Cajuns? No, Choctaws.

Long time ago wasn’t no folks on them sand flats.… Them Cajans sprung up right out’n the ground. Some say they come from animals—coons and foxes and suchlike—but that ain’t right. Just sprung up out’n the ground.
— Carl Carmer, Stars Fell on Alabama (1934)

Detail from an 1850 painting by Phillip Romer of a Choctaw woman in Mobile, Alabama.

I just discovered that Jackie Matte’s article on the Choctaw Indians of southwest Alabama has been published online, with her permission, by the Access Genealogy website.

The article is “Extinction by Reclassification: The MOWA Choctaws of South Alabama and Their Struggle for Federal Recognition.” The site presents the article attractively and in a paginated style reminiscent of the original printed article.* All of the footnotes are reproduced faithfully.

Matte was president of the Alabama Historical Association in 2006. At the annual meeting in Fairhope she gave a memorable address on the subject of the MOWA Choctaws and their fruitless quest for federal recognition as an authentic Indian tribe. (In 1979 the Alabama Choctaws coined the name “MOWA” from the names of the two counties they inhabit, Mobile and Washington.)

Because their identity as Indians was politically and commercially inconvenient, they were long ago labeled “Cajans” (sic). According to Matte, even John R. Swanton’s canonical 1948 report The Indians of the Southeastern United States refers to them only as “Cajun Indians.” The Bureau of Indian Affairs has rigorous documentary standards for proving the cultural continuity of a tribe — standards that the Alabama Choctaws cannot satisfy with their mostly oral traditions.

Ms. Matte began inquiring about the “Cajans” while working on a history of Washington County. She went on to spend hundreds of hours building trust with reclusive Choctaw elders and interviewing them. In time she published her findings in a book, They Say the Wind Is Red: The Alabama Choctaw, Lost in Their Own Land.

She has continued to do research in support of the tribe’s case for federal status, and it was her 2006 address that first made me aware of the issue.

While I can see the point of the BIA’s protections against too-lenient grants of tribal status, no such standards are going to provide adequate protection against Abramoff-style fraud, which uses political connections and bribes in lieu of factual evidence. A corrupt tribal chairman in Massachusetts, or a squad of sleazy political operators who squeeze money from Indian tribal governments, should not determine how all Indian petitioners are treated.

Instead of merely imposing an onerous burden of proof on MOWA applicants and waiting for them to give up, the Bureau should compare evidence for the applicants’ Indian heritage with counter-evidence favoring other explanations of the historical facts. In this case it is difficult to come up with a more plausible explanation of known facts about the “Cajan” community than by allowing their Choctaw origins. It’s not right to conclude that they might be Choctaw, but then again they might be Cajun, or they might have “sprung up right out’n the ground.”


* Jacqueline Anderson Matte, “Extinction by Reclassification: The MOWA Choctaws of South Alabama and Their Struggle for Federal Recognition,” Alabama Review 59 (July 2006): 163-204. 

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8 thoughts on “Cajuns? No, Choctaws.

  1. I didn’t get into it here, but most of the Muskogean peoples (Creeks, Choctaws, etc.) tell origin stories in which their ancestors emerged from under the ground. The Mississippi Choctaws point to a specific earth mound, Nanih Waiya, in Winston County, Mississippi, as their place of origin. The story of the “Cajans” coming out of the ground is most likely a garbled version of their own origin story.

  2. While we do have something of an oral history – the fact is we have graveyards with our kin buried there who pre-date the removal period. We have Indians schools aka “The Weaver School aka Calcdeaver” and we have Church records, land records and even the Monty Moorer Estate bears witness and legality in European terms.

    Our history in this region is not a wish or fancy, it is a recorded fact. Our families have been here since before here was well-recorded and in our same graves still lie sandstone used for headstones before 1800 or so. Before that family graves near where our forefathers lived are buried.

    Even now the new Steel Mill is digging up graves… and re-burying them elsewhere.

    We are here today, were here yesterday, and have been here for at least the recorded period of history.

    The Catholic Church, the Friends of the Choctaw Indians have sent their missionaries here for generations, and so have the Baptists.

    People say we are not from Indian Descent – Hah! Well its taken us a while to get educated in a white man’s world, in the Jim Crow South and now we are getting educated to fight for our rights…

    We are what we are with or without anyone’s permission. We didn’t give them permission or our consent then and we don’t need theirs now.

    The proof that’s been asked for has always been here and still is.

    Now we can tie our our children to our fathers and mothers graves… step by step. Those same people had property records that date back, some were married and divorced, or otherwise engaged legally over the last 200 years or so… We have history.

    We have a legacy. Wood and mud fades away… we are are finding our way now…

    Darby Weaver

    1. My name is Terrilyn Woodfin and I am doing a research paper for school and I chose this topic mainly because the Alabama Choctaws are a part of my ancestry pool.

  3. Terrilyn,

    Gotta love research projects.

    Since the time I wrote my previous comments, I’ve done a considerable amount of research into primary sources.

    The fact is that the MOWA Choctaw can claim to be descendents of those Choctaw Indians who signed the Treaty of 1830.

    So far:

    Tom Gibson (Eli-Tubbee)
    Charles Frazier
    Charles Juzan
    Robert Cole
    Greenwood Leflore

    To name a few…

    The Reeds are also of Indian descent by way of Hardy Read (Reid/Reed) and his Creek wife, the mother of Dan Reed who married Rosé Reed (Choctaw) and his brother George who married a Juzan (Choctaw).

    The Weavers and Byrds originate from North Carolina and/or Georgia – don’t look for the contemporary state lines but instead the state lines as designed by the King of England ie. “East of the Mississippi”.

    Nancy Fisher was 1/2 Creek or Choctaw – her family departed West during the removal.

    Cecile Weathers (Weatherford) is Weathers because the William Weatherford of today’s history was named William Weathers in the 1810 census – look it up. Connect the dots and you will find that Cecile was baptized as Weathers after her father.

    Nancy would have been from the Fish Clan of Creeks.

    The list goes on.

    The so-called Fort Mims massacre was more like the white boys down the road painted to look like Indians and went out from the local lodge to kill and sco the local half-breed Indians and steal their slaves.

    William Weathers and Tate were 1/2 brothers.

    History is written by the survivors.

  4. The Alabama Choctaw are give fair trials and swift hangings…

    Why?

    1. County Probate Records of Property and Land – you see those Choctaw Indians who sprung up out of the ground owned counties like Mobile and Washington and there are a lot of people who seek to discredit the tribe to perpetuate the land fraud.

    2. The Local County and Federal Judges ignore:

    – Federal Treaties with the Choctaw of Alabama

    – The Sovereignty of the Alabama Choctaw over Framon Weaver which is held by the United States Supreme Court in Taylor v. Alabama Intertribal Council 535 US 1066 (2002).

    – The MOWA Choctaw / Alabama Intertribal Councik of only State Recognized Tribes / Framon Weaver precedent for JURISDICTION in cases for Federally Recognized tribes won each case each time.

    – But the same Chief and same Tribe – the Federal Attorney in the Southern District said Framon Weaver’s own Sovereignty Precedent didn’t apply to him because his tribe is not recognized by the BIA.

    Read that again.

    And again

    It’s a sad day it Alabama

    The MOWA Choctaw Tribal Judge objected to the use of the Sovereignty of the MOWA Choctaw…

    Isn’t that malpractice?

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