Help the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians seek tribal recognition

Published: September 20, 2022 |
Author: Kenzie Lundberg |
Category: Academics

Dr. Mark E. Miller, professor of history at Southern Utah University, recently wrote a brief in favor of federal tribal recognition of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians. After being denied federal recognition in the 1990s, the band is now looking to its representatives in Congress to gain tribal status through an act of Congress.

“It’s not well known, but there are more than a hundred groups that identify as Native communities in the United States that the federal government has never officially recognized as tribes,” said the Dr Miller. “Currently, the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians are recognized by the State of Alabama. They have a small reservation, a tribal center, a few housing estates built with federal grants, and a sports complex. status is far less than the benefits of federal status.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), an agency of the Department of the Interior, established the process for bands to obtain tribal status. The process requires groups to prove they have specific tribal ancestry and that outsiders have identified them as a tribal group, live in a tight-knit community and have had tribal political leaders since 1900.

“Groups with mixed racial heritage, particularly in the Deep South where the MOWA Band of Choctaw lives, have struggled to use historical records to prove the criteria needed to gain federal tribal recognition,” Dr. Miller said. . “Unless they were occupying reservation land, due to historical racism, Euro-American officials tended to register federally unrecognized Indian bands as ‘people of color’ or ‘blacks’ rather than as Native American Indians. This served to deny them tribal land rights and other rights as indigenous peoples.

Dr. Miller was asked by John Tahsuda, former Principal Assistant Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the BIA, to write a brief in favor of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians in Alabama to help them gain federal tribal recognition. It is essential that the groups provide academic support and historical data to prove that they are indigenous tribes, which is why Dr Miller provided his expertise. He shared a brief history in support of the aspirations of the MOWA Band using his research to provide evidence that the MOWA Band is a surviving Indigenous community worthy of federal tribal status.

Dr. Miller is uniquely qualified to represent the MOWA Band. His decades of experience and knowledge served as the basis for his first book on the federal tribal recognition process, Forgotten Tribes. His second book, Claiming Tribal Identity, focuses on the conflict between the five “civilized” tribes (now known as the Five Tribes), most notably the Cherokee Nation, and dozens of unrecognized bands who claim descent from the Five Tribes. . An entire chapter describes the problems faced by the MOWA band of Choctaw Indians using Euro-American historical documents to prove their “race” as Choctaw enclave.

“Because I have researched and written about tribal recognition for more than two decades, I have read thousands of pages of transcripts of congressional hearings covering tribal recognition bills by dozens of tribes full of hope,” Dr. Miller said. “However, I have never been asked to testify for an unrecognized tribe. That is why this volunteer work has been so rewarding for me. I have been able to use my academic knowledge in service to a struggling community that has desperately need the help of the federal government and recognition that this is a legitimate aboriginal enclave.

Bill S.3443 to extend federal recognition to the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-AL), a longtime supporter of the MOWA Band, in January 2022. The bill is currently in committee and will likely be approved by the Senate later this year.

Key words:
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Contact information:

David Bishop
[email protected]