Grand Village event recalls historic meeting

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 1, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Three hundred and three years ago, the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians must have been buzzing with excitement at the arrival of Pierre LeMoyne, Sieur d’Iberville and his company of French-Canadian troops.

On Friday and Saturday, a team of actors recreated that historical meeting while explaining the development of a French colony and its effect on the Natchez tribe to visitors at the village.

&uot;The reason they smoked the pipe is because that was a form of prayer,&uot; said Grayhawk Perkins, a 46-year-old Houma-Choctaw Native American who played the role of a Natchez tribesman in the reenactment.

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Perkins, a Covington, La., resident and the Native American coordinator for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, said the pipe was a holy bond for the Natchez.

&uot;They considered the smoke to be your word going up to God that you were telling the truth.

Unfortunately, the French did not keep their promises, and a whole race of people were exterminated,&uot; Perkins said.

The pipe resembled a flute-like instrument to the French, who thus named it the Calumet pipe, Perkins said.

In 1729, the Natchez revolted against the French colonists, and were subsequently driven from their homeland.

Perkins said many Natchez Native Americans were absorbed by other tribes, but no known Natchez descendants remain among Native Americans today.

&uot;It’s important for us to do the reenactment, because it gives us the opportunity to tell our side, too,&uot; Perkins said.

&uot;The French were not always here.&uot;

Actors from both sides told their stories while demonstrating period craftsmanship such as bone-handled knives and leather pouches to onlookers Saturday.

Resplendent in blue French military dress, Edmond Boudreaux of Biloxi played d’Iberville.

&uot;D’Iberville wanted to make alliances with the Indian nations in order to create an instant army to fight the British and Spanish if necessary,&uot; said the 53-year-old Boudreaux, who began researching

d’Iberville in 1982 and was chosen to play the famed explorer in Biloxi’s 1999 tri-centennial reenactment of the French arrival on the Mississippi coast.

&uot;He would allow his men to live and inter-marry with the Indians so they could learn from them,&uot; said Boudreaux.

&uot;Everyone that d’Iberville brought into the colony had to be able to contribute.

Even the slaves were skilled laborers&045;usually in metal works,&uot; said Boudreaux.

Other activities at the event included tomahawk throwing, musket demonstrations and cooking.

&uot;A lot of people get involved with reenacting because they want to know what it feels like to be where their ancestors were,&uot; Boudreaux said.

Boudreaux and Perkins have both been helping with the Natchez reenactment since village historian Jean Simonton enlisted their services four years ago.

Simonton, in charge of educational programs at the village, said the two-day event was an excellent opportunity for everyone to learn more about local history.

&uot;We had lots of schoolchildren out here on Friday.

It’s a wonderful program for the whole family,&uot; Simonton said.