 inhabited communities and reservation lands, which all are within a 20-mile radius of one another. This form of leadership takes place in our iksa—a term that traditionally defined our clan system, but is now used today to define our churches. From our churches there has always been an abundance of leadership, which has kept our communities intact. Though informal in their roles, in contrast to elected tribal positions, these are the long-standing and long-acknowledged places and people that have contributed to our communities’ survival.
What is a significant point in history from your nation that you would like to share?
After the removal of the majority of Choctaws to what was then Indian Territory in 1830, our people were able to maintain our presence in the area along with other Choctaws in Mississippi and Louisiana. Those who remained are known by various names: In Louisiana they include the Bayou Lacombe Choctaw, Choctaw–Apache Tribe of Ebarb, Clifton Choctaw, and Jena Band of Choctaw Indians. In Mississippi they include the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (who also have a community in western Tennessee near the town of Ripley) and the Live Oak Choctaw. In Alabama there is only our tribe, whose holdings are composed of 600 acres of state reservation trust land, with our main tribal complex situated on 300 of these acres near the town of Mt. Vernon, Alabama.
The MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians is the second-longest-petitioning, historic “non-federally recognized” tribe in the nation—since 1907. Only the Lumbee have petitioned longer for federal recognition.
We were the first tribe to be recognized by the State of Alabama, and we are the only tribe in the state to have maintained our tribal language into the later part of the 1900s.
We have attended federal and mission Indian boarding schools generationally and have a large number of federal tribes married into our community, as well as numerous other clearly identifiable characteristics of Indian communities.
We are also one of only nine historic non-federal tribes in the nation to reside on a state-recognized Indian reservation (most of which happen to be the oldest reservations in the nation).
Despite this—and due to a large amount of money spent against us by neighboring federal tribes with gaming interests in our region, with support from their Congressional members, incursions against our tribe by convicted felon Jack Abramoff who lobbied against us, and more—we are still not recognized by the federal government.
National Indian organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians; other federal tribes; anthropologists, ethnologists, linguists, Indian academics, and tribal leaders— the list goes on—have all drafted letters in support of our federal recognition. Our tribe has had 12 congressional bills, a federal lawsuit, and three appeals through the Office of Federal Acknowledgement. All pertinent information, however—including our language tapes and Indian boarding school records—were said to have been “received out of time and therefore not able to be considered.” We are the poster children for how poorly the federal recognition system works and how corrupt and politically influenced the process has become.
Even so, we know that we are federally recognized and that our recognition was verified when we were sent out to federal Indian schools and when the Weaver School was built in 1835, five years after the removal, by the federal government for Indians. The same school, now called Calcedeaver, is still within our community, and in 2005 it won the prestigious Blue Ribbon Award for excellence under the leadership of tribal member LaGaylis Harbuck Weaver. What further proof of a federal relationship would one need than being identified by and accepted to schools administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and their closely related mission schools?
To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.