By Belinda Brooks, NTL Vice-Chief
The city of Natchitoches is named after the Natchitoches tribe and is noteworthy as the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase Territory. History records the existence of the Natchitoches Indians as natives of its land upon the arrival of foreign explorers as early as the late 1600s. In 1690, Henri de Tonti is recorded to have reached the
Natchitoches village still today located in the city of Natchitoches in Northwest Louisiana. This would be the earliest recorded written account of the Natchitoches tribe’s subsistence (Williams, 1964).
Jean-Baptiste LeMoyne de Bienville and Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, French explorers, reached the Natchitoches Indian village in April, 1700, on their search for the legendary Spanish mines. Before leaving the Red River Natchitoches village, Bienville, St. Denis and Chief Blanc, leader of the Natchitoches tribe, smoked a peace pipe and sealed a life-long treaty and friendship as allies.
The Natchitoches Indians stood in battle beside St. Denis throughout his service to the French king. On one such battle, revenge of the savage death of a French missionary by the Chitimacha in 1707 led the Natchitoches to joining St. Denis in his journey to Mobile to battle and defeat the Chitimacha Indians. (Shea, 1886) Again in 1731, St. Denis with the Natchitoches Indians fighting by his side, won a decisive battle against a large band of Natchez Indians. (Swanton, 1953)
Natchitoches Indian Chief Campti is the namesake for the community of Campti in Natchitoches Parish. The Natchitoches Tribe was moved by St. Denis in 1758 from Fort St. Jean Baptiste to the Black Lake area outside of Campti. Descendants of the Natchitoches Indians still reside there today.
Dr. John Sibley, a New England doctor, was appointed by President Thomas Jefferson as an Indian agent for Orleans Territory and the region south of Arkansas. Sibley is well known for his historical sketches of Louisiana and Texas Indian tribes. In 1807, Sibley published a manuscript, Report from Natchitoches. Sibley wrote, “I believe it is now ninety-eight years since the French first established themselves at Natchitoches; ever since, these Indians have been their steady and faithful friends.” Natchitoches Indians lived in peace, fought and died in battle with their French and American forces. Descendants of the Natchitoches Indians served in United States American wars from the Battle of Independence to today’s wars at home and on foreign soil.
In 1758, St. Denis requested the Natchitoches Indians move across the Red River to the Campti/Black Lake area of Natchitoches in return for the Natchitoches Indians allowing the French to build a fort on the Natchitoches village land. The French fort built on Natchitoches village land was called Fort St. Jean the Baptiste. Evidence of the existence of the Natchitoches Indians still exists in the form of mounds, artifacts and funerary objects throughout Natchitoches and surrounding parishes. Descendants of these Native Americans still reside and own property in the Black Lake community.
George Beyer, curator of the Tulane Museum (1893-1918), Tulane Professor and German zoologist, published his investigative findings of Campti mounds, specifically in the Black Lake area in 1897. He found burial grounds and skeletons. By each skull of each skeleton, one or two vessels were found. Beyer reported that within this area of a radius of 10 to 12 miles there were 40 to 50mounds. He made several diagrams of his findings relating to the mounds in his March 19, 1897, presentation to the Louisiana Historical Society in New Orleans.
Today, many descendants of the Natchitoches Indians still reside in the Black Lake Community. These descendants suffered hardship and discrimination because of their heritage. Until the late 1960s, Native American children were segregated from the “white” children in the Campti schools. Oral history of segregated schools of three distinct cultures (white, black and red skinned people) was given to tribal members from their ancestors. These schools were managed by Catholic nuns who would travel from Campti to the Black Lake Community to teach each group separately.
Another connection to descendants of the Natchitoches Indians throughout hundreds of years is the kinship relationships. Although there is no way of getting an actual count, a great majority, at least 75 percent or greater, of descendants of the Natchitoches Indians are related through bloodline in several family lines.
In the early 1900s, the Black Lake Community outside of Campti, was segregated from the white community in Campti because of racial biases against Native Americans and blacks. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act in the late 1960s that the children of the Black Lake Community were allowed to enter the “white” schools. The Black Lake area is a historical tribal ground area for the Natchitoches people. Today, older members of the Natchitoches Tribe of Louisiana tell stories of their younger days. One of the stories concerned an Indian mound located on Clear Lake in this community.
