Longtime former Choctaw Chief Phillip Martin has died. He was 83 years old. He passed away just after 9 pm Thursday at Saint Dominic's Hospital in Jackson where he had been since Monday.
Martin served almost five decades in Choctaw Tribal Government beginning as a Tribal Councilman, then serving 28 years as Chief. He also served on numerous national tribal boards and was the founder and president of the United Southern and Eastern Tribes, or USET.
Phillip Martin's life was one of service to his country, to his state, and to his people.
Martin grew up in Neshoba County, and after a stint in the military, returned to find his home, the Choctaw Reservation, in deplorable condition. Unemployment rates were close to 80 percent, and the main source of income for most Choctaw was a government check.
John Egerton said, "This was the end of the road. You couldn't
get more isolated, more segregated from the mainstream culture."
“Chief Phillip Martin was a visionary leader whose remarkable life was marked by devoted and productive service to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians," said Gov. Haley Barbour. "His attention to economic development while preserving the cultural aspects of Native American life in Mississippi will be long remembered; he was a great Mississippian and will be missed.”
“Sidney and I offer our deepest sympathy to the family of Chief Phillip Martin," said Cong. Gregg Harper. "While I did not have the opportunity to work with ‘Chief’ in an official capacity, I did have the honor of meeting him on several occasions and we shared many mutual friends. His passing is a tremendous loss for his immediate family, the Mississippi Choctaw, the State of Mississippi as well as for the entire nation. Chief Martin was truly a great American hero, and he will be missed. At the same time, I am convinced his life will be celebrated for generations to come for his tremendous life's work of creating the ‘Choctaw Miracle’ which improved the lives of so many in east central Mississippi.”
When Martin began working in tribal government, first as a tribal councilman, then in 1975, as chief, he set out to change that, and his goal was to attract business and industry..... and did he ever do that.
The Choctaw reservation is now called the Pearl River Resort, complete with two casinos, two high caliber golf courses, and a water park.
Thousands of people visit every single month, and Martin gets much of the credit for making it happen.
Martin said, "The best thing was to try to bring industry to the reservation on our own, and lo and behold we did just that."
Will Campbell said, "He's really what America is historically all about. He's served his country in the military, and now he's serving his state here."
Martin served seven terms as chief, and during that time became a larger than life figure. One person once said there was only one chief around here, but Martin deflected that kind of praise.
Martin said, "Do I think I'm great? No, I don't think so. I did not do what other people could not have to done. The only thing different is I had the tenacity to do it."
Martin lost his bid for re-election to an eighth term to Beasley Denson in 2007, but he had not slowed down since then... writing a book about his years as head of the Choctaw, titled appropriately enough, Chief, and there were rumors that he planned to run for the position again next year.
His death stops that short, but his legacy was long cemented.