Mississippi, once home to a greater variety of indigenous tribes than any other southeastern state, is celebrating its Native American heritage during the month of July.
Though many people are familiar with places throughout the state that hold Native American names — including Yalobusha, Itawamba and Mississippi itself — few realize just how many native peoples made their home in Mississippi. Up into the 1700s, local 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 original Mississippians were most likely the Choctaw, who date back to the early 1500s. The Choctaw were the most populous by far and remain so to this day.
Visitors to the region can immerse themselves in Choctaw culture by stopping by the Choctaw Heritage Museum or attending the annual Choctaw Indian Fair, held every summer in July. This regionally renowned event is host to the World Champion Stickball Games and includes a celebration of tribal music, crafts and traditions.
If you want to come face-to-face with the most impressive landmarks of the ancient past, plan a visit to Mississippi’s mound sites, showcasing well-preserved, Native American mounds built of earth. These mounds were the centers of daily and spiritual life, and you can find sites remaining across the state. Among the most visited are the Winterville Mound site, located in Greenville, and the Pocahontas Mound A, located north of Jackson. See a full listing of mound sites here.
Recently, The Mississippi Department of Archives and History celebrated the grand opening of the Mississippi Mound Trail. Stretching from Desoto County to Wilkinson County and following the Highway 61 corridor, the trail will highlight earthworks built at thirty-three sites. Four sites—Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, Pocahontas Rest Area and Welcome Center, Winterville Mounds, and Emerald Mound on the Natchez Trace Parkway— are state or federally operated and open to the public. Visitors are welcome to walk among the mounds and learn more through interpretive signs and exhibits. All are free.
For more information on Mississippi heritage and history, go to www.visitmississippi.org.