Jackson County

Vancleave Choctaws will get attention from Ocean Springs

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD/2014Judge Neil Harris shares a private word with Patty Bang Williams after a brief ceremony in his courtroom in Pascagoula.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD/2014Judge Neil Harris shares a private word with Patty Bang Williams after a brief ceremony in his courtroom in Pascagoula. SUN HERALD

OCEAN SPRINGS -- Mayor Connie Moran is delivering a proclamation and the keys to the city on Saturday morning to the Live Oak Choctaws.

The group will be having a tribal council meeting at the Vancleave Public Library, and Moran is the scheduled guest.

She said she will also be wishing them well in their attempts to be recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

It's a distinction the tribe is seeking so its members will be eligible for federal benefits and grants.

Most of the tribal members live in Vancleave and Ocean Springs, Moran said. The city has several employees of Choctaw descent, she said.

"I was invited to meet them, and I'm happy to do so," she told the Sun Herald. "I consider it a part of our Jackson County heritage that we must embrace and celebrate."

She also will declare Dec. 5 as Vancleave Live Oak Choctaw Day in Ocean Springs.

"That's pretty good for an Indian tribe that crawled out of the swamp," said Earl Denham, an attorney who belongs to the group and has helped it legally.

He said the tribe's land was taken from them during the Andrew Jackson administration. Jackson was the U.S. president from 1829 to 1837.

The band that claims 2,000 members is in the Vancleave area and has been for years. It has no reservation, but federal recognition could help fund land and other improvements, such as a clinic, office or gift shop.

It has documented a time when the state recognized it in 1918. Chancery Court gave its support last year.

Denham said all forms of recognition will go a long way toward getting the tribe an official designation.

"If you can get local groups to recognize you are an Indian tribe and have been for years," he said, "that's part of the process the BIA looks for."

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