Choctaw Nation: History & Culture

Choctaw Nation

The Choctaw were the original inhabitants of much of what is now the Southwestern United States. The area including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida was almost entirely inhabited by Choctaw. Today they are over 160,000 strong and live primarily in Oklahoma, California, Texas, Louisiana and Alabama.

The Choctaw in Mississippi live on a reservation and operate their own government. There, they elect leaders in a way that is similar to the United States, choosing new chiefs and council members by popular vote.

In the 1600s, the Choctaw first came together as one people, though they divided themselves into three distinct regions – western, eastern and southern. These three divisions created their own alliances with various European powers.

Despite their European ties, the majority of the Choctaw supported the thirteen colonies as they sought to break free from British rule.

Choctaw Indians and the American Colonists

They developed a close relationship with the American colonies over the following decades, agreeing to a number of treaties with them.

Unfortunately, some of these treaties gave over control of Choctaw lands to the U.S. Government, and the Choctaw were slowly being expelled from their own lands just to appease their neighbors.

Because they would seem to offer the least resistance, the Choctaws were the first native people that the U.S. government forced to make the long trek to Oklahoma and the Indian Territory. A number of Choctaw stayed behind in Mississippi to become some of the very first Native Americans turned U.S. citizens.

American Civil War & the Choctaw Pledge Support of the Confederate Cause

During the American Civil War, the Confederate States of America made promises to the Choctaw and other native peoples that they would create a state under Native American control if they won the war. That made it easy for the Choctaw to pledge their support to the Confederates.

Photograph of a Choctaw Indian war bonnet
Photograph of a Choctaw Indian war bonnet

After the Civil War, the Choctaw worked hard to build a nation in the state of Oklahoma. They created a Choctaw Academy and sought to educate their people and create greater prosperity.

Over the following decades, the Choctaws, with the help of the U.S. Government and several missionary groups, began to develop a series of schools. These served not only as educational centers, but also as homes for orphaned children.

Despite their mistreatment by the government years earlier, the Choctaw had developed close ties with them by the time World War I broke out.

They sent their men to war with U.S. soldiers and became some of the very first code talkers. They used their own language to communicate across enemy borders working, alongside other native American soldiers in this crucial role.

Symbols That Feature Prominently in Choctaw Lore

Throughout the centuries, this tribe has developed a wide array of symbols and motifs that are meaningful to them.

One of the most important symbols to the Choctaw is the feather, which is used to represent honor and respect. The feather symbolizes the connection between the Choctaw people and the land and sky, as well as their relationship with the Great Spirit. It is also a reminder of their bravery and courage in the face of adversity.

The sun is another important symbol to the Choctaw. It is believed to be a source of strength and guidance, and is seen as a symbol of renewal, hope, and good health. The sun is also associated with the afterlife and with the idea of immortality.

The bear is a powerful symbol for the Choctaw people, representing courage and strength. It is also seen as a protector and a symbol of leadership. The bear also has connections to the spiritual world, as it is believed to be able to connect with the gods.

The symbol of the hawk is also important to the Choctaw. It symbolizes the spirit of freedom and independence. The hawk is also seen as a messenger from the gods, delivering messages and warnings.

Finally, the symbol of the tree is a powerful one for the Choctaw. It is seen as a symbol of life and death, as well as a source of wisdom and guidance. The tree is also seen as a symbol of protection and strength.

These are just a few of the symbols that are meaningful to the Choctaw people. Each of these symbols has its own unique meaning and importance, and together they create an important part of the Choctaw culture and identity.

American Indians & the Civil Rights Movement

During the Civil Rights movement, the Choctaw experienced some positive changes to their way of life. Before, they had suffered worse than the blacks, treated like a third, inferior race and not part of the black/white conversation.

But the changes brought about by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applied to them as well and allowed them to more easily integrate into the society around them.

Traditional Choctaw Indian spice known as file is often found in Louisiana-Creole dishes that we call gumbo
Traditional Choctaw Indian spice known as file is often found in Louisiana-Creole dishes that we call gumbo

While they have taken on many of the customs, traditions and ways of life of the people around them, the Choctaw still hold onto their history.

Every year they celebrate the Choctaw Nation Labor Day Festival, which has grown to be one of the most beautiful events in all of Oklahoma. The festival attracts thousands of visitors each year as the nation enjoys traditional games and food.

Over the past few decades, the Choctaw have brought back their ancient traditions to the forefront of their culture and daily lives, ensuring that these customs are not lost to time. Yet they have also managed to prosper under the provisions of the U.S. government, developing some of the largest and most successful gaming ventures on the continent.

The Choctaw continue to make progress in regaining what was once theirs, with the recent acquisition of the Nanih Waiya earthwork mound in Mississippi marking another step to reclaiming their heritage.