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May 15, 2014

Meet Native America: Framon Weaver, Chief, MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Framon Weaver, chief of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians. In our Choctaw language we call our leaders miko. In contemporary times we have begun using the term "chief" as our official designation for those who are democratically elected.

Where is the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians located? Where was your band originally from?

Our tribe resides upon lands in what is today southwestern Alabama, lands that have always been occupied by our Choctaw people since the beginning. Nanih Chaha (High Hill) in the northwest corner of our territory is further proof of our continual land occupation here in this area.

Chief Weaver a
Framon Weaver, chief of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians. Photo courtesy of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians.

How is your tribal government set up?

Our Tribal Council is comprised of eleven members and a chief. This is similar to many tribal governments that were set up in the era of the Indian Reorganization Act. This form of governance was created to interact more easily with federal and state agencies who require such models and who are not knowledgeable of our traditional ways of governing ourselves. Our tribe also has state-sanctioned tribal police and a tribal court system that engages issues arising on reservation lands. 

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

Traditional leadership has always been held within our ten inhabited communities and reservation lands, which all are within a 20-mile radius of one another. This form of leadership takes place in our iksa—a term that traditionally defined our clan system, but is now used today to define our churches. From our churches there has always been an abundance of leadership, which has kept our communities intact. Though informal in their roles, in contrast to elected tribal positions, these are the long-standing and long-acknowledged places and people that have contributed to our communities' survival.

What is a significant point in history from your nation that you would like to share?

After the removal of the majority of Choctaws to what was then Indian Territory in 1830, our people were able to maintain our presence in the area along with other Choctaws in Mississippi and Louisiana.  Those who remained are known by various names: In Louisiana they include the Bayou Lacombe Choctaw, Choctaw–Apache Tribe of Ebarb, Clifton Choctaw, and Jena Band of Choctaw Indians. In Mississippi they include the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (who also have a community in western Tennessee near the town of Ripley) and the Live Oak Choctaw. In Alabama there is only our tribe, whose holdings are composed of 600 acres of state reservation trust land, with our main tribal complex situated on 300 of these acres near the town of Mt. Vernon, Alabama.

The MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians is the second-longest-petitioning, historic “non-federally recognized” tribe in the nation—since 1907. Only the Lumbee have petitioned longer for federal recognition.

We were the first tribe to be recognized by the State of Alabama, and we are the only tribe in the state to have maintained our tribal language into the later part of the 1900s.

We have attended federal and mission Indian boarding schools generationally and have a large number of federal tribes married into our community, as well as numerous other clearly identifiable characteristics of Indian communities.

We are also one of only nine historic non-federal tribes in the nation to reside on a state-recognized Indian reservation (most of which happen to be the oldest reservations in the nation).

Despite this—and due to a large amount of money spent against us by neighboring federal tribes with gaming interests in our region, with support from their Congressional members, incursions against our tribe by convicted felon Jack Abramoff who lobbied against us, and more—we are still not recognized by the federal government.

National Indian organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians; other federal tribes; anthropologists, ethnologists, linguists, Indian academics, and tribal leaders— the list goes on—have all drafted letters in support of our federal recognition. Our tribe has had 12 congressional bills, a federal lawsuit, and three appeals through the Office of Federal Acknowledgement. All pertinent information, however—including our language tapes and Indian boarding school records—were said to have been “received out of time and therefore not able to be considered.” We are the poster children for how poorly the federal recognition system works and how corrupt and politically influenced the process has become.

Even so, we know that we are federally recognized and that our recognition was verified when we were sent out to federal Indian schools and when the Weaver School was built in 1835, five years after the removal, by the federal government for Indians. The same school, now called Calcedeaver, is still within our community, and in 2005 it won the prestigious Blue Ribbon Award for excellence under the leadership of tribal member LaGaylis Harbuck Weaver. What further proof of a federal relationship would one need than being identified by and accepted to schools administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and their closely related mission schools?

Chief Weaver bChief Weaver in a ribbon shirt. The handwritten yellow sign in the background above the staircase reads, "Pathway to Federal Recognition." Photo courtesy of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your band? 

MOWA Chata hapia hoke. We are proud to be MOWA Choctaw. We are the recipients of a proud legacy. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Justice is a word that is routinely thrown around today. Some may even view it as cliché. But to our people it is a needed and warranted term.

Our people do not petition the federal government for our identity as Indian people. We have always been and will always be Indian people. We are petitioning the federal government over many decades for equity, not identity. We have endured the same boarding schools as many who have been recognized. We have lived the reservation experience, as well as the experience we call Jim Crowfeather here in the South. 

It is our identity that has always set us apart from others. It is our identity that made us leave our homes and go hundreds of miles to Indian high schools and colleges to receive an education when accredited education was unavailable to us in our local Indian schools, which only went to grade eight, and we were not allowed to attend our area black and white school systems.

We are deserving of equity, fairness. We have lived the reality of history. As the late Indian icon and author Vine Deloria, Jr., stated in relation to our recognition efforts, “Give the MOWA Choctaws a hand, and let’s get this recognition problem solved once and for all.”

Chiyakokeli—I thank you.

Thank you. 

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. 

From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission.


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