- Living in the Land of Death: The Choctaw Nation, 1830-1860, and: Choctaw Tales
Much of the historical record of the U.S. government's actions against the Indian people living in what became the southeastern states was initially compiled by non-Native scholars. Today, this "history" is being rewritten by academically trained Native scholars, who have more resources than were available in the past. With these new works, our knowledge of past times increases and varied perspectives are shared. For these reasons, it is incumbent upon Native scholars to retell their histories. Bringing to light what is perceived as an inadequately told story should be welcomed by scholarly and popular readers. Donna Akers's book about the inconceivable removal of the majority of the Choctaw Nation from their homelands in the Southeast is such an attempt to rewrite this significant and shameful chapter in American and Native American history.
Like older Native histories, many of the collections of oral narratives from the Southeast, too, were made by non-Natives. While the researchers might have spoken the languages in which the tales were told, they utilized Native translators to assist with collecting. These collections, along with contemporary narrative collections, are coming to serve as springboards for raising cultural awareness among the young people in Native communities. Like past scholarship, Tom Mould's compilation also depends on Native translators to help present stories from older ethnographic collections and his own field-collected works.
Akers starts her dense text by reviewing and trying to correct the officially recorded history of the disastrous removals of the southeastern peoples from their homelands to the newly coined "Indian Territory" west of the Mississippi. Because many of the previous histories were written by non-Natives and outsiders, that perspective is skewed, she notes. Her critical review of the literature points out the shortcomings of earlier attempts to document the history of the Choctaws because Akers feels that the scholars who preceded her relied too heavily on written records and did not take advantage of oral histories and traditions.
She proceeds to recount the travails the Choctaw Nation experienced prior to, during, and after their dispossession, as she terms it. The starting point is a succinct history of the Choctaw people before to their upheavals in the early nineteenth century, leading to the U.S. policies that changed the structure of the Nation. She recaps the sociocultural and political contexts in which the Choctaws thrived just prior to their reluctantly accepted mass removal. Her text is replete with discussions of the extreme political greed that precipitated [End Page 243] their dispossession, and she tells of the destruction of the social structure of these people in their new lands west of the Mississippi.
Another significant insight into Choctaw society involves the interrelatedness of their spiritual and physical worlds, their belief systems and cosmology, as viewed through familial and interpersonal relationships and developed with associated rituals. A significant section of Akers's work interweaves historical milestones with well-established Choctaw oral traditions that tie them to their homeland. Some of the spiritual world was disrupted because of the large loss of life during the removal that fractured the important clan system of the Nation. Elders also succumbed, and thus traditional leadership often was left in limbo. This discussion is important because changes to their spiritual world, resulting from the removal from their traditional lands to Indian Territory, deeply damaged the social structure of the Choctaw Nation.
Long before the removal, the Choctaw spiritual world had been fatally disrupted by intermarriage with Europeans. Akers discusses the role of intermarriage in the development of factions prior to and during the removal. These ever-fluid factions allowed for many wedges to be driven into the Nation, breaking up its solidarity and its well-established clan system.
A discussion of the role of women in Choctaw society emerges in chapter 6 with an exploration of...