Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

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Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Total population
223,279 total enrollment,
84,670 enrolled in Oklahoma[1]
Regions with significant populations
United States United States (Oklahoma Oklahoma)
English, Choctaw
Protestantism, traditional tribal religion
Related ethnic groups
other Choctaw tribes, Chickasaw
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"Choctaw Nation" redirects here. For other uses, see Choctaw Nation (disambiguation).
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Total population
223,279 total enrollment,
84,670 enrolled in Oklahoma[1]
Regions with significant populations
United States United States (Oklahoma Oklahoma)
English, Choctaw
Protestantism, traditional tribal religion
Related ethnic groups
other Choctaw tribes, Chickasaw
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Flag of the Choctaw Nation
Official seal of Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Location of Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
EstablishedSeptember 27, 1830 (Treaty)
 • BodyChoctaw Nation Council
 • ChiefGary Batton
 • Assistant ChiefJack Austin, Jr.
 • Total28,140 km2 (10,864 sq mi)
Time zoneCST

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (commonly referred to as the Choctaw Nation) is a federally recognized Native American tribe with a tribal jurisdictional area comprising twelve tribal districts. The Choctaw Nation maintains a special relationship with both the United States and Oklahoma governments. As of 2011, the tribe has 223,279 enrolled members, of which 84,670 live within the state of Oklahoma.[1] The tribal jurisdictional area is 10,864 square miles (28,140 km2),[2] a total of 233,126 people live within these boundaries, the majority of whom are not Choctaw.

The chief of the Choctaw Nation is Gary Batton.[3] The Choctaw Nation Headquarters is located in Durant, Oklahoma,[1] though the Choctaw Capitol Building is in Tuskahoma, Oklahoma; it is now the Choctaw Museum and home to the Judicial Department Court System.

The Choctaw Nation is one of three Choctaw tribes; the others are the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians and Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Those are descendants of Choctaw who resisted the forced relocation to Indian Territory. The Mississippi Choctaw preserved much of their culture in small communities and reorganized as a tribal government under new laws after the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

Those Choctaw who removed to the Indian Territory, a process that went on into the early 20th century, are federally recognized as the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.[4] The removals became known as the "Trail of Tears."


The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma's tribal jurisdictional area covers 10,864 square miles (28,140 km2), encompassing eight whole counties and most of or portions of five counties in Southeastern Oklahoma; Atoka County, most of Bryan County, Choctaw County, most of Coal County, Haskell County, half of Hughes County, a portion of Johnston County, Latimer County, Le Flore County, McCurtain County, Pittsburg County, a portion of Pontotoc County, and Pushmataha County.


The Choctaw Nation Headquarters in Durant.
The historic Choctaw Capitol in Tuskahoma.

The Tribal Headquarters are located in Durant, Oklahoma, consisting of a complex of three three-story buildings, and several one-story buildings. The current chief is Gary Batton[5] and the assistant chief is Jack Austin, Jr.

The Tribe is governed by the Choctaw Nation Constitution, which was ratified by the people on June 9, 1984. The Constitution provides for an Executive, a Legislative and a Judicial branch of government. The Chief of the Choctaw Tribe, elected every four years, is not a voting member of the Tribal Council. They are also elected for four years. The legislative authority of the Tribe is vested in the Tribal Council, which consists of twelve members.

Tribal Council[edit]

Members of the Tribal Council are elected by the Choctaw people. Twelve Council members are elected, one for each of the twelve districts in the Choctaw Nation.

Tribal Council Members[edit]

Award-winning painter, Norma Howard is enrolled in the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

In order to be elected as a Council member, candidates must have resided in their respective districts for at least one year immediately preceding the election. "Candidates for the Tribal Council must be at least one-fourth (1/4) Choctaw Indian by blood and must be twenty-one (21) years of age or older at the time they file for election."[7] Once elected, a Council member must remain a resident of the district from which he or she was elected during the term in office. This policy ensures the involvement and interaction of successful candidates with their constituency.

