The Chickasaw Nation
Chikashsha I̠yaakni' (Chickasaw)
|Constitution||August 30, 1856|
|Capital||Tishomingo, Oklahoma (Historically) Ada, Oklahoma (1907-Present)|
|• Governor||Bill Anoatubby|
|• Total||7,648 sq mi (19,810 km2)|
|Time zone||UTC−06:00 (CST)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC−05:00 (CDT)|
|Area code(s)||580, 405 and 572|
The Chickasaw Nation (Chickasaw: Chikashsha I̠yaakni) is a federally recognized Native American tribe, with its headquarters located in Ada, Oklahoma in the United States. They are an Indigenous people of the Southeastern Woodlands, originally from northern Mississippi, northernwestern Alabama, southwestern Kentucky, and western Tennessee. Today, the Chickasaw Nation is the 13th largest tribe in the United States.
Currently, the nation's jurisdictional territory and reservation includes about 7,648 square miles of south-central Oklahoma, including Bryan, Carter, Coal, Garvin, Grady, Jefferson, Johnston, Love, McClain, Marshall, Murray, Pontotoc, and Stephens counties. These counties are separated into four districts, the Pontotoc, Pickens, Tishomingo, and Panola, with relatively equal populations. Their population today is estimated to be 38,000, with the majority residing in the state of Oklahoma.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, European Americans considered the Chickasaw as one of the historic Five Civilized Tribes, along with the Cherokee, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole nations, due their agrarian culture and later adoption of centralized governments with written constitutions, intermarriages with the white settlers, literacy, Christianity, market participation, and slave holding.
The Chickasaw language, Chikashshanompa’, belongs to the Muskogean language family. This is primarily an oral language, with no historic written component. A significant part of their culture is passed on to each generation through their oral history, consisting of intergenerational stories that speak to the tribe’s legacy and close relationship with the Choctaw. The similarities in the language of the Chickasaw and the Choctaw have prompted anthropologists to propose a number of theories regarding the origins of the Chickasaw Nation as it continues to remain uncertain.
Clans within the Chickasaw Nation are separated into two moieties: the Impsaktea and the Intcutwalipa, with each clan having their own leaders. Their tradition of matrilineal descent provides the basic societal structure of the nation, with children becoming members and under the care of their mother’s clan.
Mississippian cultures developed between around 800 CE along the Mississippi River and across the Eastern Woodlands with some regional variations. This was a period of increasing sociopolitical complexity, with the intensification of agriculture, settlements in larger towns or chiefdoms, as well as the formation of strategic alliances to facilitate communication. There is evidence of the organization of labor from the mounds built that remain today, as well as the skills of artisans and craftmanship from the elaborate and intricate remains of burials. Furthermore, as chiefdoms arose within the Chickasaw Nation in addition to across the Southeast, the increased social complexity and population growth were sustained by effective and widespread farming practices. While the origins of the Chickasaw continue to remain uncertain, there have been a number of proposed theories by anthropologists and historians. One theory is that the Chickasaw were at one time a part of the Choctaw and later branched off, given their close connections linguistically and geographically. Another is that they were descendants of the pre-historic Mississippian tribes, having migrated from the West given their oral histories. According to some of their oral stories, the Chickasaw first settled in the Chickasaw Old Fields, what is currently northern Alabama today, and later re-established themselves near the Tombigbee River.
Hernando de Soto is credited as being the first European to contact the Chickasaw during his travels of 1540, and along with his army, were some of the first, and last, European explorers to come into contact with the Mississippian cultures and nations of the Southeast. He learned they were an agrarian nation with the political organization of a chiefdom governmental system, with the head chief residing in the largest and main temple mound in the chiefdom, with the remaining family lineage and commoners spreading out across the villages. After an uneasy truce regarding letting the Spanish stay in their camps for the winter and surviving on the tribe's food supply, the Chickasaws planned a surprise night attack on Desoto and his men as they were in preparation to leave months later. Thus they successfully sent a defiant message to their European enemies not to return to their land. As a result, 150 years passed before the Chickasaw received another European expedition.
