Choctaw Indians find niche in economic development
MAJOR EMPLOYER Creda Stewart, a spokesman for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, told the Meridian Kiwanis Club Wednesday that the tribe's developments will employ almost 15,000 people. PHOTO BY PAULA MERRITT / THE MERIDIAN STAR
By William F. West / community editor
August 25, 2002
The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is an economic development machine, attracting businesses, creating jobs and frequently updating public groups on their progress.
Last week was no exception.
Choctaw spokesman Creda Stewart spoke to the Meridian Kiwanis Club, showing an elaborate chart of the tribe's area and business ventures and a map of the reservation west of Philadelphia.
The story dates back to the late 1950s.
Phillip Martin, the longtime Choctaw chief, went to Washington to talk with federal officials about help and opportunities for his impoverished people. He didn't get much of a response.
Instead, Martin and his fellow Choctaws rolled up their sleeves, opened a high school in 1964, created an industrial park and began bringing industry to the reservation in the 1970s.
Today, the Choctaws have casinos, hotels, industries, manufacturing plants, timber services and even an auto dealership in Carthage. And they're keeping up the brisk pace.
It all began with the creation of Chahta, a corporation the Choctaws formed in 1969 to build houses for tribal members. Chahta later started a factory to produce electric wire harnesses for car switches.
When the North American Free Trade Agreement prompted the migration of businesses south of the border, the Choctaws responded not by closing down, but instead relocating the operation to Mexico.
The other early industrial success story was the construction of a plant leased to American Greetings for processing greeting cards.
That was followed by a joint venture with Oxford Speaker Co. from Chicago to manufacture automotive speakers.
The Choctaws also opened other companies involved in industries ranging from direct mail to plastic molding. And, Stewart said, the tribe has opened a robotics plant that processes clean linens and sheets, not only for casinos but hospitals as well.
In addition, Stewart said, Chahta has a geotechnology firm created to seek defense contracts for land management.
The tribe's customer list includes such companies as Caterpillar, Daimler-Chrysler, Ford Motor Co., General Motors, McDonald's, Pepsi Cola and the state of Mississippi.
The Choctaws also have branched into the gambling industry, creating the Pearl River Resort out of what once was simply the Silver Star Hotel and Casino on Highway 16.
The Choctaw leadership has added to and updated the Silver Star, which opened in 1994. The next big development comes Monday with the opening of the Golden Moon Hotel and Casino.
Last month, the Choctaws opened their Geyser Falls Water Park also a key part of the resort complex.
Another major project in the works is Lake Pushmataha, named in honor of the famous 19th century Choctaw leader. The nearly 300-acre lake will be the home of another resort.
Over the years, the Choctaw reservation has added banking services, convenience stores, fast food businesses, a post office, police and fire protection, shopping centers and a wellness center.
The Choctaws also plan to add apartments and condominiums to the reservation.
Condos are particularly important, Stewart said, because the Dancing Rabbit Golf Club another part of the Pearl River Resort is home to the 35th best golf course in the nation.
Stewart said Martin and the Choctaws are making a transition from a labor-intensive manufacturing economy to hospitality services.