South Mississippi Strong: Vancleave Live Oak Choctaws

South Mississippi Strong: Vancleave Live Oak Choctaws

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - The Vancleave Live Oak Choctaw have a rich history in South Mississippi.

"Around 1200, the Choctaws started filtering into South Mississippi," said Choctaw member Rolling Thunder. "More and more of them, you know, kind of expanding out from where they were. It was from the Pascagoula River, the Pearl River and the Mississippi River. They all just kind of brung them south."

But after 800 years, the Vancleave Live Oak Choctaws are not an officially recognized group by the government.

For Rolling Thunder, born Marion Waltman, his tribe's history is an important thing to preserve, largely because there was a time when his family couldn't divulge their heritage for fear of persecution.

"When I was a child growing up, you didn't talk about your Indian heritage," Rolling Thunder said. "You know, your skin was dark. You didn't understand the reason your skin was dark because that was just part, everybody in the family was just like that....It's just one of those things you just didn't talk about."

It was so bad that the government built a separate school just for the small tribe. "When you're trying to go to school, and your skin is a little tan, you can't go to school with the whites," he said. "It's not quite tan enough to go to school with the blacks, so they kind of singled you out and put you back."

Rolling Thunder's family mostly kept to themselves. "The culture was still there," said Rolling Thunder. "The culture was still there, in their own ways it was still there. My grandmother, she didn't need electricity. Actually, she didn't have it until later years...I'd say late 60s early 70s before they ever got one single light bulb in the house. She believed in living off the land. That's the way they were. They raised their own meat, their eggs, and milk. They had all that, their vegetables, they had everything they need."

Today, while the tribe is now widely accepted in South Mississippi, Rolling Thunder still does what he can to stick to his roots.

"We've got a little garden here," Rolling Thunder said. "You'd be surprised what we get out of this. We've got two small rows of corn, but we get at least 100 ears out of those two rows."

He makes it his responsibility to educate anyone who wants to learn about the culture.

One way he does that is with ceremonial fires. "My fires, it's for the American Indians, it's for all religions," he said. "It's for all colors, white, black, red, don't matter what you are my fire represents the people."

He believes learning is all about experiencing the culture for yourself. "I can stand in front of you and preach until you're blue in the face, I can't quite make that vision to you, it's not going to happen," he said. "But if I hand you a photograph of this, you can understand me perfectly what I'm talking about."

That is the most important thing for Rolling Thunder and the 3,500 Vancleave Live Oak Choctaws who call South Mississippi Home.

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