Native Americans of Mississippi and Louisiana, the Natchez Indians are originally from the Natchez Bluffs area. Known for their complex, unusual system of classes, the Natchez people maintained their culture long after the arrival of Europeans in North America. Most modern Natchez people live in Oklahoma, though two additional Natchez communities can be found in South Carolina.
The Natchez language, though isolated, is related to the Muscogee languages spoken by the Creek Confederacy. In 2003, the Natchez Nation established a constitution that confirms its rights for self-governance. The nation consists of 6,000 Natchez people who are granted membership based on their matrilineal descent. Citizens are allowed to have multiple affiliations, however, and support their nation through work or donations.
Natchez chiefs were known as suns, with the primary chief known as the Great Sun. The Great Sun lived in the Grand Village established by the Natchez Indians. Chiefs with lesser powers lived and presided over smaller Natchez villages. During the 1720s, when a particularly powerful Great Sun and his brother, Tattooed Serpent, died, the Natchez people were ruled by inexperienced leaders who had difficulty maintaining the surrounding Natchez villages.
When a Sun died, a ritual human sacrifice was performed. The sacrifice was considered a great honor. A Sun's wives were expected to commit suicide upon his death, and many other tribal members often chose to do so out of honor as well. Relatives of those who sacrificed themselves were provided with great honor following the sacrifice. Mothers sometimes sacrificed their infant children in order to receive such honor and status.
During the 1730s, the numbers of the Natchez Indians severely declined after wars with the French. Most Natchez tribe members were sold into slavery to people of the West Indies by the French. Of the few who remain, most of their ancestors took refuge with neighboring tribes to survive. The Natchez Nation of Oklahoma is a treaty tribe, and exists in conjunction with the nationally recognized Muscogee and Cherokee nations.
Scholars debate about the controversial Natchez social order. Natchez Indians practiced exogamous marriage, in which Suns, the highest ranking social class, were permitted to marry only commoners, known as Stinkards, who were members of the lowest class. Natchez social status was purportedly divided into categories consisting of nobility and commoners, which were also divided into sub-classes or castes.
Castes in the nobility category were said to include the Honored People,, and Suns. Caste was determined matrilineally. While offspring of female nobility were able to keep their class, offspring of male nobility inherited a class beneath their father's status. Male Natchez Indians, however, outranked female tribal members, and held many additional rights, including the right to eat first.