Many are aware that the word Mississippi is Native American for “Father of Waters.” What many may not be aware of is just how many native peoples made their home here throughout our state’s history—and pre-history. In fact, it’s agreed by many historians that the area that is now known as Mississippi was home to a greater variety of indigenous tribes than any other southeastern state.
Up until and into the 1700s—when recordkeeping began—such tribes included the Acolapissa, Biloxi and Pascagoula tribes on the Gulf Coast; the Bayougoula, Houma, and Natchez tribes on the lower Mississippi; and the Chakchiuma, lbitoupa, Koroa, Ofogoula, Taposa, Tiou, Tunica and Yazoo tribes on the Yazoo River in the Mississippi Delta. The Choctaw inhabited the east central part of the state, while the Chickasaw dwelled in the north and northeast. The Choctaw were the most populous by far—and remain so to this day.
While these Indians (so named by Columbus, who thought he had arrived in India rather than a “New World”) depended upon agriculture for staple foods like corn, beans and squash, they also grew pumpkins, watermelons and tobacco for ceremonial purposes. Some of their food was still secured by hunting and fishing.
After the coming of the white man, the Native American tribes were unfortunately destroyed or forcibly removed from their homelands. The Natchez tribe was nearly exterminated by the French in retaliation for the Natchez rebellion at Fort Rosalie in 1729. The smaller Yazoo tribe was also nearly annihilated by the French and their Indian allies, the Choctaw, for their part in the 1729 rebellion. Other tribes were less negatively affected by the colonial powers.
The Tunica and Ofogoula migrated into northern Louisiana. In 1763, after the French and Indian War saw the French cede the eastern side of Mississippi to the British, the Biloxis, Pascagoulas and many Choctaws went with them. The Chakchiumas, who lived between the Choctaw and the Chickasaw, probably merged with the Chickasaw as the Natchez had done. But for the Choctaw and the Chickasaw the changes in European colonial powers did not particularly affect their attachment to their homelands. It was only after 1776, when the rule of the British was successfully challenged by the thirteen colonies, that yeoman farmers' desire for land led to the eventual displacement of these two important tribes.
In 1801 treaties between the United States and the Chickasaw Nation gave the United States a right of way on the Natchez Trace, an ancient Native American trade route. In 1805 the Choctaws ceded part of the south Mississippi lands that had come to them after the departure of the Natchez and the smaller tribes; in 1820, at the Treaty of Doak's Stand, they ceded the rest of the southern lands.
Finally, the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, signed and negotiated fraudulently without the consent of the whole tribe, removed most of the Mississippi Choctaws to Oklahoma and ceded most of their traditional homeland to white settlement. Two years later, the Chickasaw Nation received the same treatment in the Treaty of Pontotoc. Thus Andrew Jackson's Removal policy sent many Mississippi Native Americans on a tragic "trail of tears."
The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, descendants of the Choctaws who refused to leave their homeland after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, still live near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Choctaw is still the first language they learn in the home, and while maintaining such proud traditions the Mississippi Choctaws stepped into the future with their own tribally-owned industries.
Immerse yourself in the living tradition of the Choctaw culture by attending the annual Choctaw Indian Fair held every summer in July, where the World Champion Stickball Games are held along with music, crafts or visit the Choctaw Heritage Museum on the reservation.
Visit their website for more history, cultural insight and recent events going on in the community.