Phillip Martin, the head of the Choctaw nation who performed what had become known as the “Mississippi Miracle,” died last month after suffering a massive stroke. Martin, chief (or miko) of the tribe for 32 years until being unseated in 2007, was a pioneer in economic growth in Indian Country, arranging financing to build manufacturing plants on the tribe’s central Mississippi reservation long before gaming became a valued tool.
But when gaming did become available, Martin took full advantage of it. When riverboats were legalized in Mississippi in 1992, Martin immediately built a land-based casino, equal to anything found in Las Vegas. Today, the casinos are a big revenue generator for the tribe.
Martin was eulogized from many quarters.
NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr. called Martin “one of most important mentors in my life. He was an American legend.”
“Chief Martin earned respect for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw as one of our original American democracies and he was a champion of Indian sovereignty,” Stevens said. “He always worked to create Indian opportunity and to ensure respect for Indian sovereignty. He improved the lives of Indian people throughout the nation.”
U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R- Mississippi) also eulogized Martin.
“Chief Martin was a leader who inspired his people and strengthened his community and state,” said Wicker. “During his years of public service, he helped bring his community out of poverty and troubled times and created hope and opportunity for Mississippi Choctaws. Chief Martin will be missed by many, but his legacy of self-determination will continue to flourish in future generations of Choctaws.”
U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi) said, “I am saddened by the loss of Phillip Martin, whose service to and leadership of the Choctaw tribe resulted in the accomplishment of many good things. It was my privilege to work with Chief Martin as he brought forth new ideas to improve life for the Choctaw people and to expand their cultural, economic and educational opportunities. In the end, he helped not only the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, but all of Mississippi.”