The Natchez is a Native American ethnic group that initially lived in the Natchez Bluffs area in the Lower Mississippi Valley, which is the present-day town of Natchez, Mississippi. They are greatly notable for being the only culture of Mississippian Native Americans that established a complex structure of chiefdom and survived the extensive period of European organization of America. Compared to other native nations that had predominantly declined over this period, the Natchez were successful in maintaining their structure. The established structure implied the existence of nobility classes and practices of exogamous marriage. The ethnic group developed a system of matrilineal kinship, with descent being transferred among female lines. This meant that the chief of the tribe (referred to as the Great Sun) was the first son of the Female Sun, the daughter of whom would become the mother of the next great chief.1 This way, the ruling of the group always remained under the control of the same Sun lineage.
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Matrilineal kinship is a notable characteristic of the Natchez because the group adheres to it to this day. As mentioned by Knight, matrilineal exogamy was first accurately described by John Lederer, an English adventurer during his travels to Eastern North America in the late seventeenth century.2 He wrote “[…] four women […] derive the race of mankind; which they, therefore, divide into four Tribes, distinguished under those several names. They very religiously observe the degrees of marriage, which they limit […] to the difference of Tribes, which are continued in the issue of the females.3” Such a social structure is similar to the makeup of governments that transferred power throughout the same family line.
The question of whether the structure of the Natchez is that of a state is controversial. However, several matching points should be mentioned. Today, the main settlements of the Natchez (Nice or Nahchee) reside in the southern parts of the Cherokee and Muscogee Nations in Oklahoma. In 2003, the nation developed its constitution, which confirmed the long-term tradition of self-government and independence.4 At this time, six thousand Natchez is members of the nation, with matrilineal descent remaining the vital descent tradition. This allows group members to have several tribal affiliations, which promotes diversity and the increase of population.
Also, Natchez families are found to be members of the Five Civilized Tribes. These tribes are represented as corporations within the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma and Sac & Fox Nation. It is also important to note that small communities of the Native group can be found in the far North and the Southeast of Carolina. In South Carolina, there are two state-recognized communities of the Natchez that have their own separate governments, which is similar to the state-local system of control. The two independent governments include the Eastern Band Natchez and the Edisto.
In regards to leadership, the current Natchez population is under the rule of a Peace Chief, which is also referred to as the “Great Sun,” a War Chief, and four Clan Mothers.5 They represent a system of government in which several leaders are responsible for making decisions regarding the well-being of the group as well as collaborate on political matters ensuring Natchez’s unity and relative independence. Nevertheless, calling the political structure of the population to be that of a state is a reach; however, given the long history of governance within the tribe that adhered to specific principles, such as the constitution, there are strong links to the state-like structures.
Knight, Chris. “Revisiting Matrilineal Priority.” Radical Anthropology Group. Web.
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- Chris Knight, “Revising Matrilineal Priority,” Radical Anthropology Group, Web.
- Knight, “Revising Matrilineal Priority.”
- “Constitution of the Sovereign Natchez Nation of the Traditional Myskoke Confederacy,” Natchez Nation, Web.
- “Constitution of the Sovereign Natchez Nation of the Traditional Myskoke Confederacy,” Natchez Nation.