JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Some Native Americans said after enduring many years of hardship and discrimination, it feels good knowing Mississippi is now acknowledging their heritage. On Thursday, a Jackson County Chancery judge officially made the Vancleave Live Oak Choctaws a state and locally recognized tribe.
Tribe members said this is a huge victory and a great help for the federal recognition they are working toward. They were so thankful, they presented Judge D. Neil Harris, who made the ruling, with a gift of cucumbers, which they said is a Native American celebration tradition. The judge said he couldn't accept the gift and suggested they be passed out among those in the courtroom.
Because of past treatment, the ruling was especially touching for some tribe members old enough to remember the days before integration. Patty Bang-Williams went to grade school in Vancleave during a time when the United States was still a segregated country. She said she and other Native American children had few opportunities for education or work.
"In Vancleave, we had three schools. We had one for the whites, one for the blacks, and one for the Creole Indians," said Bang-Williams. "The blacks had 12th grade. The whites had 12th grade and we only had 8th grade."
The newly formed Live Oak Choctaw tribe said they've worked for years to become a Mississippi recognized tribe. There were two groups of descendants who mended their differences to become one tribe. They also drew up bylaws.
Their hope is to win the same distinction from the federal government.
"We do have the local government saying we are Indian, so that's going to have a lot more pull than if we just went up on our own by ourselves the BIA, the Bureau of Indian Affairs. That process would be even harder to prove."
"This is good for our people because our people need healthcare," Ladnier said. "They need education. They need housing. They need the repairs on housing, and a lot of this can come if we get the federal recognition, too. "
The Live Oak Choctaws said they want federal recognition for better opportunities for their children and because they want to honor past generations who endured so many hardships.
"As far as the white people, we couldn't attend their schools," said Bang-Williams. "We couldn't go to their churches. We couldn't go to their restaurants. If we did, we were sent to the back door or refused to be served. We went through all that. Our people did. I guess we just accepted that way of life for us, but it's changed now. This is our time and this our day. God has blessed us."
The Live Oak Choctaw Tribe said so far they have about 2,000 proven descendants who are considered members and they want to include everyone who is eligible.