Once in office, the Tribal Council Members have regularly scheduled county council meetings. The presence of these tribal leaders in the Indian community creates a sense of understanding of their community and its needs. The Tribal Council is responsible for adopting rules and regulations which govern the Choctaw Nation, for approving all budgets, making decisions concerning the management of tribal property, and all other legislative matters. The Tribal Council Members are the voice and representation of the Choctaw people in the tribal government.

The Tribal Council's assists the community in its ability to implement an economic development strategy and to plan, organize, and direct Tribal resources in a comprehensive manner to achieve self-sufficiency. The Tribal Council is working to strengthen the Nation's economy, with efforts being focused on the creation of additional job opportunities through promotion and development. By planning and implementing its own programs and building a strong economic base, the Choctaw Nation applies its own fiscal, natural, and human resources to develop self-sufficiency.


Before Oklahoma was admitted as a state to the union in 1907, the Choctaw Nation was divided into three districts: Apukshunnubbee, Moshulatubbee, and Pushmataha. Each district had its own chief from 1834 to 1857; afterward, the three districts were put under the jurisdiction of one chief. After statehood, these districts were abolished.

Apukshunnubbee District[edit]

During Removal[edit]

Map showing the Choctaw Nation in 1887

Indian Territory[edit]

Moshulatubbee District[edit]

During Removal[edit]

Indian Territory[edit]

Pushmataha District[edit]

During Removal[edit]

Indian Territory[edit]

  • Nitakechi: 1834–1838
  • Pierre Juzan: 1841–1846
  • Isaac Folsom: 1841–1846
  • Silas Fisher: 1846–1850
  • George Folsom: 1850–1854
  • David McCoy: 1854–1857

After 1857[edit]

  • Alfred Wade: 1857–1858
  • Tandy Walker: 1858–1859
  • Basil LeFlore: 1859–1860
  • George Hudson: 1860–1862
  • Samuel Garland: 1862–1864
  • Peter Pitchlynn: 1864–1866
  • Allen Wright: 1866–1870
  • William Bryant: 1870–1874
  • Coleman Cole: 1874–1878
  • Isaac Levi Garvin: 1878–1880
  • Jackson F. McCurtain: 1880–1884
  • Edmund McCurtain: 1884–1886
  • Thompson McKinney: 1886–1888
  • Ben Smallwood: 1888–1890
  • Wilson N. Jones: 1890–1894
  • Jefferson Gardner: 1894–1896
  • Green McCurtain: 1896–1900; 1902–1910
  • Gilbert Wesley Dukes: 1900–1902
  • Victor Locke, Jr.: 1910–1918
  • William F. Semple: 1918–1922
  • William H. Harrison: 1922–1929
  • Ben Dwight: 1929–1937
  • William Durant: 1937–1948
  • Harry J. W. Belvin: 1948–1975
  • Clark David Gardner: 1975–1978
  • Hollis E. Roberts: 1978–1997
  • Gregory E. Pyle: 1997–2014
  • Gary Batton: 2014–Present


The Choctaw Nation's annual tribal economic impact was over $822,280,105 in 2010.[8] The Choctaw Nation employs about 8,000 people worldwide, 2,000 of those work in Bryan County, Oklahoma; the Choctaw Nation is also Durant's largest single employer. The nation's payroll is about $180 million per year, with total revenues from tribal businesses and governmental entities topping $1 billion.

The nation has contributed to raising Bryan County's per capita income to about $24,000. The Choctaw Nation has helped build water systems and towers, roads and other infrastructure, and has contributed to additional fire stations, EMS units and law enforcement needs that come with economic growth.

The Choctaw Nation operates several types of businesses. It has seven casinos, 14 tribal smoke shops, and 13 truck stops.[1] It also owns a printing operation, a corporate drug testing service, hospice care, a metal fabrication and manufacturing business, a document backup and archiving business, and a management services company that provides staffing at military bases, embassies and other sites, among other enterprises.

