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The MOWA Choctaw Indians of South Alabama are a segment of the Choctaw Indians who refused to migrate from their homeland during the infamous removal known as the “Trail of Tear”.

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Because of the 1960’s civil rights movement, the MOWA Choctaw Indians can now claim their Indian ancestry with pride. They are trying to regain and keep some of the “old Indian ways”. One of the old customs of the Indians was a celebration known as a Pow-Wow. For the purpose of recalling and welcoming stray inhabitants of the MOWA Choctaw Indians, an annual Pow-Wow is held the third week of June. The MOWA Choctaw Indians who moved away return to the original site to visit family members, friends, and relatives. They celebrate the Indians’ independence with dancing, feasting, contests and games.

Very little is known of the MOWA Choctaw Indians between the 1830’s and 1890’s; few records were kept. There were few non-Indians living in the Indian settlement until the late 19th century. After the enactment of the Trail of Tears, the President issued a degree declaring that the Indians, who in the past owned land, could homestead forty acres on the condition they no longer speak their own language, practice their religion, or call themselves a tribe. Afraid of being forced from their homes, the Indians settled in the most isolated places because many people believed that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian”.

In the early 19th century, the average Indian family was very large. There was little work to be found. It was a struggle to remain alive. The Indians were uneducated, therefore, they had to work with their hands; they logged and cut ties for railroads, but the major occupation for Indians was cutting pulpwood. In the last decades of the 19th century, the isolation of the MOWA Choctaw Indians began to come to an end. There were four main factors that brought about change to the Indian communities.

First, education of native Indians was a gigantic step forward for the MOWA Choctaw Indians. Second, the right to vote played a dramatic role in the Indians’ striving to become a people of their own. Third, after the Civil Rights Act, community leaders began to urge local leading industries to hire Indian employees. Fourth, tribal organization has helped the MOWA Choctaw Indians move forward. After a century and a half of literal isolation, the MOWA Choctaw Indians came forth seeking, and getting, official recognition by the state of Alabama. They adopted the name “MOWA Choctaw Indians” to identify the Indians in Mobile and Washington Counties who are descended from several Indian Tribes: Choctaw, Creek, Cherokee, Mescalero, and Apache.

Today, there are nearly 6,000 members of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians, over 2,500 of whom live in the vicinity of McIntosh, Alabama. All the members are descendants of the original Choctaw Nation who are bound together by a complex network of multigenerational kinship. 

The MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians was duly incorporated in 1979 with its tribal office located in McIntosh and purchased 160 acres of land in south Washington County in 1983. There are five officers and fourteen members of the tribe’s commission who voluntarily assist the operations of tribal affairs.

Even though the MOWA Choctaw Indians had such a long battle to regain their identity, the hard work of the leaders has made the fight a worth while effort, the Indians now have a good self-concept and can be proud of their heritage as Native Americans. 

Credits: Alabama Indian Affairs Commission

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