The members remember walking past a mound and deciding that they wanted to play there. Immediately, their grandparents would scold them and tell them not to play there. Grandparents said that it was a holy place and that ancient spirits dwelled there. An interview was conducted by this genealogist with Dr. Pete Gregory, a professor and anthropologist at Northwestern State. Gregory said that several area mound locations have been found and excavated throughout the Natchitoches area. They include the Campti Mound, Lawton Gin, Natchitoches National Fish Southern Oil Mill Cotton Gin, Big Lick in Goldonna and Marston Site in Red River Parish.
In May 1805 Sibley, was directed to survey the Indians’ land. Documents indicate that at least four sites were occupied by the Natchitoches between 1690 and 1803. By the time of the Caddo Treaty, of which lands did “not” include the lands of the Natchitoches, the town of Natchitoches was a thriving community. For hundreds of years, Natchitoches Tribe was an autonomous entity. History has named several Natchitoches chiefs. Chief Blanc smoked the peace pipe with Bienville and St. Denis in the early 1700s. History records the first Louisiana settlement of Natchitoches was built on the site of the Village of White Chief of the Natchitoches. St. Denis himself was called White Chief of the Natchitoches.
Previous to the Indian Removal Act of 1835, area church documents record the births, baptisms, marriages and/or deaths of Natchitoches (sometimes mislabeled as Caddo) in the Natchitoches regions. Tribal documentation includes proof of bloodline of these Indians to their descendants. Following the Indian Removal Act of 1835, the Natchitoches Indians went into hiding in “plain sight.” So much so that, history records the tribe as being extinct or as having mixed with the Caddo tribe that was moved to Oklahoma.
Rolls of the Natchitoches are nonexistent due to the fear of being found-out as Native American. Natchitoches Indians were attempting to hide their identity from outside sources out of fear they would be discriminated against, or worse. They would have been crazy not to. Tribal members still living in the area today have many tales of discrimination and humiliation placed on them due to their ethnicity. Today, the Natchitoches Indians, in honor of our ancestors, have come out of hiding and have re-established their tribe openly. A Constitution and Bylaws are in place and a tribal council has been appointed.
No tribal roll of the Natchitoches was ever directed by the government of the United States. At the time of the Indian Removal Act of 1835, the government was under the impression that the Natchitoches joined with the Caddo tribe in the forced move to Oklahoma. Fortunately for the Natchitoches, the French and Spanish kings ordered their government officials and priests who were sent to the Americas to document all activities which included births, baptisms, marriages and deaths of the “savages.” The Natchitoches Tribe of Louisiana has full documentation of bloodlines of all tribal members, as well as hundreds of documented sources regarding the activities of the Natchitoches.
Interview with Belinda Brooks, tribe historian and Vice Chief
The Natchitoches Indians fought with St. Denis in 1707 in his battle against the Chitimacha Indians and again in 1731 against the Natchez Indians. Their Chief Blanc smoked the peace pipe with St. Denis and explorer Jean-Baptiste de Bienville. Both the city and parish are named for them.
Yet they went into hiding “in plain sight” because of discrimination of Native Americans.
“Today, the Natchitoches Indians, in honor of our ancestors, have come out of hiding and re-established their tribe openly,” says tribe historian and Vice Chief Belinda Brooks. She gave an update on the tribe’s activities in an interview with The Natchitoches Times.
NT: Can you give me an update on the actions of the tribe today?
BB: Today, the tribe is in the first stages of organization. We have established our tribal council which consists of 21 council members with the majority of members coming from the Natchitoches/Louisiana regional area. As would be expected by the forced assimilation of Native Americans into the European society by the United States in the 1830s through the 1970s, our tribe was forced into hiding and denial of our Native American culture and traditions. Therefore, we are searching for those things by befriending our Native American brothers/sisters in neighboring tribes within Louisiana and surrounding states.
NTL is looking for the perfect location to set up our Natchitoches Native American Cultural Center. One possible location would be in Natchitoches which is where our Natchitoches village was sitting before European takeover of our indigenous lands.