The next encounter the Chickasaw Nation had with European settlers was with French explorers René-Robert de La Salle and Henri de Tonti. Not long after, by the end of the 17th century, the Chickasaw Nation had established successful trade relationships with European settlers in the American Southwest. In exchange for hides and slaves, the Chickasaw obtained metal tools, guns, and other supplies from the settlers. The Chickasaw had a smaller population, of around 3,500-4,000 people, in comparison to their surrounding neighbors such as the Choctaw, with a population of about 20,000. However, there became increased efforts by the English and the French to establish and maintain strong alliances with the Chickasaw Nation as the struggles for power in the area relied primarily upon the allying of not only the Chickasaw, but the surrounding sovereign tribes in the region as well. Their effective trade routes later became the focal point of the wars fought between Great Britain and France. During the colonial period, some Chickasaw towns traded with French colonists from La Louisiane, including their settlements at Biloxi, or Mobile.
After the American Revolutionary War, the new state of Georgia was trying to strengthen its claim to western lands, which it said went to the Mississippi River under its colonial charter. It also wanted to satisfy a great demand by planters for land to develop, and the state government, including the governor, made deals to favor political insiders. Various development companies formed to speculate in land sales. After a scandal in the late 1780s, another developed in the 1790s. In what was referred to as the Yazoo land scandal of January 1795, the state of Georgia sold 22 million acres of its western lands to four land companies, although this territory was occupied by the Chickasaw and other tribes, and there were other European nations with some sovereignty in the area. This was the second Yazoo land sale, which generated outrage when the details were publicized. Reformers passed a state law forcing the annulment of this sale in February 1796. But the Georgia-Mississippi Company had already sold part of its holdings to the New England Mississippi Company, and it had sold portions to settlers. Conflicts arose as settlers tried to claim and develop these lands. Georgia finally ceded its claim to the US in 1810, but the issues took nearly another decade to resolve.
Abraham Bishop of New Haven, Connecticut, wrote a 1797 pamphlet to address the land speculation initiated by the Georgia-Mississippi Company. Within this discussion, he wrote about the Chickasaw and their territory in what became Mississippi:
The Chickasaws are a nation of Indians who inhabit the country on the east side of the Mississippi, on the head branches of the Tombeckbe (sic), Mobille (sic) and Yazoo rivers. Their country is an extensive plain, tolerably well watered from springs, and a pretty good soil. They have seven towns, and their number of fighting men is estimated at 575.
James Adair, who in 1744 resided among the Chickasaw, named their principal towns as being Shatara, Chookheereso, Hykehah, Tuskawillao, and Phalacheho. The Chickasaw sold a section of their lands with the Treaty of Tuscaloosa, resulting in the loss of what became known as the Jackson Purchase, in 1818. This area included western Kentucky and western Tennessee, both areas not heavily populated by members of the tribe. They remained in their primary homeland of northern Mississippi and northwest Alabama until the 1830s. After decades of increasing pressure by federal and state governments to cede their land, as European Americans were eager to move into their territory and had already begun to do so as squatters or under fraudulent land sales, the Chickasaw finally agreed to cede their remaining Mississippi Homeland to the U.S. under the Treaty of Pontotoc Creek and relocate west of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory.
The Chickasaw removal is one of the most traumatic episodes in the history of the nation. As a result of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the Chickasaw Nation was forced to move to Indian territory, suffering a significant decline in population. However, due to the negotiating skills of the Chickasaw leaders, they were led to favorable sales of their land in Mississippi. Of the Five Civilized Tribes, the Chickasaw were one of the last ones to move. In 1837, the Chickasaw and Choctaw signed the Treaty of Doaksville, by which the Chickasaw purchased the western lands of the Choctaw Nation in Indian Territory. Their area in the western area of the nation was called the Chickasaw District. It consisted of what are now Panola, Wichita, Caddo, and Perry counties.
Although originally the western boundary of the Choctaw Nation extended to the 100th meridian, virtually no Chickasaw lived west of the Cross Timbers, due to continual raiding by the Plains Indians of the southern region. The United States eventually leased the area between the 100th and 98th meridians for the use of the Plains tribes. The area was referred to as the "Leased District".
The division of the Choctaw Nation was ratified by the Choctaw–Chickasaw Treaty of 1854. The Chickasaw constitution, establishing the nation as separate from the Choctaw, was signed August 30, 1856, in their new capital of Tishomingo (now Tishomingo, Oklahoma). The first Chickasaw governor was Cyrus Harris. The nation consisted of four divisions; Tishomingo County, Pontotoc County, Pickens County, and Panola County. Law enforcement in the nation was provided by the Chickasaw Lighthorsemen. Non-Indians fell under the jurisdiction of the Federal court at Fort Smith.
