Phillip Martin: Casinos and Choctaw Baskets

[imgbelt img=Phillip_martin320.jpg]The longtime chief of the Mississippi Choctaw managed to pour gambling revenue back to his people, creating jobs, improving youth recreation, and preserving tribal arts.


Crossroads of the Heart

Choctaw basketmaker Norma Thompson, a master of a proud tribal handicraft.

The NYT’s noted after his death that Martin led his tribe to wealth during his 28 year tenure as chief, building an industrial park and luring businesses to the area.

The accomplishments of this short scrappy man and his people pierced my objective journalist’s shell and went straight to my Ojibwe heart. I confess, my eyes filled with tears of pride when I saw that the tribe opened its school athletic fields, the best in the county, to students from poorer districts. The Choctaw High School girls and boys basketball teams are also among the best in the state. 

During a visit to the Choctaw Cultural Center, I noticed a back room filled to the rafters with traditional Choctaw grass baskets. The beautiful, intricately woven baskets are one hallmark of Choctaw tradition. The tribe used its casino earnings to buy baskets produced by community members to ensure the skill doesn’t die out.

[imgcontainer left] [img:Phillip_martin320.jpg] [source]NASA, via wiki

Phillip Martin (March 13, 1926 – Feb. 4, 2010)

Phillip Martin and the Mississippi Choctaw gave me a glimpse of the true intended vision of Indian self-determination.  Martin has his critics, of course, and was not without fault.  In recent years, it was revealed that he had ties to the disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who encouraged his Indian clients to donate money to the tax-exempt organization that he used for his own purposes, according to the Washington Post.

But Martin was a player. The Times quoted from a speech he delivered to a national gathering of tribal administrators in 1986. “We decided if we were going to live here we should try to do something for ourselves,” Martin said. “Our success has changed the attitudes not only of the Choctaw but of our neighbors.”