Tunica-Biloxi Indian Tribe

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The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe is one of four federally recognized Native American tribes in the state of Louisiana. The tribal members are primarily Tunica and Biloxi Indians. Descendants of Ofo (Siouan-speakers), Avoyel (a Natchez people), and Mississippi Choctaw (Muskogean) are also enrolled in the tribe. Although, technically the ancestry of members is often mixed through intermarriages, tribal members identify either as Tunica, Biloxi or Biloxi-Choctaw.

Official Tribal Name: Tunica-Biloxi Indian Tribe

Address:  150 Melacon Rd, Marksville, LA 71351
Phone: (318) 253-9767
Fax:
Email: Contact Form

Official Website: www.tunicabiloxi.org

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized in 1981.

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:

Alternate names / Alternate spellings:

Formerly known as the Tunica-Biloxi Indian Tribe of Louisiana. The Tunica people were a group of linguistically and culturally related Native American tribes in the Mississippi River Valley, which include the Tunica (also spelled Tonica, Tonnica, and Thonnica); the Yazoo; the Koroa (Akoroa, Courouais); and possibly the Tioux.

Name in other languages 

Region: Southeast

State(s) Today: Mississippi and east central Louisiana

Traditional Territory:

It is theorized that the peoples of the Central Mississippi Valley, from Pacaha in the north to the Provinces of Anilco and Utiangüe in the south on the Arkansas River, were all Tunican people.

They first encountered Europeans in 1541 – members of the Hernando de Soto expedition. At that time, related groups covered a large region extending along both sides of the Mississippi River in present-day Mississippi and Arkansas. 

It was another 150 years before another European group recorded the Tunica. In 1699 when encountered by the LaSource expedition (coming downriver from Canada), the Tunica were a modest-sized tribe numbering only a few hundred warriors, with about 900 people in total. While the Spanish had been in their territory only for a short time, their encounter had devastating effects. The accidental introduction of Eurasian infectious diseases, such as smallpox, ravaged the native populations, who had no acquired immunity. In addition, the expedition had played off local political rivalries, causing more conflict.

The French established a mission among the Tunica around the year 1700, on the Yazoo River near the Mississippi River in the present-day state of Mississippi. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Tunica had recently migrated to the region from eastern Arkansas, in the late 1600s.

By the time the French arrived, the Central Mississippi Valley was sparsely occupied by the Quapaw, a Dhegiha Siouan-speaking people hostile to the Tunica. In the intervening century and a half since the de Soto Expedition, the Tunica and Koroa had relocated further south to the mouth of the Yazoo River in west central Mississippi.

Over the next centuries, under pressure from hostile neighbors, the Tunica migrated south from the Central Mississippi Valley to the Lower Mississippi Valley. By 1706 the Tunica decided to move again. With their enemies the Natchez to their immediate south, they decided to move further, across the Mississippi and south to its confluence with the Red River, the next major river junction. This location enabled them to keep control of their salt trade, as the Red River also connected to their salt source in the Caddoan areas. They established a loose collection of hamlets and villages at their new home in present-day Angola, Louisiana.

The Tunica and Biloxi people settled on their current lands near the strategic trade route of the Red River after 1779. They moved west to a site on the Red River named Avoyeles, where they were subsequently granted land by the Spanish. Other tribes also settled in the area, such as the Ofo, Biloxi, and Avoyel. In 1794 a Sephardic Jewish immigrant from Venice, Italy, named Marco Litche (the French recorded him as Marc Eliche), established a trading post in the area.[ The settlement he founded became known as Marksville. It was noted on Louisiana maps as of 1809, after the United States acquired the territory by the Louisiana Purchase.

Confederacy: Tunica-Biloxi 

Treaties:

Reservation: Tunica-Biloxi Reservation

 
Land Area:  Approximately 1,717 acres of Trust and Fee property in Avoyelles and Rapides Parishes.
Tribal Headquarters:  Marksville, LA
Time Zone:  Central
 

Population at Contact: About 900 in 1669. In 1806, an Indian Commissioner for Louisiana noted that the Tunica numbered only about 25 men, lived in Avoyelles Parish, and made their livings by occasionally hiring out as boatmen.

Registered Population Today:

There are approximately 1,226 enrolled Tunica-Biloxi tribal members interspersed throughout Louisiana, Texas, Illinois and other parts of the United States. Approximately 42 percent live either on or in close proximity to the reservation and designated tribal lands located in central Louisiana. The majority of tribal families in Louisiana reside in Avoyelles and Rapides parishes.

The second highest concentration of tribal families resides in Texas with the majority of members in Harris and Brazoria County. Illinois has the third highest with the majority living in Cook County.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Enrollment Department, (800) 272-9767, ext. 6403

Genealogy Resources:

Government:

Charter:  
Name of Governing Body:  
Number of Council members:   4 Board Members, plus Executive Officers
Dates of Constitutional amendments: 
Executive Officers:  Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary-Treasurer

Elections:

Language Classification:

Siouan-Catawban => Siouan => Ohio Valley Siouan (AKA Southeastern Siouan) => Mississippi Siouan (AKA Ofo–Biloxi) => Biloxi and Ofo

The Tunica (or Tonica, or less common form Yuron) language was a language isolate spoken only in the Central and Lower Mississippi Valley in the United States by Native American Tunica peoples.

