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The Tunica Biloxi Tribe

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.

Don Healy, Bisbee, Az 85603