The Choctaw (In the Choctaw language, Chahta) are a Native American people originally occupying what is now the Southeastern United States (modern-day Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana). Their Choctaw language belongs to the Muskogean language family group.
The Choctaw are descendants of the peoples of the Hopewell and Mississippian cultures, who lived throughout the east of the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries. About 1,700 years ago, the Hopewell people built Nanih Waiya, a great earthwork mound located in what is central present-day Mississippi. It is still considered sacred by the Choctaw. The early Spanish explorers of the mid-16th century in the Southeast encountered Mississippian-culture villages and chiefs. The anthropologist John Reed Swanton suggested that the Choctaw derived their name from an early leader. Henry Halbert, a historian, suggests that their name is derived from the Choctaw phrase Hacha hatak (river people).
The Choctaw coalesced as a people in the 17th century, and developed three distinct political and geographical divisions: eastern, western and southern. These different groups sometimes created distinct, independent alliances with nearby European powers. These included the French, based on the Gulf Coast and in Louisiana; the English of the Southeast, and the Spanish of Florida and Louisiana during the colonial era. During the American Revolution, most Choctaw supported the Thirteen Colonies' bid for independence from the British Crown. They never went to war against the United States but they were forcibly relocated during Indian Removal in order for the US to take over their land for development by European Americans.
In the 19th century, the Choctaw were classified by European Americans as one of the "Five Civilized Tribes" because they adopted numerous practices of their United States neighbors. The Choctaw and the United States (US) agreed to nine treaties. By the last three, the US gained vast land cessions; they removed most Choctaw west of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory, sending them on a forced migration far from their homelands. The Choctaw were the first Native American tribe forced to relocate under the Indian Removal Act. The Choctaw were exiled because the U.S. was greedy for their land, wanting to use its resources, and sell it for settlement and agricultural development by European Americans. Some US leaders believed that by reducing conflict between the peoples, they were saving the Choctaw from extinction. The Choctaw negotiated the largest area and most desirable lands in Indian Territory. Their early government had three districts, each with its own chief, who together with the town chiefs sat on their National Council. They appointed a Choctaw Delegate to represent them to the US government in Washington, DC.
By the 1831 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, those Choctaw who chose to stay in the newly formed state of Mississippi were to be considered state and U.S. citizens; they were one of the first major non-European ethnic groups to be granted citizenship. (Article 14 in the 1830 treaty with the Choctaw stated Choctaws may wish to become citizens of the United States under the 14th Article of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek on all of the combined lands which were consolidated under Article I from all previous treaties between the United States and the Choctaw.
During the American Civil War, the Choctaw in both Oklahoma and Mississippi mostly sided with the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy had suggested to their leaders that it would support a state under Indian control if it won the war. After the Civil War, the Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana Choctaw fell into obscurity for some time. The Choctaw in Oklahoma no longer considered them part of the tribe. In 1978, the United Supreme Court of the United States held that all remnants of the Choctaw Nation are entitled to all rights of the federally recognized Nation.
The Choctaw in Oklahoma struggled to build a nation. They transferred the Choctaw Academy there and opened an academy for girls in the 1840s. In the aftermath of the Dawes Act in the late 19th century, the US dissolved tribal governments in order to extinguish Indian land claims and admit the Indian and Oklahoma territories as a state in 1909. From that period, the US appointed chiefs of the Choctaw and other tribes in the former Indian Territory.
During World War I, Choctaw soldiers served in the U.S. military as the first Native American codetalkers, using the Choctaw language. After the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Choctaw reconstituted their government. The Choctaw Nation had kept their culture alive despite years of pressure for assimilation.
The Choctaw are the third-largest federally recognized tribe. Since the mid-twentieth century, the Choctaw have created new institutions, such as a tribal college, housing authority, and justice system. Today the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians are the three federally recognized Choctaw tribes. Mississippi also recognizes another band, and smaller Choctaw groups are located in Louisiana and Texas.
The MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians in Alabama and the Alabama Inter-Tribal Council, which is composed solely of non-federally recognized tribes under Chief Framon Weaver, obtained a US Supreme Court ruling that sovereign immunity applies not only to entities such as the Alabama Inter-Tribal Council as an arm of the tribe, but also that sovereign immunity is inherent and possessed of Indians because they are Indians. This decision of the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 2002....LESS