Does our society reflect tribe?

Published 12:36 am Sunday, March 27, 2011

Eric Shelton | The Natchez Democrat — Hutke Fields, principal chief of the Natchez Indians, right, tries to stop Joe Lane from scoring during a game of stickball at the powwow.

NATCHEZ — It shouldn’t surprise you that some of the earliest Natchez residents enjoyed busy social calendars and gained their status in society from their mothers.

Though no history book is likely to point it out, the lives of the Natchez Indians carry some important precursors to the stereotypical Natchez of today.

With that in mind, studying the area’s true founders doesn’t have to be just another school-day lesson.

Email newsletter signup

In the beginning

The earliest traces of the Natchez Indian tribe date to A.D. 700.

The society existed in this area for approximately 1,000 years, said Jim Barnett, director of the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.

Barnett is the author of “The Natchez Indians A History to 1735.”

“It’s always hard for schoolchildren and adults to get their minds around a society lasting that long,” Barnett said. “But they were here until European contact in the early 1700s.”

The Native Americans lived a good life full of free time.

“People ask me for proof of that, and I send them to Emerald Mound,” Barnett said.

The mound, located in Adams County just off the Natchez Trace, is one of the largest prehistoric earthworks in North America. It was, at one time, the main ceremonial site for the entire Natchez society.

Blessed by surroundings with good growing soil and plenty of wild game to eat, just like today, the Natchez had time for the pleasures of life at the time.

“They had a calendar of events — not a written one, but in their heads — that went through the entire year,” Barnett said. “It was a very social lifestyle with, every month, feasting and dancing.”

Inheritances were passed down through the female line, and discipline of children was handled by the mother and her family, Barnett said.

“The child’s father would be an important person in the child’s life, but he would be a happy-go-lucky person who brought presents.”

That father — who was typically someone else’s uncle — would help discipline the children of his sisters.

A child’s name and place in society was determined through his mother’s role in society, Barnett said.

Nearly the end

The French moved into the area and established a colony in Natchez in 1716 at Fort Rosalie.

The French and English were fighting wars here and in Europe, and the Natchez Indians soon got caught between the battles, Barnett said.

“The Natchez were split in allegiance,” he said. “The French made a number of mistakes in their relationship with the Natchez, and that helped the Natchez decide to shift 100 percent to the English. That led to their final removal.”