So I did. And I apparently know it better than the pro-mascot supporters of Biloxi, Mississippi. Here is what I put together for my recent radio appearance on Native mascots, Biloxi, and the lack of history or honor in Biloxi’s stereotyping representation of members of the Tunica-Biloxi tribe:
I’m going to give a little information about the history of Biloxi, the city, its school, and its relationship with the Biloxi tribe. Unfortunately, some of our allied Biloxi residents who wanted to provide more information from the local library informed me that the library is closed until Tuesday on account of the celebration of a Confederate Holiday. So we will surely have more information once that date has passed:
In my experience thus far with this Biloxi mascot issue, outspoken advocates are nearly always alumni of the Biloxi school system. I find this frustrating, considering we are dealing with the present. In short, these folks need to “let go” and stop telling us we have “more important things to worry about” when we consider this something that directly affects our youth. They, however, see this as something directly affecting their pride. Every single piece of their evidence for why they should be the Biloxi Indians revolves around their history with the Biloxi tribe, their honoring the tribe, their receiving of a headdress or of permission to use its symbol from the Biloxi tribe, and their confidence in how their tradition will be easily defended by the Tunica-Biloxi tribe as soon as they hear back from them. Well, many of these people are the same alumni who have said online that the Biloxi don’t have enough blood quantum for their voice to matter anymore. So many of these people also claim Native blood, yet the demographics to both Oceans Springs and Biloxi, Mississippi show that predominantly white people inhabit these cities. Out of the Native population, a fraction of a percentage of self-proclaimed indigenous peoples exist in both cities. Regardless, I will present a history of the city and the school, and Jean-Luc will fill us in about the relationship between the school and his tribe, and what he thinks about this situation.
According to the Biloxi, Mississippi Wikipedia page, Biloxi was the 3rd largest Mississippian city, behind Jackson and Gulfport, until Hurricane Katrina; now it has fallen to the 5th. The Wikipedia page makes no mention of the name’s origin or of any Indian tribes. Instead, it talks about “Biloxi” being derived from “Fort Bilocci” in French, another name for “Fort Maurepas”.
The Ocean Springs, a neighboring city on the Mississippian Gulf Coast, has a Wikipedia page as well. This site declares that “seafood has been celebrated” as its heritage, but, like the Biloxi page, makes no mention of Indians.
Biloxi’s city homepage fails to mention the importance of the Biloxi tribe to its existence. Instead, it notes the 8 flags that have flown there: France, England, Spain, Republic of West Florida, Confederate States of America, and the United States of America, as well as the old Magnolia State flag, and the current Mississippi state flag. The site says Biloxi was inhabited by Native Americans as early as 8000 BCE up to the 1700s. It also states that the first French and French-Canadians to arrive in 1699 became “friends with the Biloxi Indians”, without any documentation. It also says the Indians there spoke “the Sioux language” and that they “most likely migrated form the northeast”. Furthermore it states that there is “some indication” that the Indians arrived shortly before the French.
Ocean Springs also has some history on its website. It explains that Old Biloxi, was the past name for Ocean Springs. New Biloxi (Biloxi) became “essentially abandoned after the capital of Louisiana was moved to New Orleans in 1722.” “The historical record of Ocean Springs during the next 100 years is rather sparse…It is probable that some French and French-Canadians remained in the area after Old Biloxi was abandoned in 1720. New Biloxi met the same fate circa 1728.”
In other words, there is no continued relation with indigenous peoples in the area.
In 1763, land east of the Mississippi River was ceded to England. The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1783, gave British West Florida to Spain. Spain held this land until 1810, when the Republic of West Florida was declared. In 1811, this became the United States. Mississippi entered the Union in 1817, bringing many Americans into its land. Immigrants flooded in to work as seamen and laborers. In 1853, Ocean Springs Hotel was founded, and in 1854, Old Biloxi was changed to “Ocean Springs” as it was considered a more appropriate title for the tourist and seaside city, abandoned of its Native heritage. No more is mentioned of indigenous peoples.
On the Biloxi Historical Society website, absolutely nothing speaks of honor for the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe or the Biloxi Indian historical inhabitants. The only mention of any “Indians” exists under the Athletes section and the Time Line.
Under the Time Line section for Biloxi, documented as 1682-present, the historian writes “I have subjectively gleaned salient dates and facts relating to our local chronology”…
The historical account does not mention the tribe. In fact, it indicates that continuous occupation did not exist until long after indigenous peoples had left the area.
Fast-forward to the 20th century: the newspaper reports several instances of Bilxoi Indians – but none of these pertain to the tribe. Beginning on December 7, 1926, we learn that the “Indians”, under Coach Tranny, “were outweighed 24-pounds per man” against the Sunflower County Agricultural High School from Mooreland. This continues until present use.
