Celebrating Mississippi Native American heritage

Published 2:30 pm Saturday, April 23, 2022

Mississippi, once home to a greater variety of Indigenous tribes than any other southeastern state, is celebrating its Native American heritage July 13-16, for the 72nd annual Choctaw Indian Fair. The fair takes place on their centuries-old homeland in beautiful Choctaw, Mississippi. They gather each July to celebrate their heritage and share their beautiful and vibrant culture with friends and neighbors. This year’s fair theme is “The Choctaw Spirit Lives On.”

Fairgoers will experience the magnificent journey of Choctaw people through historical and cultural displays, social dancing, tribal arts & crafts, Choctaw stickball – the granddaddy of all field sports – as well as the Choctaw Indian Princess Pageant and traditional Choctaw food. The fair also offers carnival rides and games for the young and old alike, Shawi’s Discovery Zone and chart-topping musical acts each night. 

Though many people are familiar with places throughout the state that hold Native American names — including Yalobusha, Itawamba, and Mississippi itself — few realize just how many native peoples made their homes in Mississippi. Up into the 1700s, local tribes included the Acolapissa, Biloxi and Pascagoula tribes on the Gulf Coast; the Bayougoula, Houma and Natchez tribes on the lower Mississippi; and the Chakchiuma, lbitoupa, Koroa, Ofogoula, Taposa, Tiou, Tunica and Yazoo tribes on the Yazoo River in the Mississippi Delta. The original Mississippians were the Choctaw, who date back to the early 1500s. The Choctaw were the most populous by far and remain so to this day.

Visitors to the region can immerse themselves in Choctaw culture by stopping by the Choctaw Heritage Museum or attending the annual Choctaw Indian Fair. This regionally renowned event is host to the World Champion Stickball Games and includes a celebration of tribal music, crafts, and traditions.

If you want to come face-to-face with the most impressive landmarks of the ancient past, plan a visit to Mississippi’s mound sites, showcasing well-preserved, Native American mounds built of earth. These mounds were the centers of daily and spiritual life, and you can find sites remaining across the state. Among the most visited are the Winterville Mound site, located in Greenville, and the Pocahontas Mound A, located north of Jackson.

Recently, The Mississippi Department of Archives and History celebrated the grand opening of the Mississippi Mound Trail. Stretching from Desoto County to Wilkinson County and following the Highway 61 corridor, the trail will highlight earthworks built at thirty-three sites. Four sites—Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, Pocahontas Rest Area and Welcome Center, Winterville Mounds, and Emerald Mound on the Natchez Trace Parkway— are state or federally operated and open to the public. Visitors are welcome to walk among the mounds and learn more through interpretive signs and exhibits. All are free. This article is courtesy of VisitMississippi.com.

 

Gene Hays is an author and historian, and a retired Marine, with books on Amazon.com.