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The Role of Choctaw Leaders: Past and Present

Iti Fabvssa
BISKINIK | March 2016
   The early 1800s was a time of change and adaptation for many Choctaw people.  Americans began to look at the Choctaw  Nation for its vast natural resources and  land. Choctaw chiefs were being forced to  cede lands to the United States in exchange  for the payment of monetary debts,  a new concept to Choctaw society. Choctaw  leaders quickly developed an understanding  of American politics after attending  many meetings with the Indian agents  that the federal government assigned to  them. In 1816 not long after winning the  War of 1812 with Choctaw support, the  United States demanded a treaty to cede  lands in Alabama. The Choctaw leaders  knew they would have to cede these  lands, however, they had learned how to  "conduct business" in the American way.  The Choctaw leaders quickly responded  with their own requests before signing the  treaty. Once the treaty had received the required  signatures of the Choctaw leaders,  the Indian agent rushed back to Washington  D.C. to have the treaty ratified. To the  astonishment of the federal officials, they  saw that the treaty was to the advantage of  the Choctaw Nation, not the United States.  The Choctaw chiefs had arranged it so  that the Choctaw Nation would receive a  monetary annuity for twenty years. It was  quoted soon after that the Choctaw leaders  were considered "shrewd businessmen."
   This annuity was used to pay for creating blacksmiths and funds for education.
Understanding that greater change would be needed for the Choctaw people  to endure the encroachment of America  citizens and the federal government, the 
Choctaw chiefs met in 1818 to discuss allowing  an American citizen into the Choctaw  Nation; his name was Cyrus Kingsbury.  Kingsbury was the first missionary  allowed to move into the Choctaw Nation.  Upon his arrival he began to build Elliot  Mission, the fi rst mission school to ever be  constructed in the Choctaw Nation. Soon  after it began to receive its first students.  Choctaw leaders understood the need for  American schooling for Choctaw youth.  If Choctaw society was to successfully  endure, then future leaders would need to  understand both Choctaw and American  society. Soon after, many other mission  schools were constructed. After the Trail  of Tears many of the youth trained at these  mission schools became some of the greatest  Choctaw leaders throughout the 1800s,  paving the way for the Choctaw Nation of  Oklahoma today.
Our Choctaw leaders of the past were  thoughtful leaders, whose fi rst duty was always  to the Choctaw people. Western academics  call this style of leadership servant  leadership or collectivism. To Choctaw  people it was and is the style of leadership  our Choctaw leaders have always strived  for, meeting the needs of the community.  As Choctaw people we relied on our community  and our family. Because we are  interconnected, all people were expected  to act as leaders when their special knowledge  or abilities were needed. This way  the burden of leadership is shared and the  importance of a leader does not depend on  the title an individual has, but instead the  respect comes from their actions as a servant  leader in the community. Leaders had  to prove themselves before being selected  by the community to lead. The village  chief presided over the village, greeted  visitors, and represented the village. The  chiefs did not accumulate a lot of wealth,  instead they shared their resources with  the community. Choctaw society at that  time looked down on people that hoarded  wealth and were greedy. Instead Choctaw  people believed in working and sharing  as a community, so no one ever went  without. Choctaw leaders made decisions  based off the consensus of the community,  making sure to hear the wisdom of elders  and other distinguished individuals.
   Today the idea of servant leadership  is still seen not just in our tribal government,  but also in our communities. There  are many tribal youth, adults, and elders  who serve their community on a daily  basis. The hard work of our governmental  leaders and community leaders is what  paves the way to create a proud nation  of Choctaws based on the values of faith,  family, and culture. By keeping the traditions  of our past and adapting to the future  our Nation will continue to be successful  and sustainable for future generations of  Choctaws.
This article and others came from the Choctaw Nation Biskinik. To see more history please refer to the following sites.

Sounds of Choctaw - Social Greeting
Sounds of Choctaw - Weather
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