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Choctaw Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Choctaws for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Choctaw website for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Choctaw pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.




    Choctaw Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Choctaw"? What does it mean?
Choctaw is pronounced "CHOCK-taw." It comes from their own tribal name, Chahta, which was the name of a legendary Choctaw leader.

Where do the Choctaws live?
The Choctaws are original people of the American southeast, particularly Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida. Most Choctaws were forced to move to Oklahoma in the 1800's along the Trail of Tears. Their descendants live in Oklahoma today. Some Choctaws escaped by hiding or pretending to be white, and descendants of these people are still living in the original Choctaw homelands.

What was the Trail of Tears?
Trail of Tears was the Choctaw and Cherokee name for what the Americans called Indian Removal. During the 1800's, the US government created an "Indian Territory" in Oklahoma and sent all the eastern Native American tribes to live there. Some tribes willingly agreed to this plan. Other tribes didn't want to go, and the American army forced them. The Choctaws were one of the southeastern tribes forced to move to a new location in Oklahoma. Most of them had to go on foot, and thousands died of exhaustion and disease. It was a terrible time in history.

Here is the homepage of the National Trail of Tears Organization, where you can learn more about the forced travels of the Choctaw and other southeast Native American tribes. Here is another website specifically about Choctaw experiences along the Trail of Tears.

How is the Choctaw Indian nation organized?
There are two Choctaw tribes today. The Mississippi Choctaws live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to the tribe and is under their control. The Oklahoma Choctaws live on trust land. Each Choctaw tribe has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Choctaws are also US citizens and must obey American law. In the past, the Choctaws were led by a council made up of two chiefs from each Choctaw band. Today, the Choctaw chief and councilmembers are popularly elected, like senators and governors are.

What language do the Choctaws speak?
Most Choctaw people speak English today. Some people, especially elders, also speak their native Choctaw language. Choctaw is a rhythmic language that is nearly identical to Chickasaw. Speakers of the two languages can understand each other without much difficulty. If you'd like to know a few easy Choctaw words, "halito" (pronounced hah-lih-toh) is a friendly greeting, and "yakoke" (pronounced yah-koh-keh) means 'thank you.' You can read a Choctaw picture glossary here.

What was Choctaw culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is a link to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, where you can learn about the Choctaw people past and present.

How do Choctaw Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Choctaw children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like colonial children. But they did have games and toys to play with. Toli, a lacrosse-like stickball game, was a popular sport among teenage boys as it was among adult men. Here is an online museum exhibit about Choctaw stickball. Choctaw girls enjoyed guessing games and playing with beaded dolls. Chunkey, football, swimming, and footraces were also popular pastimes among Choctaw kids. Choctaw mothers, like many Native Americans, carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs. Here are some pictures of Native American cradleboards. now.

What were men and women's roles in the Choctaw tribe?
Choctaw men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Choctaw women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. In the past, the chief was always a man, but today a Choctaw woman can be chief too.

What were Choctaw houses like in the past?
The Choctaw people lived in settled villages of houses and small cornfields. Choctaw homes were made of plaster and rivercane walls, with thatched roofs. These dwellings were about as strong and warm as log cabins. Here are some pictures of American Indian housing like the homes Choctaw Indians used. Most Choctaw towns also had a ball field with benches for spectators. If a Choctaw village was near the border, it often had palisades (reinforced walls) around it for protection.

No one uses these old-fashioned rivercane houses for shelter anymore. Today, Choctaws live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Choctaw clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Choctaw men wore breechcloths. Choctaw women wore wraparound skirts made of deerskin or woven fiber. Shirts were not necessary in Choctaw culture, but men and women both wore poncho-style capes in cool weather. The Choctaws also wore moccasins on their feet. Later, the Choctaws adapted European costume like cloth jackets and full skirts. Here are some pictures of traditional Choctaw dress, and here are some photographs and links about Indian clothes in general.

The Choctaws didn't wear long head dresses like the Sioux. Choctaw men and women both wore their hair long, but some men cut their hair in the Mohawk style, decorating the fringe with feathers. Here is a website with pictures of these Native hair styles. Choctaws often painted their faces and bodies bright colors during battles, lacrosse games, and festivals. Some Choctaw men also wore tribal tattoos on their arms and legs.

Today, some Choctaw people still wear moccasins or a ribbon shirt, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of a breechcloth... and they only wear roaches in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Choctaw transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Sometimes--the Choctaw Indians knew how to make dug-out canoes from hollowed-out logs, but they usually only used them for fishing trips. To travel, Choctaw people usually walked overland. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe, so the Choctaws used dogs to help them carry their belongings. Today, of course, Choctaw people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Choctaw food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Choctaw were farming people. Choctaw women did most of the farming, harvesting crops of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers. Choctaw men did most of the hunting, shooting deer, wild turkeys, and small game. Men also caught fish in the rivers, lakes, and sea coasts. Choctaw recipes included cornbread, soups, and stews cooked on stone hearths. The Choctaws also enjoyed sassafrass tea. Here is a website with more information about American Indian food.

What were Choctaw weapons and tools like in the past?
Choctaw hunters primarily used bows and arrows. Fishermen generally used fishing spears and nets. In war, Choctaw men fired their bows or fought with tomahawks and clubs. Here is a website with Native American weapon pictures and information.

What are Choctaw arts and crafts like?
The Choctaws were famous for their rivercane baskets and woodcarvings. When they were forced to move to Oklahoma, the Choctaws couldn't get the materials they used to use for some of their traditional artifacts, so they concentrated more on other crafts such as American Indian beadwork. Here is a photo gallery of Choctaw beaded artwork.

What other Native Americans did the Choctaw tribe interact with?
The Choctaws traded regularly with all the other Southeast Native Americans. These tribes communicated using a simplified trade language called Mobilian Jargon. The most important Choctaw neighbors were the Chickasaws. Long in the past, the Choctaws and Chickasaws used to be the same tribe, but then they split. After that, the two tribes sometimes fought each other, and other times were allies.

I read that the Choctaw were part of the Five Civilized Tribes. Was that an alliance like the Iroquois Confederacy?
No. Many people guess this, but it isn't true. "The Five Civilized Tribes" was just a name that the white settlers used to refer to the Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Seminole, and Choctaw tribes of the Southeast. These five tribes were never part of an alliance together, and they did not call themselves the Civilized Tribes in their own languages. Originally, the white settlers probably called them this because these five tribes were early converts to Christianity. They were also farmers who lived in settled towns under sophisticated government systems, which Europeans and early Americans considered a higher level of civilization than independent bands of hunters who moved from place to place. However, there were dozens of other Native American tribes who also led farming lifestyles, not just these five.

What kinds of stories do the Choctaws tell?
There are lots of traditional Choctaw legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Choctaw Indian culture. Here is a story about the origin of fire. Here's a website where you can read more about Choctaw mythology.

What about Choctaw religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Choctaw rituals or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Crossing Bok Chitto, a story of friendship between a Choctaw girl and an enslaved African boy in Mississippi, or The Long March, the true story of a Choctaw community raising money to help Irish famine victims. Two good reference books for kids about Choctaw culture and history are The Choctaw and Choctaw Lifeways. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended American Indian books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2013.

Thanks for your interest in the Choctaw Indian people and their language!

Learn More About The Choctaws

Choctaw Indian Tribe
An overview of the Choctaw people, their language and history.

Choctaw Language Resources
Choctaw language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Choctaw Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Choctaw people past and present.

Choctaw Indian Words
Choctaw Indian vocabulary lists.



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