Health System[edit]

The Choctaw Nation is the first indigenous tribe in the United States to build its own hospital with its own funding.[9] The Choctaw Nation Health Care Center, located in Talihina, is a 145,000-square-foot (13,500 m2) health facility with 37 hospital beds for inpatient care and 52 exam rooms. The $22 million hospital is complete with $6 million worth of state-of-the-art equipment and furnishing. It serves 150,000 - 210,000 outpatient visits annually. The hospital also houses the Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority, the hub of the health care services of Southeastern Oklahoma.

The tribe also operates eight Indian clinics, one each in Atoka, Broken Bow, Durant, Hugo, Idabel, McAlester, Poteau, and Stigler.

2008 Freedom Award[edit]

In July 2008, the United States Department of Defense announced the 2008 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award recipients. They are awarded the highest recognition given by the U.S. Government to employers for their outstanding support of employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve.

The Choctaw Nation was one of 15 recipients of that year's Freedom Award, selected from 2,199 nominations. Its representatives received the award September 18, 2008 in Washington, D.C. The Choctaw Nation is the first Native American tribe to receive this award.


Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek (1830)[edit]

At Andrew Jackson's request, the United States Congress opened a fierce debate on an Indian Removal Bill.[10] In the end, the bill passed, but the vote was very close. The Senate passed the measure 28 to 19, while in the House it narrowly passed, 102 to 97. Jackson signed the legislation into law June 30, 1830,[10] and turned his focus onto the Choctaw in Mississippi Territory.

On August 25, 1830, the Choctaws were supposed to meet with Andrew Jackson in Franklin, Tennessee, but Greenwood Leflore, a district Choctaw chief, informed Secretary of War John H. Eaton that the warriors were fiercely opposed to attending.[11] President Jackson was angered. Journalist Len Green writes "although angered by the Choctaw refusal to meet him in Tennessee, Jackson felt from LeFlore's words that he might have a foot in the door and dispatched Secretary of War Eaton and John Coffee to meet with the Choctaws in their nation."[12] Jackson appointed Eaton and General John Coffee as commissioners to represent him to meet the Choctaws at the Dancing Rabbit Creek near present-day Noxubee County, Mississippi.[citation needed]

The commissioners met with the chiefs and headmen on September 15, 1830, at Dancing Rabbit Creek.[14] In carnival-like atmosphere, the policy of removal was explained to an audience of 6,000 men, women, and children.[14] The Choctaws would now face migration or submit to U.S. law as citizens.[14] The treaty would sign away the remaining traditional homeland to the United States; however, a provision in the treaty made removal more acceptable.[citation needed]

In 1830 Mosholatubbee sought to be elected to the Congress of the United States. 1834, Smithsonian American Art Museum

On September 27, 1830, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed. It represented one of the largest transfers of land that was signed between the U.S. Government and Native Americans without being instigated by warfare. By the treaty, the Choctaws signed away their remaining traditional homelands, opening them up for European-American settlement. The Choctaw were the first to walk the Trail of Tears. Article 14 allowed for nearly 1,300 Choctaws to remain in the state of Mississippi and to become the first major non-European ethnic group to become U.S. citizens.[15][16][17][18] Article 22 sought to put a Choctaw representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.[15] The Choctaw at this crucial time split into two distinct groups: the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. The nation retained its autonomy, but the tribe in Mississippi submitted to state and federal laws.[19]

Great Irish Famine aid (1847)[edit]

Choctaw Stickball Player, Painted by George Catlin, 1834

Midway through the Great Irish Famine (1845–1849), a group of Choctaws collected $710 (although many articles say the original amount was $170 after a misprint in Angie Debo's The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic) and sent it to help starving Irish men, women and children. "It had been just 16 years since the Choctaw people had experienced the Trail of Tears, and they had faced starvation… It was an amazing gesture. By today's standards, it might be a million dollars," according to Judy Allen, editor of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma's newspaper, Bishinik. The paper is based at the Oklahoma Choctaw tribal headquarters in Durant, Okla. To mark the 150th anniversary, eight Irish people retraced the Trail of Tears.[21]