In fact, we learn this from a publication by the Daily Herald:
“In the fall of 1926, Biloxi High School changed its moniker from the ‘Yellow Jackets’ to the ‘Redskins’. The new school colors became maroon and white, replacing the former black and gold. Coach Tranny L. Gaddy (1894-1975) was responsible for the change.”
In 1927, we already see the name “Indians” being implemented. Throughout the spring semester, the term “Biloxi Indians” is referenced several times. Meanwhile, both amateur and professional baseball teams reflect the seafood culture and heritage of the city, going by the mascots of Sea Gulls and Pelicans through at least the late 1920s and also the 1930s.
On March 30, 1927 – going even closer to the change to “Redskins” – the Daily Herald writes, “Biloxi INJUNS Add Big Six Crown to Titles”. Yes, not Redskins. Not Indians. But Injuns. This theme continues into next year. October 10, 1927, “Biloxi Indians Run Wild over Moss Pointers; 44-0”. April 9, 1928, “High Schoolers Play Hard But Lose to Finny Tribe.”
Under the Public Schools section, we learn that the Biloxi school system is actually rather impressive in its outreach and educating students, such as in the area of health and in its success in athletes and college graduates. However, the history, like most of the south, is steeped in racial segregation. Clearly, it does not have a good recent history in educating its students on human equality. Its first Colored School opened in 1893. “Wade-Ins” on the segregated beaches of Biloxi occurred in the late 1950s. In 1964, a litigation, “Gilbert R. Mason v. the Biloxi Municipal School District”, made some changes. It was stated that “a plan was submitted to Federal authorities to desegregate the 1st grade in Biloxi Public schools for the 1964-1965 school years. 15 Biloxi schools were affected.”
On November 7th, 1975, the Daily Herald reported a demonstration by 40 black students against the school’s grooming policy outlawing cornrows. This would, in theory, be the senior year of the first integrated students.
The Class of 1961 was the last one to be in the “Old School” – a school that neither saw Air Conditioning, nor integration at any point in its existence.
In the meantime, from the Tunica-Biloxi’s recommendation for Federally Recognized Tribal status, we can learn a lot about the most comprehensive history in existence of the Biloxi people and their current existence.
In this letter, we learn that four tribes have fused into one, having extensive documented contact with French and Spanish authorities through the 1700s. A Tunica community has maintained at the Marksville site since the Tunicas first migrated into the area in the 1770s. The Ofoand Biloxi came into the area around the same time. The Avoyel were located in this area at the time of the earliest non-Indian contact. Thus all were located in the area before the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
In 1763, the Biloxi are recorded as living across from the Tunica on the Mississippi River. In 1784, the last Biloxi to live near the mouth of the Red River on the Mississippi across from the Tunica are recorded as living with the Pascagoula.
In April 1778, the Tunicas, Ofos, and Biloxis all traded their English medals for Spanish replacements as a token of their allegiance. Essentially, they moved west to evade British rule.
The Tunicas tried halting non-Indian encroachment on tribal land in 1826 and again in the 1840s through several State Court legal efforts and hearings.
At about 1810, the Tunica Village at Marksville had technically been fused with other tribes already. Some remnant Biloxi communities had remained separate. Even in the 1930s and 1940s, a portion had migrated into Texas. By 1797, Biloxis were living in villages near Marksville, Louisiana. By the 1840s, they’d lost any communally held land.
In 1826, the US government referred to the Tunicas as “Indians” and “savages” in their documented land disputes.
On October 9, 1924, the Biloxis recognized Eli Barbry, then a Tunica sub-chief, as leader. Authorization was given to unite the Biloxi with the Tunica. This tribal merger therefore occurred before Biloxi, Mississipi’s alleged honoring of the Biloxi Indians. In 1936, chieftainship was established. In the 1930s, twice the tribe sought federal recognition – but were considered too small. The tribe finally established its recognition in the 1970s, and the Biloxi school system, in all of its modern claims to “honoring” the tribe, had no play in assisting during this process.
From my research, I see no evidence in the history of the tribe, the city, the school, or anything of the area that suggests the school is honoring the Biloxi people is at all true. From what I see, this mascot and its names originated in an incredibly racist era where indigenous peoples were not respected as human beings. Yet the same people who have been cyber-bullying Natives continue to insist they are honoring us, that they are continuing their tradition after having been given permission by the Biloxi to use these symbols and the Biloxi headdre. Furthermore, testimonies from tribal members confirm our understanding of the history and deny any honor given by Biloxi or permission granted to use stolen cultural symbols.
Biloxi, have YOU done your research?