Testimony of Gallasneed Weaver for Congressional Bill S.362:
“Although our tribe, the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians of Southwest Alabama has only been recognized by the legislative process of Alabama since 1979, our people have banned together in a peculiar wooded area of north Mobile and south Washington County. This area encompasses about 30 miles in diameter and the tribe has resided here since prior to and at the time of the partial tribal removal in the early part of the 19th century. Our tribal heritage has been much like the Choctaws of Mississippi, The Poarch Band of Creeks of South Alabama, the Cherokees of North Carolina and some of the tribes of Louisiana. They all struggled and survived until our governmental system recognized that all Indians didn’t go to Oklahoma. Therefore, you can see our tribe as another link in the chain of social injustice that we would humbly ask this honorable committee to address. These fore-mentioned tribes were fortunate to have gotten people in Washington’s ears at an earlier date and have now removed their tribes from the poverty lines of tribal status.
Having been born in November 1933, I grew up experiencing, along with my tribe, the wrath of Jim Crowism upon Indians. We were not allowed to vote or testify in court and when the Industrial revolution finally came to the rural areas, the industries here hired the Blacks for certain stratified jobs and the whites for better paying jobs. The industrial leaders refused to hire any Indian people because of two basic reasons: 1. The big land owners had hinted to them that we were good at the timber business and that we shouldn’t be diverted from that business; and 2. They knew, from some past experiences, the Indian wouldn’t accept the “separate but equal” philosophy and policies of the Industrial plants. These policies specified different water fountains, rest rooms, dressing rooms and lunch facilities, and were imposed upon and readily accepted by the Blacks of this time. Since our people wouldn’t accept such conditions, our tribal work force was excluded. We only became part of the work force, when former Congressman Jack Edwards won his election. We found him, not only to be a good politician, but also a humanitarian. It was through his effective lobby for the inclusion of our tribe as part of the various companies affirmative action plan, that we became part of the work force. It was also the Civil Rights laws, implemented during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, that helped bring down the walls of Jim Crowism that had been in place for so long among our people.
Your honor, we can easily see a parallel between this recognition document of the B.I.A. and the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution was written by many wise people, but it reflected a white male aristocratic chauvinistic philosophy. But one thing was good about this document. It provided for change, by amendments. It also contained the elastic clause “For the good and welfare of our nation.” The Federalist paper promised a Bill of Rights if the people would adopt the Constitution in its present form. True to their word, the people were given the Bill of Rights with the first 10 amendments. Later came the 13th, 14th and 15th which freed the Blackman, made him a citizen and gave him the right to vote. In 1920, there came about another change with the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote and opened the door for their useful participation in the government. Our Constitutional scholar has said the greatest part of the constitution is the part that provided for change. The 2nd greatest thing is that society has had the wisdom and fortitude to see the need for change and has made the necessary changes as the country became aware of such need.
Unlike the implementation of these constitutional changes, the B.I.A. has made no changes in the document, although they have testified themselves of the need for some changes. They have continued to perpetuate and stagnate the system. May I call your attention to some of the basic weaknesses with the BIA process. It has a double standard. If many of the tribal leaders who helped write the documents should have their rights taken away from them, they wouldn’t be able to get recertified, re-authorized or recognized when using the same standards. 2. The scholars of the process know the weakness of the system, but have done nothing to correct or change the process, as was done with our Constitution. The B.I.A. has been self-serving and has produced a group of elite aristocrat-thinking Indian leaders, who have become much like some of the earlier Southern aristocratic whites, who tried to defend the ways of the Old South in a system in which they would say to the Black and Indian, “Washington may have made you citizens, but we control the powers of the state and you must meet all of our local laws, pay poll taxes, recite part of the Constitution, and be able to read and interpret the Constitution, before you register to vote. In the meantime no whites were scrutinized through the same process. The Federally recognized tribes have grandfathered themselves behind the walls of the system and they are able to use tax money to hire expensive lawyers and lobbyists and fly jet planes from place to place to fight against us as well as other worthy tribes. Such efforts help keep worthy tribes from getting recognized by Congress. The most of these same tribes were once recognized by Congress themselves. Now they are saying, let me determine your fate. It’s almost like having the fox guard the hen house. Mr. Bud Shepard, one of the authors of the B.I.A. policy, who visited our tribe for a pre-study of our group, stated that he has never seen a more closely knit group of Indians, a people who have stayed together and preserved their history and culture while enduring great hardship. He went on to say, ‘If Congress didn’t recognize us, we may have trouble making it, because of the way the hoops are laid out at the B.I.A. for our tribe and other tribes like ours to jump through for federal recognition.’ “