Known History of The Jena Band of Choctaw Indians
The Choctaw Indians are a Tribe of Native Americans with a rich history and culture. The earliest recorded mention of the Choctaws is believed to date back to 1540, when they were living in the southern Mississippi area. By the early 1700s, they had also settled in present-day Mobile, Alabama, Biloxi, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Inland from these settlements, there was a large group of Muskogean-speaking people occupying around 60 towns on the streams that formed the headwaters of the Pascagoula and Pearl Rivers. However, after the relinquishment of the Louisiana Colony by France, many members of the Tribe began to move across the Mississippi River.
Francois Bernard - Choctaw Village
Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek
The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, signed on September 27, 1830, was the first treaty signed between the United States government and the Choctaw Indian Tribe. It was signed in present-day Mississippi, near the site of the Dancing Rabbit Creek. The treaty resulted in the Choctaw's 11 million acres of land being stipped away by the US government in exchange for $300,000 and the "promise of a permanent homeland" in the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). While the treaty did technically provide the means for the Choctaws' right to self-government and for the education and economic development of Tribes, it forcibly removed southeastern Indian Tribes to lands west of the Mississippi River.
The Choctaw Tribe, being one of the first to be removed, was seen as a "test case" for the US government, to see how the removal of the other Tribes would be carried out. The forced migration of an estimated 10,000 Choctaws were removed from their ancestral lands and forced to march to Indian Territory. This journey came to be known as the "Trail of Tears".
The forced migration of the Choctaws was devastating to the Tribe, as they lost many members during the journey due to disease, starvation, and exposure. Many of the Choctaws were not prepared for the journey and had to leave behind their homes, possessions, and graves of their ancestors. The Trail of Tears had a lasting impact on the Choctaw Tribe, as they had to start over in a new land and rebuild their communities and way of life.
Map of Harrisonburg, LA - USGS
This led to further migration away from their original territory. Some settled in a large village near present-day Enterprise, Louisiana, while others moved to the pine-covered hills of what was then Catahoula Parish, Louisiana. Eventually, the Choctaws located between present-day Monroe and Natchitoches, Louisiana, also joined the group in Catahoula Parish. Principal settlements were established on Trout Creek in LaSalle Parish and Bear Creek in Grant Parish.
However, by 1910, the population of Choctaws in LaSalle and Catahoula Parishes had dwindled to only 40 individuals. The Indian community had very little interaction with outsiders and continued to practice their traditional customs and ways. They paid for goods at local stores by skinning and tanning hides, and by working as day laborers and household help. The Choctaw community maintained a distinct social institution, with activities such as marriages, burials, and the maintenance of a Tribal cemetery.
In 1932, a small school building called The Penick Indian School was constructed and opened in Eden, Louisiana, with 20 students attending. However, when funding for the school ran out, it was closed. The following year, funding was provided by the Department of Indian Affairs, and the school was reopened. During this time, the Office of Indian Affairs proposed moving the Choctaws who were willing to federal trust land in Mississippi. However, the beginning of World War II interrupted these plans and led to the final closure of the Penick Indian School.
After the end of World War II, Indian children were allowed to attend public schools. In 1968, the last traditional Chief of the Choctaws died, and in 1974, the first Tribal election of a Chief was held. In 1995, the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians was officially recognized by the federal government through the federal acknowledgment process. Today, the Tribe has a membership of 400+ individuals and works to improve the well-being of its members and future generations as a sovereign government.
From 1995 and into the future
Since gaining federal recognition in 1995, The Jena Band of Choctaw Indians has worked to improve the lives of its members and preserve its culture. In the years following recognition, our Tribe established a number of programs and services to support its members. These include cultural & education programs, housing assistance, and economic development initiatives.
In recent years, the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians has been active in promoting our culture and heritage by hosting an annual Pow Wow that features traditional music, dance, and food. We are also introducing a Cultural Center library and digital museum where members can learn about our history and culture.
In addition to preserving our culture and heritage, the Tribe has been active in implementing ways to preserve our lands and environment. We have implemented many initiatives to protect the natural resources of our land and the surrounding region, as well as promoting sustainable energy and sustainable practices, and conserving wildlife and biodiversity.
The Tribe continues to work towards the betterment of our members and the preservation of our culture and heritage. Since 1974, we have made significant progress in improving the lives of our members and reclaiming our ancestral lands, while preserving our culture and heritage and promoting sustainable practices.