Following the Civil War, the United States forced the Chickasaw Nation into a new peace treaty due to their support for the Confederacy. Under the new treaty, the Chickasaw (and Choctaw) ceded the "Leased District" to the United States.
In 1907, when Oklahoma entered the union as the 46th state, the role of tribal governments in Indian Territories ceased, and as a result, the Chickasaw people were then granted United States citizenship. For decades, the United States appointed representatives for the Chickasaw Nation until 1971. Douglas H. Johnston was the first man to serve in this capacity. Governor Johnston served the Chickasaw Nation from 1906 until his death in 1939 at age 83. Though it may have seemed like the federal government finally achieved their goal of completely assimilating the Chickasaw Nation into mainstream American life, the Chickasaw people continued to practice traditional activities and gather together socially, believing that the community involvement would sustain their culture, language, and core beliefs and values. This gave rise to the movement towards which the Chickasaw would govern themselves.
During the 1960s and the period of the civil rights movement, Native American Indian activism was also on the rise. A group of Chickasaw met at Seeley Chapel, a small country church near Connerville, Oklahoma, to work toward the re-establishment of its government. With the passage of Public Law 91-495, their tribal government was recognized by the United States. In 1971, the people held their first tribal election since 1904. They elected Overton James by a landslide as governor of the Chickasaw Nation. Thus, the Chickasaw communities became even closer in support of one another for the greater good of the Chickasaw peoples.
Since the 1980s, the tribal government has focused on building an economically diverse base to generate funds that will support programs and services to Indian people.
Chikashshanompa’, a traditionally oral language, is the primary and official language of the Chickasaw Nation. Over 3,000 years old, Chikashshanompa’ is part of the Muskogean language family and is very similar to the Choctaw language. There has been a great decline over the years in the number of speakers, as the language is spoken by less than two hundred people today, with the majority being Chickasaw elders. The Chickasaw language was often discouraged in students attending school and was often discouraged in even tribally run schools. Recently, the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma has promoted the Chickasaw Language Revitalization Program enacted in 2007. The program focuses on the Master Apprentice Program, which pairs a language-learning student with an individual already fluent in Chikashshanompa’ in attempts to gain conversational fluency. Other attempts at language revitalization have included establishing university language courses, creating a language learning app, youth language clubs, and more.
At the core of Chickasaw religious beliefs and traditions is the supreme deity Aba' Binni'li' (Sitting or Dwelling Above), the spirit of fire and giver of life, light, and warmth. Aba' Binni'li' is believed to live above the clouds along with a number of other lesser deities such as the spirits of the sky, clouds, evil spirits, and more.
The Chickasaw Nation follows the traditional monogamous marriage system, with the groom obtaining the blessings of the wife’s parents and following with a simple ceremony soon after. Marriage ceremonies were all arranged by women. Adultery is a misdemeanor seriously looked down upon with severe private as well as public consequences since this was thought to bring shame and dishonor to the families. As the Chickasaws practice matrilineal descent, children usually follow their mother’s house/clan name.
The Green Corn Festival is one of the largest and most important ceremonies of the Chickasaw Nation. The festival is an important religious ceremony that takes place in the latter of summer, lasting two to eight days serving as a religious renewal in addition to thanksgiving, as all members of the tribe give thanks for the year’s corn harvest and pray to Aba' Binni'li'. Major events held during the celebration includes a two-day fast, a purification ceremony, the forgiveness of minor sins, the Stomp Dance (the most well-known traditional dances of the Chickasaw), major ball games, and more.
The Chickasaw Nation is headquartered in Ada, Oklahoma. Their tribal jurisdictional area is in Bryan, Carter, Coal, Garvin, Grady, Jefferson, Johnston, Love, McClain, Marshall, Murray, Pontotoc, and Stephens counties in Oklahoma. The tribal governor is Bill Anoatubby. Bill Anoatubby was elected governor in 1987, and at the time, the tribe had a larger spending budget than funds available. Anoatubby's effective management gradually led the tribe toward progress, as tribal operations and funding have increased exponentially. Governor Anoatubby also lists some of his primary goals as meeting the needs and desires of the Chickasaw people by providing opportunities for employment, higher education, as well as health care services.
