Grand Village of Natchez Indians celebrates 40 years of telling Natchez Indians’ story

Published 12:02 am Sunday, August 28, 2016

NATCHEZ — In 40 years, the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians has created many memories for generations of local school children, historians, Natchez Powwow participants and tourists interested in Natchez’s early beginnings.

These memories and more will be discussed Thursday when the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians celebrates its 40th anniversary.

“The Grand Village is a very important place to me,” said long-time site director Jim Barnett. “It is a place where I have a lot of memories and got to know the people of Natchez and the area.

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“I think it probably holds lots of memories for lots of people, and not just in the Natchez area,” he continued.

The Village opened its doors to the public Sept. 1, 1976, approximately five years after the site was first donated to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History by Natchez resident Grace MacNeil.

A historian, philanthropist and former national president of the Girl Scouts, MacNeil donated 35 acres of the property in 1971. The donation opened the way for a federal grant for MDAH to purchase another 41 acres.

Four decades later, the Grand Village will celebrate 40 years of telling the story of the Natchez Indians with a birthday celebration. From 9 to 11 a.m., Thursday, the village will offer demonstrations, children’s activities and host a discussion from panelists who will share their thoughts and memories about the Grand Village. Ice cream, cake and refreshments will also be served, said site director Lance Harris.

One panelist will be Barnett, who was the site director for 33 years of the Grand Village’s existence as a museum and historical site open to the public.

“It is an exciting event — I would love to see the people of the Miss-Lou come out and enjoy it,” he said. “I would just like to see a lot of people come out that day and support Lance and the staff at the site. They really work hard to put on a lot of programming for schools and public events.”

Activities for children include pottery making, Native American games and other projects for them to complete, Harris said. There will also be a touch table for the children to learn more about history, which will include Spanish chain mail and other artifacts.

Demonstrations will include basket making and flint knapping.

Besides Barnett, other panelists will include Beth Boggess, a daughter of MacNeil who was also involved in archeological investigations on the site, Elbert Hilliard, a former MDAH director who was one of the first to reach out to the Natchez people in Oklahoma, Marion Smith, who was one of the people who helped establish the site, and Chuck Borum, who has helped organize the annual Powwow.

“We will have anecdotes from other people as well,” Harris said. “I believe we anticipate (Natchez Principal Chief and Great Sun) Hutke Fields will be there as well.”

In the 1930s, historians and archeologists started working on the mounds, piecing together the history of the site using the records the French colonists kept on the Natchez tribe starting in the early 1600s.

At the time, the site was called Fatherland Plantation. Investigations in the 1930s established that the mounds at the Fatherland Plantation site were the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians documented by early French colonists.

The site was placed on the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1964 and the Natuional Register of Historic Places in 1966.

Further excavations were done in the 1960s and the 1970s under the direction of State Historical Museum Curator Robert Neitzel. He and Hilliard reached out to the Natchez people in Oklahoma.

In 1972, plans to create a museum and historic site began to pick up and four years later it was opened to the public. During this time period, Harris said John Junkin, Marion Smith, Walter Brown and Everette Truly were instrumental in establishing the site.

“The site is a real nice thing for the City of Natchez to have,” Barnett said. “It is a wonderful asset, a beautiful park with lots of programming going on for families and children, right here in the city limits.”