Article Written by Bill Day
The Tunica and Biloxi Indians have lived on their reservation near Marksville, Louisiana, for over two centuries, during which the tribes, though speaking completely different languages,
intermarried. The first half of the motto on the Tunica-Biloxi flag, "Cherishing Our Past," refers to the Tunica's pre-Marksville history -- an odyssey without parallel among Lower Mississippi
Valley tribes. As recounted by Dr. Jeffrey P. Brain in "The Tunica Trail", the Tunica inhabited Quizquiz, a great center of power in northwestern Mississippi when the Spanish explorer De Soto encounteredthem in 1541. The Tunica exercised influence over a wide territory, encompassing present-dayArkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, and even Florida. They were traders and entrepreneurs of the first order. Under severe pressure from European diseases,famine, and warfare, the Tunica steadily moved southward, following the Mississippi River.
The Biloxi were a tribe on the Mississippi Gulf Coast at present-day Biloxi, Mississippi. They were the first people the French colonizers, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville and his brother Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, encountered in 1669. The Biloxi, like the Tunica, formed a strong alliance with the French, which for a while brought them important economic and political
benefits, later, after the French were expelled, they allied themselves with the Spanish, rulers of Florida.
Through their commercial skills and adaptability the Tunica accumulated unprecedented quantities of European artifacts, primarily from the French with whom they established close political and military ties, but also from the Spanish. In this lie the roots of the second half of the Tunica flag motto, "Building For Our Future," which refers to the intense struggle for Federal recognition (achieved in 1981), to the ensuing effort to recover the so-called "Tunica Treasure" pilfered from the graves of their ancestors, and finally to the building of the Tunica-Biloxi Museum that houses the Tunica Treasure and serves as a shrine to tribal ancestors. As Dr.William Day, Director of the Museum, points out, the struggle associated with the return of the Tunica Treasure "not only triggered the largest return of American Indian grave goods ever... but laid the foundation of a new Federal Law, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act".
The full motto on the Tunica-Biloxi flag, "Cherishing Our Past, Building For Our Future," both
summarizes four-and-a-half centuries of tribal history and highlights their lasting contributions to a keystone Native American belief: the reverence and preservation of ancestral remains.
The flag was developed by the tribe in 1992. At the fly end (right side) appear, in white with black detail, the yellow-beaked head of an eagle based on an ancient southeastern Indian design.
The forked-eye design is important because it reproduces a well-known artistic feature from the
Mississippian Period, during which this design was commonly used on conch shells, copper, and pottery (6th through 18th centuries). The eagle dominates a white-bordered red disk symbolizing the sun, while the black rayed design around the disk alludes to the known but unseen power behind the sun.
The three white eagle feathers with black trim and detail refer to one of the most ancient of Tunica-Biloxi myths. It is about a tribal priest who wished to send a prayer to the sun, but didn't know how to get it there. He called upon his friend the bear, who said -- for in those days men and animals could understand one another plainly -- that he could carry it only to the top of the tallest tree. Fortunately, the bear knew someone able to deliver the prayer all the way to the sun: Brother Eagle. And the eagle, according to the legend, circled ever higher and higher until he reached the sun -- a beautiful woman. She said to the eagle, "Wait, give me one of your feathers, I will kiss it with my hot breath, and then you carry it back to the Tunica-Biloxi as a sign that I have chosen them as my people." And that is why, to this day, the top of an eagle's feather is still scorched black from the kiss of the sun. And that is also why the sun is symbolized on the feathers of the Tunica-Biloxi flag by the black-edged red dot on each feather hanging beneath the central design.
The flag is displayed in front of the Tunica-Biloxi Museum, the tribal headquarters, and in the
tribal council chambers.
I would like to acknowledge the contribution of William Day and Chief Barbry who supplied all the facts and stories from the Tunica-Biloxi.
The Tunica-Biloxi history by no means stops with repatriation and restoration of the "Tunica Treasure." Earl J. Barbry, Sr., descendant of hereditary chiefs, has guided the Tribe's destiny since his election in 1978. Chairman Barbry has used the benefits of federal recognition to secure a high standard of living for his people. Where once there were shacks with no indoor plumbing and drinking water carried from the creek, there are modern, air conditioned homes, dirt roads have been paved, and the school bus, which used to not carry Indian children, now stops on the reservations. A lake and other recreational facilities are in daily use. Health Care and Social Services, which have been housed in the Tribal Community Center and Office Complex, will soon be located in a new building of their own. Per capita income of the some five hundred tribal members has, for a very long time, been well below the norm. But that will now change with the advent of perhaps the most obvious element of the "new" history of the Tunica-Biloxi.
Grand Casino Avoyelles is now open. The sixty-acre complex is the first full-scale Indian-owned casino in the south and the first land-based casino in Louisiana. Located on the Tunica-Biloxi Reservation, the casino is the largest private employer in Avoyelles Parish. Its monthly payroll is over a million dollars. Income from the gaming, restaurants, and hotel is dedicated to furthering the economic independence of the Sovereign Tunica-Biloxi Nation, and its people.
At the dedication and ribbon ceremonies, Louisiana's Commissioner of Administration paid tribute to the determination and perseverance of Chairman Barbry, calling him, "the strongest Indian leader of the century."
In 1730, a French colonial governor wrote that "the Tunica Chief was the greatest entrepreneur in the Mississippi Valley." Perhaps it is true that history is not only a continuum, but that it also repeats itself.
|Upcoming Meetings / Events
<August 14, 2010
September 11, 2010
Tunica-Biloxi Chairman Honored as 'Louisiana Legend'
Chairman Earl Barbry Sr. of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe was honored as a 2006 Louisiana Legend as the
longest term in office in Native Country ... Read More
Council Reviews Trust Programs
Tribal officials met with
legal and financial experts on
February 27th during their regular executive session...
Criminal Activity Policies Developed
In January 2007, the
Tribal Council adopted the
Code of Ordinances for residing
on the reservation and on
Maintenance Requirement of Reservation
The tribe’s Housing
Authority requires that existing
homeowners or future homeowners for those planning to build on the reservation must maintain the lots where they reside or will reside...
Indian Preference To Be Secured by Tribal Law
The Tunica-Biloxi Tribal
Council is nearing completion of a
tribal employment rights ordinance.
Work on the document began over
two years ago, and was postponed
periodically from time to time as
other issues became the focus of
the Council’s attention.