The Tunica tribe lived close to the Ofo and Avoyelles tribes in present-day Louisiana. They communicated with each other using Mobilian Jargon or French.

Language Dialects:

Number of fluent Speakers:

When the last-known native Tunica speaker, Sesostrie Youchigant, died in 1950, the language became extinct.

In an effort to re-awaken the Tunica language, the tribe partnered with the Tulane University Linguistics Program in 2010 to start the Tunica Language Project. The Tulane partnership led to creation of the Language & Culture Revitalization Program (LCRP) in 2014.

LCRP holds four 8-week series of Tunica language classes each year in the Fall and Spring. Classes are held after school from 4 – 5 p.m. on Tuesdays for ages 5-10 and Wednesdays for ages 11-17.

Dictionary:

Linguist Mary Haas had worked with Youchigant to describe what he remembered of the language. She published the description in A Grammar of the Tunica Language in 1941, followed by Tunica Texts in 1950, and Tunica Dictionary in 1953.
A Structural and Lexical Comparison of the Tunica, Chitimacha, and Atakapa Languages
Dictionary Of Biloxi And Ofo Languages – Accompanied With Thirty-one Biloxi Texts And Numerous Biloxi Phrases

Origins:

Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes:

Traditional Allies:

Traditional Enemies:

By the early 1700s, the Chickasaw raided the Indian tribes along the lower Mississippi River to capture people for the English slave trade in South Carolina. They took an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 captives from the Tunica, Taensa, and Quapaw tribes during this period.

Quapaw, Natchez

Ceremonies / Dances:

Corn Feast

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

The annual Tunica-Biloxi Pow Wow is held the third full weekend in May.

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts: Pine needle basketry, cane basketry.

Adornment:

The Tunica tattooed themselves.

Animals:

The Tunica were prominent horse traders, selling to the French in the 1700s.

Clothing:

Housing:

They had a permanent network of villages.

Subsistance:

The Tunica were originally an agricultural society, with great fields of maise. The crops were cultivated by the men, who did not hunt. By the mid to late 1700s, the Tunica began to rely more on hunting for their sustenance than farming, and often worked for Europeans as hunters or guides. 

The trade in salt was an ancient profession among the Tunica, as evidenced by de Soto’s noting salt production when visiting the village of Tanico. Salt was extremely important in the trade between the French and the various Caddoan groups in northwestern Louisiana and southwestern Arkansas. Scholars believe the Tunica were middlemen in the movement of salt from the Caddoan areas to the French.

Economy Today:

The tribe owns Paragon Casino Resort and Golf Club, Acacia Entertainment, MobiLoans, and Tunica-Biloxi Holdings, Inc.

The Tunica-Biloxi Cultural and Educational Resources Center (CERC) is a 40,000-square-foot building including a museum exhibit hall, conservation and restoration laboratory, gift shop, library, auditorium, classrooms, distance learning center, meeting rooms and tribal government offices.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

The Tunica (and the nearby Taensa and Natchez) had a complex religion. They had built temples, created cult images, and had a priest class. The Tunica, Taensa, and Natchez retained chiefdom characteristics, such as a complex religion and, in the case of the Natchez, use and maintenance of platform mounds, after they had disappeared elsewhere.

Burial Customs:

Many possessions were buried with the dead.

Wedding Customs:

Since the early 19th century, the Tunica have intermarried with the Biloxi tribe, an unrelated Siouan-speaking people from the vicinity of Biloxi, Mississippi.

Radio:  
Newspapers:  

Chiefs & Famous People:

Catastrophic Events:

By the 17th century, they had suffered a high rate of fatalities due to Eurasian infectious diseases, warfare and social disruption.

Tribe History:

In the News:

In the 1960s a treasure hunter named Leonard Charrier began searching for artifacts at the Trudeau Landing site in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana. The Tunica, who felt he had stolen tribal heirlooms and desecrated the graves of their ancestors, were outraged. In the 1970s the site was excavated by archaeologists, uncovering large amounts of pottery, European trade goods and other artifacts deposited as grave goods by the Tunica from 1731 to 1764 when they occupied the site. A lawsuit, with help from the State of Louisiana, was begun by the tribe for the title to the artifacts, which has subsequently become known as the “Tunica treasure”. A decade was to pass in the courts, but the ruling became a landmark in American Indian history, and helped lay the groundwork for new federal legislation, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, passed in 1990.

Further Reading:

Mobilian Jargon: Linguistic and Sociohistorical Aspects of a Native American Pidgin
The Natchez Indians: A History to 1735
Tunica Treasure (Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology)
Native American Legends of the Southeast: Tales from the Natchez, Caddo, Biloxi, Chickasaw, and Other Nations