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Choctaw Chief: We had to build our own economy'

By Staff
POSITIVE CHANGE n Chief Phillip Martin has seen many positive changes come to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians with the creation of 7,000 jobs in the community. Photo by Carisa McCain/The Meridian Star.
By Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
July 8, 2001
PHILADELPHIA With all the business dealings and construction projects that occupy Chief Phillip Martin's time, you might think the 52nd annual Choctaw Indian Festival doesn't rank high on his list priorities.
But Martin, now in his sixth elected four-year term as leader of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, feels the festival represents more than an annual event that brings in nationally known entertainment acts, thousands of fairgoers, stickball and alligator wrestlers.
The fair gets under way Wednesday and will run through Saturday night.
Good times
At present, times are good for the Choctaw Indians. The Tribe is in the process of building the Golden Moon Hotel and Casino on the Pearl River Reservation, a $750 million construction project. The Golden Moon, scheduled to open sometime next year, is located across the street from the Silver Star Hotel and Casino, owned and operated by the Choctaws.
Also under way is the creation of a destination point here in Neshoba County and development of numerous businesses and industries owned and operated by the Choctaws.
But Martin remembers how things once were, and wants his people to remember.
He got interested in tribal affairs and started looking for ways to improve the Choctaws' living conditions.
The well documented success story of the Choctaws started with a contract for the Tribe's Chahta Enterprises to make wiring harnesses for Packard Electric, a division of General Motors.
Other businesses and industries such as American Greetings, Choctaw Electronics Enterprise, First American Plastics Molding Enterprise and First American Printing and Direct Mail followed over the next 15 years. The Choctaws got into the gaming business during the 1990s while continuing to develop their other, more traditional, businesses and industries.
From 1981-97, per capita income of the Choctaw people has grown 346 percent, according to tribal information. Overall, the Choctaws are the 10th largest employer in Mississippi.
Martin's leadership has certainly not been ignored nationwide. He has been profiled by such national publications as The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, People.
He's on the road constantly, taking care of the Choctaws' business in Washington D.C. and in other locations as well.
He pointed out that while a lot of the focus of the Tribe's success is on the casino business, the Choctaws have created 4,000 jobs through manufacturing. And today, they are venturing from the assembly line to the high tech sector.
The future
To keep his people successful in the years to come, Martin puts a lot of emphasis on education and the Tribe's future generations.
Several years ago, he sought to send the Tribe's brightest young people to college. "We will pay for anyone who wants to further their education, at any college or university in the country that they want to go," Martin said.
The commitment still holds.
Steve Swogetinsky is regional editor of The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3217, or e-mail him at sswogetinsky@themeridianstar.com.