The Chickasaw Nation’s current three-department system of government was established with the ratification of the 1983 Chickasaw Nation Constitution. The tribal government takes the form of a democratic republic. The governor and the lieutenant governor are elected to serve four-year terms and run for political office together. The Chickasaw government also has an executive branch, legislative branch, and judicial department. In addition to electing a governor along with a lieutenant governor, voters also select thirteen members to make up the tribal legislature (with three-year terms), and three justices to make up the tribal supreme court. The elected officials provided for in the Constitution believe in a unified commitment, whereby government policy serves the common good of all Chickasaw citizens. This common good extends to future generations as well as today’s citizens.
The structure of the current government encourages and supports infrastructure for strong business ventures and an advanced tribal economy. The use of new technologies and dynamic business strategies in a global market are also encouraged. Monies generated in business are divided between investments for further diversification of enterprises and support of tribal government operations, programs, and services for Indian people. This unique system is key to the Chickasaw Nation’s efforts to pursue self-sufficiency and self-determination, ensuring the continuous enrichment and support of Indian lives.
Revenues generated by Chickasaw Nation tribal business endeavors fund more than 200 programs and services. These programs cover education, health care, youth, aging, housing and more, all of which directly benefit Chickasaw families, Oklahomans and their communities.
Governor Bill Anoatubby appointed Charles W. Blackwell as the Chickasaw Nation's first Ambassador to the United States in 1995. (Blackwell had previously served as the Chickasaw delegate to the United States from 1990 to 1995). At the time of his appointment in 1995, Blackwell became the first Native American tribal ambassador to the United States government. Blackwell served in Washington as ambassador from 1995 until his death on January 3, 2013. Governor Bill Anoatubby named Neal McCaleb ambassador-at-large in 2013, a role similar to that of the late Charles Blackwell.
The Chickasaw Nation operates more than 100 diversified businesses in a variety of services and industries, including manufacturing, energy, health care, media, technology, hospitality, retail and tourism. Among these are Bedré Fine Chocolate in Davis, Lazer Zone Family Fun Center and the McSwain Theatre in Ada; The Artesian Hotel in Sulphur; Chickasaw Nation Industries in Norman, Oklahoma; Global Gaming Solutions, LLC; KADA (AM), KADA-FM, KCNP, KTLS, KXFC, and KYKC radio stations in Ada; and Treasure Valley Inn and Suites in Davis. In 1987, with funding from the US federal government, the Chickasaw Nation operated just over thirty programs in hopes of eventually reaching the state of being in a firm financial base. Today, the nation has more than two hundred tribally funded programs as well as more than sixty federally funded programs providing services from housing, education, entertainment, employment, healthcare, and more.
Governor Anoatubby highly prioritizes the services available to the Chickasaw people. Two health clinics (in Tishomingo and Ardmore), as well as the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center, was established in Ada, Oklahoma in 1987. Not long after, many more health clinics and facilities have opened as well, with even a convenient housing facility on the campus of the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center designed to relieve families and patients of travel and lodging costs if traveling far from home. Increases in higher education funding and scholarships have enabled many students to pursue higher education, with funding increasing from $200,000 thirty years ago to students receiving more than $15.6 million in scholarships, grants, and other educational support. The Chickasaw Nation is also contributing heavily to the tourism industry in Oklahoma. In 2010, the Chickasaw Cultural Center opened, attracting more than 200,000 visitors from around the world as well as providing hundreds of employment opportunities to local residents. In this year alone, the Chickasaw Nation also opened a Welcome Center, Artesian Hotel, Chickasaw Travel Shop, Chickasaw Conference Center and Retreat, Bedré Fine Chocolate Factory, and the Salt Creek Casino. In 2002, the Chickasaw Nation purchased Bank2 with headquarters in Oklahoma City. It was renamed Chickasaw Community Bank in January 2020. It started with $7.5 million in assets and has grown to $135 million in assets today. The Chickasaw Nation also operates many historical sites and museums, including the Chickasaw Nation Capitols, and Kullihoma Grounds, as well as a number of casinos. Their casinos include Ada Gaming Center, Artesian Casino, Black Gold Casino, Border Casino, Chisholm Trail Casino, Gold Mountain Casino, Goldsby Gaming Center, Jet Stream Casino, Madill Gaming Center, Newcastle Casino, Newcastle Travel Gaming, RiverStar Casino, Riverwind Casino, Treasure Valley Casino, Texoma Casino, SaltCreek Casino, Washita Casino and WinStar World Casino. They also own Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas and Remington Park Casino in Oklahoma City. The estimated annual tribal economic impact in the region from all sources is more than $3.18 billion.
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