The current government of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians derives its powers from a constitution approved in 1945. The Constitution and Bylaws of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians established a governing body made up of a tribal council and a chief, vice chief, and secretary-treasurer. The tribal council consists of sixteen members elected from the eight major communities of the reservation and meets at least four times a year. The chief chairs the tribal council and serves as the chief executive and administrative officer. The constitution designates membership to those residents who are at least half Choctaw blood. Members of the tribe elect the council and the chief, while the council members select the vice chief and secretary-treasurer. The tribal council negotiates with the various levels of government, employs legal counsel, appropriates tribal funds, supervises economic affairs, and can veto any transactions involving tribal lands or other assets.
The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians adopted this constitution following a crucial shift in federal Indian policy during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. The passage of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934, often referred to as the Indian New Deal, reflected a new direction among federal policymakers—a shift from the assimilationist aims of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in favor of policies that would foster indigenous culture and Native American self-determination. One major concern by the 1930s was the substantial loss of tribal land over the past half century. The General Allotment Act of 1887, or Dawes Act, required tribes to divide commonly held property and transfer ownership to individual Native Americans. The act opened up “surplus” tribal land to non-Indians, resulting in the loss of millions of acres nationwide. The IRA reversed this policy by ending the allotment process, extending the trust time periods, and instigating a new process whereby tribes could petition the secretary of the interior to return lands to trust status. Empowered by the IRA, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw purchased much of the tribe’s current reservation lands.
The IRA also granted more sovereignty to tribal governments, though in an anglicized form. The measure encouraged tribes to adopt written constitutions and bylaws based on majority vote by tribe and subject to the approval of the Department of the Interior. Yet for the Mississippi Choctaw, this process of constructing a constitutional form of government proved difficult, taking eleven years. Two competing political organizations claimed authority over the creation of tribal government. Just a few weeks prior to the signing of the IRA, the Mississippi Choctaw Indian Federation formed in Union, elected leaders, and approved a constitution. The meeting claimed to be the largest assemblage of Native Americans in Mississippi since 1895, and membership was open to anyone with at least half Indian blood as well as to those living outside the tribe’s eight main communities. But the Choctaw superintendent had already created the Tribal Business Committee, which included representatives from each of the communities and was tasked with considering the IRA and the possibility of a tribal government. While the issue of tribal government remained unresolved, the Mississippi Choctaw formed local councils and voted to allow the business committee to negotiate economic decisions with the federal government. Not until April 1945 did the Choctaw approve a tribal council and a constitution and bylaws by a 346–71 vote. The Department of the Interior approved the constitution a month later, and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians became an official tribe under the IRA.
- Dan Cobb and Loretta Fowler, eds., Beyond Red Power: Indian Activism in the Twentieth Century (2007)
- Donald A. Grinde Jr., ed., Native Americans: American Political History Series (2002)
- Seena B. Kohl, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (1986)
- Katherine M. B. Osburn, Choctaw Resurgence in Mississippi: Race, Class, and Nation Building in the Jim Crow South, 1830–1977 (2014)
- Veronica E. Velarde Tiller, ed., Tiller’s Guide to Indian Country: Economic Profiles of American Indian Reservations (1996)