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Choctaw tribe has been pillaged enough already

By Staff
Aug. 29, 2001
At the time Europeans were introduced into Mississippi in about 1540, there were about 20,000 members of the Choctaw Indian tribe in this state according to the writings of University of Oklahoma historian Dr. Arrell M. Gibson in "A History of Mississippi." By 1900, the Choctaws in Mississippi had dwindled to about 2000.
Today, there are 8,300 Mississippi Choctaws.
In that seminal history of the state, Gibson outlines the "dimunition of the Choctaw estate in Mississippi" as beginning in 1801, when the U.S. government took 2.5 million acres of Choctaw tribal lands in southeastern Mississippi in the Treaty of Fort Adams, 1 million acres north of Mobile in the then-Southern Mississippi territory in 1803 in the Treaty of Hoe Buckintoopa, 4 million acres in 1805 in what is now southern Mississippi in the Treaty of Mount Dexter, and 5 million acres in western Choctaw territory in the 1820 Treaty of Doaks Stand.
In 1830, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek saw the Choctaws cede their remaining lands 10.5 million acres. That's a total dimunition of 23 million acres of land.
At a round figure of $1,200 per acre, that's $27.6 billion worth of land by today's values and that may be an understatement.
Of the original 23 million acres, the Choctaws now own only 30,000 acres some they had to repurchase in recent years.
In return for those cessions, the Choctaws were treated to the joys of smallpox, syphilis and other gifts from the intruding Europeans. They were forced off their lands and moved west to reservation lands in Oklahoma along the fabled "Trail of Tears."
The Choctaws were robbed, raped, bought, sold, herded like cattle to reservation lands and murdered with impunity in Mississippi between 1540 and 1900. After that time, they were left to subsist on reservation lands with poverty, joblessness and illiteracy as their constant companions.
Schools were poor, healthcare was scant and the once-proud tribe was left as a cultural oddity clustered mostly in Neshoba County.
In that sorry economic state, alcoholism rates on the reservation regularly registered in the 25 percent range well into the 1970s. There was the Choctaw Fair for the tourists, a small market for utilitarian Choctaw baskets and beadwork and the brutal but enticing game of stickball to keep a few Mississippians interested, but that was about it.
The truth is that until the early 1990s, most Mississippians knew little about the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and far fewer gave a tinker's damn about them. But that all changed in the early 1990s when the tribe took advantage of a federal law that allowed gaming on Indian reservations.
Under the leadership of Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Chief Phillip Martin, the tribe launched the Silver Star Casino in 1994 in rural Neshoba County on what had previously been swampy bottomlands. Finding financial backing for the original project was difficult in the extreme.
The Silver Star was a rousing success drawing gamblers from across the Southeast and helping to propel Mississippi to the status of the nation's largest gaming destination between Atlantic City and Las Vegas. But it wasn't only the gaming enterprise in which the Choctaws found success.
At 1998 study by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development indicated that Choctaw unemployment had dropped from 75 percent in 1979 when the tribe got its first GM wire harness factory to the present four percent.
The casino, 9 other manufacturing enterprises and a construction company currently generates over $172.6 million in wages and over $4.8 million in state income taxes and provides some 7,000 jobs more than half for non-Indians.
The Choctaws pulled themselves up by the bootstraps after white people almost annihilated them physically and economically.
Now comes a lawsuit filed by the employee of a Jackson attorney seeking to "reorganize" the Choctaws' gaming compact with the state that was negotiated between former Gov. Kirk Fordice and Martin. Has Neshoba County got some legitimate compact beefs? Probably. But Hinds County? Or any Mississippi taxpayer outside of Neshoba County?
What a joke. Only in America would someone look at the victims of a 22.99 million acre land robbery and try to find a way to make them look like the bad guys.
Sid Salter is Perspective Editor/Columnist at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson and a syndicated Mississippi political columnist. Call him at (601) 961-7084, write P.O. Box 40, Jackson, MS 39206, or e-mail ssalter@jackson.gannett.com.