In 1757, St. Denis moved the Natchitoches Indians from their tribal lands in the city of Natchitoches to the Black Lake area outside of Campti. Therefore, the second location to consider would be the Black Lake/Campti area where many of our ancestral descendants still reside today.
NT: Did you get State recognition for the tribe?
BB: In the regular session of the 2017 Legislature, NTL received Louisiana State recognition with the assistance of
Rep. Kenny Cox. Cox authored bill HR227: Recognizes the Natchitoches Tribe of Louisiana as an Indian tribe of the state.
The bill passed into law in June 2017. A presentation of the recognition resolution was presented to the tribe by Rep. Cox in February. NTL representatives were invited to the May Natchitoches City Council meeting to introduce the tribe. Future plans for Native American Heritage Month include a state recognition ceremony by the city to welcome the Natchitoches Indians to the community.
NT: What is the significance of state recognition?
BB: The significance of state recognition for NTL is that it is an acknowledgement by the State of Louisiana of our tribe being a proud, indigenous people to our land. No culture in America today has been discriminated against like the Native American people and Natchitoches Parish is no exception. News reports in 1906 tell the story of one of our Natchitoches Indian ancestors being shot down on his front door steps because he would not sell his land.
The last state to allow Native Americans to vote was Maine in the late 1960s. Until the mid 1970s, Native American children were still being torn from their families and placed in Americanized boarding schools to strip them of their heritage. Our ancestors in the Black Lake area told tales of segregation of Native American children in public schools well into the 1900s.
Although state recognition does not offer benefits to its Native American people as does federal recognition, there are scholarships and grants available for those who wish to apply. Specially, the State of Louisiana, Department of Indian Affairs offers annual scholarships that are funded by the purchase of Native American license plates.
NT: Is the tribe open for registration of new members?
BB:Yes. At this time the tribe does have open registration. Membership now exceeds 950 members.
NT: How can anyone find out if they could be a member of the tribe?
BB: Questions regarding registration and/or membership can be directed to the NTL website: ntltribe.org . The NTL registration packet can be downloaded from that site.
NT: What future activities are the tribe anticipating:
BB: Future events include:
- Natchitoches Indians School Field Day, Nov. 2. Fourth grade students in the City will be invited to make a field trip to Fort St. Jean Baptiste to celebrate Native American Heritage month with the Natchitoches Indians. Students will play games, make crafts, watch demonstrations of Native American life, help construct a straw wigwam, and much more.
- Fall Pow Wow – Nov. 3 at Fort St. Jean Baptiste in Natchitoches in honor of Native American Heritage month.
- Future event plans: Participation in community events such as parades or historical/educational events.
NT: Where do you see the tribe in five years?
BB: Hopefully, NTL will have established its cultural center and obtained federal recognition.
NT: What are your long-range plans?
BB: Following federal recognition, plans will be to obtain tribal lands and being a contributing part of the Natchitoches community.
NT: What’s the population of the tribe?
BB: We have 950 plus members.
NT: When do you meet?
BB: Our tribal council gathers seasonally in Natchitoches.
NT: Do you have a headquarters?
BB: We are currently looking for tribal headquarters either in the Natchitoches or Black Lake area. Our funds are low due to the fact that we are in the beginning stages of organization.
Donations or assistance from the community to set up our headquarters would be appreciated by anyone who would like to see our tribe be part of the Natchitoches or Black Lake community.
NT: Who are your officers and what are their duties?
BB: Fred Simon, Primary Chief (research and tribal history)
Belinda Brooks, Vice-Chief (spokesperson, research, tribal history, petition writer)
Belinda Smith, Secretary (registration, marketing)
Peggy Lebrun Smith, Treasurer (accountant)
Janette Melton Graham (Internet/web master NTL liaison.)
Frank Perot, Cletties Self, Ruby Elliott, Shirley May, Winnie Perot (Natchitoches Council Members, Researchers)
NT: Any other remarks?
BB:Important historical fact: Lower Natchitoches Indians are of the Natchitoches Confederacy. They are “not” Caddo. Upper Natchitoches Indians located in Arkansas are of the Caddo Confederacy.
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