Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 13, 2001 - Issue 27



Mississippi Choctaws


The Benefits of Peace Chiefs


Indian Country Today

If a people are going to strive to achieve economic prosperity, the reduction of conflict, the acceptance and understanding of peace, is a most useful strategy. Mutual understanding, common cause and unite of action become possible.

Little ever improves from virulent conflict and nothing moves forward in war. Leadership with vision often works actively to reduce conflict while putting its major efforts toward the positive building of fair community governance and efficient enterprises.

At this moment of shifting political climates, when the future of Native nations is clouded by uncertainties on the national level, it seems proper to salute a consistent peace chief, one who led his own people from severe poverty and obscurity to sustained prosperity and regional political prominence.

He is Phillip Martin, long-time chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. A man of great perseverance, the 75-year-old Martin has led and guided his 6,000-member Choctaw tribe since 1959. Periodically, yet consistently reelected to the tribe's highest office for more than 40 years, Phillip Martin is universally credited for the success of the Choctaw, who are well posed to enter the 21st century as a self-determined people.

While other, more conflictive tribes have deepened their economic dependencies and allowed spirals of violence to weaken their body politic, the Mississippi Choctaws have built steadily for more than 30 years.

A well-entrenched tradition remembers the attitude of historical chief, Pushmataha, who in 1811 reasoned against war with their neighbors while Tecumseh appealed to the Choctaw warriors to join his war parties. While he had been a great warrior as a young man, Pushmataha opted for peace as he aged as a chief.

While Tecumseh has come down through the history as the greater leader, and Pushmataha is the lesser known. Interestingly, the response of Pushmataha, who coolly analyzed the horrible suffering war would bring, was actually quite sophisticated and just as completely dedicated to the preservation and survival of his people.

He pointed out how his own tribe had painstakingly worked out friendly relations with their white neighbors. Their relations were reciprocal and as a result, things were going well. To start killing their neighbors with whom they had such relations did not seem a good idea to Pushmataha, who kept his people out of the war and guided them for another 14 years.

Like Pushmataha, Phillip Martin came home from war to embark in a career that would build education and civic action and economic opportunity for his people. He was one of those from what has been called "the greatest generation."

A World War II Air Force combat veteran who lost a brother in the war, Martin served in the military until 1955.When he returned home, his people had their pride and their language, but little else. They were among the poorest sharecroppers in a poor state, acutely discriminated against. They were basically just holding on to a tribal base, having come through a very dark historical period as a people of color in a racially polarized South. Suffering from 80 percent unemployment, 90 percent lived in poverty and the tribe averaged a sixth-grade education.

Appreciably, Martin returned home of sound mind and character and applied himself to the betterment of his people through self-sufficient enterprise.

Martin led an early fight to construct and operated the first high school on the reservation in 1963, beginning a trend that has seen consistent improvement in the educational level of the reservation population. He began the planning that would lay out a modern community infrastructure with good housing.

He pursued and constructed an industrial park and after 10 years of chasing contracts, began a successful 20 years of economic growth. General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Oxford Speakers and other companies have located manufacturing plants in the Choctaw's 80-acre industrial park, which boasts 500,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

By 1994, the year when their enterprises diversified and accelerated with construction of a casino and entertainment center, the nation ran a total payroll topping $84 million. It had sound management and was ready to take on the complexity of gaming.

The nation's Chahta Enterprises is now one of the 10 top employers in Mississippi. Its entertainment complex receives more than 2.5 million visitors a year and the tribe has built more than 1,000 new houses, constructed a major hospital, schools, nursing home, shopping center and day care center.

In what used to be the poorest county in the poorest state in the United States, in one of the most conservative state sin the union, the Choctaws led an economic revolution. Today, with nearly universal employment., only 2.7 percent of household income comes from social services and this mostly involves elderly and handicapped.

The tribe's manufacturing plants, still going strong, consistently win high quality awards. They employ some 8,000 people, mostly non-Natives. Most interestingly, a stroll down the reservation's main elementary school will reveal a lot of students speaking fluent Choctaw.

"Tell the other tribes" Martin says, "we can all do this. If you really want to do it, and get your act together, you can do it."

This is a generous thought, but such progress will also require vision, and political acumen. To Martin's credit, when the political winds turned right in 1994, he was positioned to solidify friendships with such Republican powerhouses as Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.

Hiring quality lobbyists as their new wealth allowed, the Choctaw leader persuaded a good sector of Republicans to the righteousness of the Native nation's sovereignty from taxation. In particular, the Choctaw initiative convinced the country's major anti-tax organization -- Americans for Tax Reform, whose 500-plus organizations network and 90,000 activists supported the Indian case as an anti-tax strategy.

Politics is the art of achieving your group's self-interest, and it certainly makes for diverse bedfellows. But always the proof is in the pudding. The Choctaw strategy, precise and proper for their geo-political context, is pragmatically brilliant.

In the hold of the old South, this Mississippi tribe provides a welcome signal, an example of where visionary leadership can make a huge difference to the future of a people. An appreciation and salutation is due Choctaw chief and statesman, Phillip Martin, visionary, quiet building, steady helm.

Mississippi Band of Choctaw


Brief History of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw




  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.