Ferguson states, "1903 MISS: Three-hundred Mississippi Choctaws were persuaded to remove to the Nation [in Oklahoma]."[4]

Territory Transition to Statehood (1900)[edit]

By the early twentieth century, the Choctaw had lost much of their sovereignty and tribal rights in preparation for the Indian Territory becoming the state of Oklahoma in 1907. In violation of earlier treaties, the Dawes Commission registered tribal members in official rolls, and forced individual land allotments upon the Tribe's members allowing the "surplus" land to be ceded for white settlement. Many of the allotments were given "guardianship" to third parties while the owners where of the age of minority; when the oil boom started the guardianship's became very lucrative causing a cottage industry of exploitative arrangements of which the future governor of Oklahoma, Charles Haskell, among other Oklahoma elites, took advantage of[22]

Pioneering the Use of Code Talking (1918)[edit]

During World War I the American army fighting in France became stymied by the Germans' ability to intercept its communications. Even worse, after intercepting them the Germans were also able to decrypt the codes, reading the Americans' secrets and knowing in advance their every move.[23]

Several Choctaw Indians serving in the 142nd Infantry came upon an idea: using their native tongue, the Choctaw language, to transmit army secrets. Their gambit proved very successful, and almost immediately contributed to a turn-around on the Meuse-Argonne front. Captured German officers said they were baffled by the Choctaw words, which they were completely unable to translate. According to Greenspan, the Choctaw language did not have words for many military ideas, so the code-talkers had to invent other terms that their language could handle. For example, "'big gun' for artillery, 'little gun shoot fast' for machine gun, 'stone' for grenade and 'scalps' for casualties."[23] Historians credit these soldiers with helping bring World War I to a faster conclusion.

There were fourteen Choctaw Code Talkers. Their success was emulated during World War II, this time by soldiers from a number of American Indian tribes. Collectively these Indians are known as code talkers.

Self-determination (1970s)[edit]

Ron Anderson, Choctaw-Chickasaw installation artist, painter, and sculptor from Oklahoma

The 1970s were a crucial and defining decade for the Choctaw. To a large degree, the Choctaw repudiated the more extreme Indian activism. They sought a local grassroots solution to reclaim their cultural identity and sovereignty as a nation.

On August 24, 1970, just hours before it would become law, Richard Nixon signed a bill repealing the Termination Act of 1959.[clarification needed] This close call prompted some Oklahoma Choctaw to spearhead a grassroots movement to change the direction of the tribal government. In 1971, the Choctaw held their first popular election of a chief since Oklahoma entered the Union in 1907.

A group calling themselves the Oklahoma City Council of Choctaws, endorsed thirty-one-year-old David Gardner for chief, in opposition to the current chief, seventy-year-old Harry Belvin. Gardner campaigned on a platform of greater financial accountability, increased educational benefits, the creation of a tribal newspaper, and increased economic opportunities for the Choctaw people. Amid charges of fraud and rule changes concerning age, Gardner was declared ineligible to run as he did not meet the new minimum age requirement of thirty-five. Belvin was re-elected to a four-year term as chief.

In 1975, thirty-five-year-old David Gardner defeated Belvin to become the Choctaw Nation's second popularly elected chief. 1975 also marked the year that the United States Congress passed the landmark Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. This law revolutionized the relationship between Indian Nations and the federal government.

Native American tribes such as the Choctaw were granted the power to negotiate and contract directly for services, as well as to determine what services were in the best interest of their people. During Gardner's term as chief, a tribal newspaper, Hello Choctaw, was established. Along with the Creek and Cherokee, the Choctaw successfully sued the federal and state government over riverbed rights to the Arkansas River.

