Choctaw Religion

Doctrines The Choctaws are part of a group of tribes collectively known as Muskogeans. They share many of the beliefs of the tribes of the south-eastern regions of North America. Like other tribal groups within the area the Choctaws had a myth of emergence. They believed that they, along with other tribes, emerged from the earth through a mound called Nanih Waiya (Productive Mountain) in Mississippi. The Creeks were the first to emerge, followed by the Cherokees, the Chickasaws, and the Choctaws.
One of the distinctive practices of the Choctaw was head flattening. Male infants would have a board attached to their heads in order to flatten them. The most important religious ceremony was the Green Corn festival, which was both a ceremony of thanksgiving and a means for self-purification. The ceremony occurred during the summer when the kernels of the corn crop filled out and could be roasted and eaten. At the beginning people would have a feast of the previous year's food. The men would then clean public areas and women their households. This was followed by a two day fast in which crimes and social conflicts were discussed with the purpose of allowing them to be forgiven. Finally, the ceremony was concluded with a fire ritual. All fires would be extinguished and the people would fall into total silence. A priest would light a new symbolising the beginning of a new year. Everyone dressed in their finest clothes for feasting and dancing.

History When Europeans began settling America in the 16th century the Choctaw were living in the south-east of North, largely in the area that was to become Mississippi. The Choctaw lived off both agriculture and hunter gathering. Their principal source of food was corn, beans and pumpkins, nuts, fruit, fish, bear and deer. In the wars between the French and the British during the 18th century the Choctaw allied themselves with the French. Consequently, following the defeat of the French in the French and Indian war (1754-63), some of the Choctaw land was taken from them by the British, forcing some to move westwards in search of new land.
The growing desire for new land on the part of the Europeans led to the further acquisition of land in the south-east. In 1820 5,000,000 acres of land in central Mississippi was ceded to the United States. When Andrew Jackson took office as President in 1829 one of his first decrees was that the Indians should be moved westwards across the Mississippi. On May 28, 1830 President Jackson's proposal became law in the form of the Removal Bill. This is known to the Choctaw as the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek after the place in which the treaty was signed.
The removal of the native peoples from the south-east westwards to Indian territory (the present state of Oklahoma) was a particularly brutal affair. Thousands of indians were forced to march in the dead of winter, some in chains, causing thousands to die of exposure and exhaustion. The first to emigrate were the Choctaw, in November 1831. Of an estimated 20,000 who began the march only 7000 survived. These were later followed by other tribes such as the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole.
In Indian territory the Choctaw fared relatively well. Many came to adopt European lifestyles and embrace Christianity. The situation was to change during the civil war. The Choctaw and other tribes in Indian territory allied with the confederacy and contributed troops to the confederate army. The defeat of the confederacy left the indian allies at the mercy of the victorious unionists who allowed whites to settle on their land. By 1890 seventy per cent of the population of Indian territory were non-Indian. Pressure from settlers forced the government to hand over fifteen million acres of Indian land to the settlers. The full integration of Indian territory into the United States was confirmed when it was renamed Oklahoma territory in 1900 and became a full state, called Oklahoma, in 1907. The Choctaw themselves became citizens of the state of Oklahoma.
They acquired some independence in 1945 through the Indian Reorganization Act which allowed for the establishment of a 16 member tribal council to govern the affairs of the community. In 1983 the American government permitted the Choctaws to have their own constitution. The Choctaw continue to thrive and appear to have a bright future.

Symbols The seal of the Choctaw nation of Oklahoma consists of a circle within which is a set of bow and arrows. The seal of the Choctaw of Mississipi consists of a circle within which is a drum.

Adherents According to the 1990 census for American Indian tribes there were 82,299 Choctaw (Snipp 1991, 326).

Main Centre
 Choctaw nation of Oklahoma, P.O. Drawer 1210, Drant OK 74702, USA.