June 2013

The Natchez: Living History

Strong voices chant a song, centuries old - a rhythmic chant, call and response, accompanied by rattles. That there are both young and older voices in this group of a dozen or so singers, attests to the fact that the Natchez culture is alive and well, through the Natchez themselves are relatively small in number and living in disparate groups, mostly in Oklahoma and South Carolina.

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K.T. Hutke Fields, Principal Chief of the Natchez
Players preparing for a round of stickball, Indian-style

Recently, a group of Natchez came from Oklahoma on an annual visit to the Grand Village in Natchez, Mississippi, the center of activity for the Natchez people during their heyday, roughly from 1400 - 1700. Leading the group was K.T. Hutke Fields, the principal chief of the Natchez. He told us that the Natchez were considered to be the "grandfather of southeastern tribes", though their numbers were decimated in ongoing battles with the French and their Indian allies.

At the Center, members of the Natchez and Choctaw tribes played a spirited game of stickball, a rough and tumble version of lacrosse. Each player has two sticks, each about half as long as a typical lacrosse stick, and with a much shallower basket. The ball is smaller, too - about the size of a golfball. Again, it was heartening too see the mix of generations, with a nine year old scoring a goal and an elder getting body-slammed by one of his nephews!

Like many Native American groups, the Natchez guard their culture carefully, mindful of the long list of things that have been taken from them, starting with their land. Their history has primarily come us through the French, who wrote it with a built-in cultural bias.

Hutke Fields puts it this way: "Most of what I know about Natchez things and Natchez Nation came from my grandfather, my grandmother, and my father – oral history. And then I read books about Natchez Indians, of course, but most of those books are written from a non-Indian perspective. The French documented what they saw from their perspective. When we had a funeral, we did things in a different way than they would have, and they wrote their account of the funeral in their words, which is totally different from our understanding of the way things occur."

Songs and games are some of the ways where an oral tradition can be shared cross-culturally, and where a non-Indian observer can feel both kinship and appreciation. It was a pleasure to spend time with the Natchez at the Grand Village, and begin to get a taste of their history and culture.

For more information on the Natchez, visit
Natchez Nation
Grand Village of the Natchez