The Choctaw (alternatively spelled Chahta, Chactas, Tchakta, Chocktaw, and Chactaw) are Native American people originally from the Southeastern United States (modern-day Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana). The Choctaw language belongs to the Muskogean linguistic group. The Choctaw are descendants of the peoples of the Hopewell and Mississippian cultures, who lived throughout the east of the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries. About 1,700 years ago, the Hopewell people built Nanih Waiya, a great earthwork mound, which is still considered sacred by the Choctaw. The early Spanish explorers of the mid-16th century encountered Mississippian-culture villages and chiefs. The anthropologist John Swanton suggested that the Choctaw derived their name from an early leader. Henry Halbert, a historian, suggests that their name is derived from the Choctaw phrase Hacha hatak (river people).
The Choctaw coalesced as a people in the 17th century, and developed three distinct political and geographical divisions: eastern, western and southern, which sometimes created differing alliances with nearby European powers. These included the French, based on the Gulf Coast and in Louisiana, the English of the Southeast, and the Spanish of Florida and Louisiana during the colonial era. During the American Revolution, most Choctaw supported the Thirteen Colonies' bid for independence from the British Crown. They never went to war against the United States prior to Indian Removal.
In the 19th century, the Choctaw became known as one of the "Five Civilized Tribes" because they adopted numerous practices of their United States neighbors. The Choctaw and the United States (US) agreed to nine treaties and, by the last three, the US gained vast land cessions and deracinated most Choctaw west of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory. They were the first Native Americans forced under the Indian Removal Act. The Choctaw were exiled because the U.S. wanted to expand territory available for settlement by European Americans, to save the tribe from extinction, and to acquire their natural resources. The Choctaw negotiated the largest area and most desirable lands in Indian Territory. Their early government had three districts, each with its own chief, who together with the town chiefs sat on the National Council. They appointed a Choctaw Delegate to represent them with the US government in Washington, DC.
By the 1831 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, those Choctaw who chose to stay in the newly formed state of Mississippi were one of the first major non-European ethnic groups to become U.S. citizens. (Article 8 in the 1817 treaty with the Cherokee stated Cherokees may wish to become citizen of the United States.) During the American Civil War, the Choctaw in both Oklahoma and Mississippi mostly sided with the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy suggested it would support a state under Indian control if it won the war. In a new treaty after the war, the US required them to emancipate their slaves and offer them full citizenship; they have become known as Choctaw Freedmen. After the Civil War, the Mississippi Choctaw fell into obscurity for some time.
The Choctaw in Oklahoma struggled to build a nation, transferring the Choctaw Academy there and opening one for girls in the 1840s. In the aftermath of the Dawes Act, the US dissolved tribal governments and appointed chiefs. During World War I, Choctaw soldiers served in the U.S. military as the first Native American codetalkers, using the Choctaw language. After the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Choctaw reconstituted their government, and the Choctaw Nation had kept their culture alive despite years of pressure for assimilation. The third largest federally recognized tribe, since the mid-twentieth century, they have created new institutions, such as a tribal college, housing authority, and justice system. Today the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians are the two federally recognized Choctaw tribes; Mississippi recognizes another band, and smaller Choctaw groups are located in Alabama (MOWA), Louisiana (Jena), and Texas.