Discussions began on the issue of drafting and adopting a new constitution for the Choctaw people. A movement began to officially enroll more Choctaws, increase voter participation, and preserve the Choctaw language. In early 1978, David Gardner died of cancer at the age of thirty-seven. Hollis Roberts was elected chief in a special election, serving from 1978-1997.

A new publication, the Bishinik, replaced Hello Choctaw in June 1978. Spirited debates over a proposed constitution divided the people. In May 1979, they adopted a new constitution for the Choctaw nation.

Faced with termination as a sovereign nation in 1970, the Choctaws emerged a decade later as a tribal government with a constitution, a popularly elected chief, a newspaper, and the prospects of an emerging economy and infrastructure that would serve as the basis for further empowerment and growth.

In 2014, the Choctaw Nation was criticized by many of its own members when it announced that Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin would be participating in the tribe's annual Labor Day Festival and unveiling a statue meant to honor strong Native women. The reaction was fast and sharp, with comments such as that of Summer Wesley: "Mary Fallin has demonstrated to not be an ally to Native tribes, yet has been chosen to not only appear at Choctaw Fest, but to unveil a statue in honor of our women," Wesley said. "As a Choctaw woman, I am appalled that she is being given a platform for her insincere pandering and her participation in the unveiling causes the statue to lose all honor to me. Further, I think this sends the wrong message to Indian Country regarding the Choctaw Nation's priorities and loyalties. Fallin's participation implies that our Nation condones her anti-Native policies."[24]

Notable tribal members[edit]

Marcus Amerman, bead, glass, and performance artist, enrolled in the Choctaw Nation

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d 2011 Oklahoma Indian Nations Pocket Pictorial Directory. Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission. 2011: 9. Retrieved 31 Dec 2011.
  2. ^ United States. Dept Of The Interior (1916). Annual Report of the Secretary of the Interior for the Fiscal Year. p. 59. 
  3. ^ "Executive Branch". Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. 
  4. ^ a b Ferguson, Bob; Leigh Marshall (1997). "Chronology". Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2008-02-05. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Tribal Council Members. Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Retrieved 31 Dec 2011.
  7. ^ "Constitution of Choctaw Nation 1983". Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. 
  8. ^ "Pocket Pictorial." Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission. 2010: 9. Retrieved 31 Dec 2011.
  9. ^ "Choctaw Nation Health Care Center." Choctaw Nation Health Services. Retrieved 31 Dec 2011.
  10. ^ a b Sharyn Kane & Richard Keeton. "As Long as Grass Grows". "Fort Benning - The Land and the People". SEAC. Retrieved 2010-08-07. 
  11. ^ Remini, Robert (1977, 1998). ""Brothers, Listen ... You Must Submit"". Andrew Jackson. History Book Club. p. 272. ISBN 0-9650631-0-7.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. ^ Green, Len (October 1978). "Choctaw Treaties". Bishinik. Archived from the original on 2007-12-15. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  13. ^ Len Green (2009). "President Andrew Jackson’s Original Instructions to the "Civilized" Indian Tribes to Move West". The Raab Collection. Retrieved 2009-09-28. 
  14. ^ a b c Remini, Robert (1977, 1998). ""Brothers, Listen ... You Must Submit"". Andrew Jackson. History Book Club. ISBN 0-9650631-0-7.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  15. ^ a b Kappler, Charles (1904). "INDIAN AFFAIRS: LAWS AND TREATIES Vol. II, Treaties". Government Printing Office. Retrieved 2008-04-16. 
  16. ^ Baird, David (1973). "The Choctaws Meet the Americans, 1783 to 1843". The Choctaw People. United States: Indian Tribal Series. p. 36. LCCN 73-80708. 
  17. ^ Council of Indian Nations (2005). "History & Culture, Citizenship Act - 1924". Council of Indian Nations. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  18. ^ Carleton, Ken (2002). "A Brief History of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians" (PDF). Mississippi Archaeological Association. Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  19. ^ Kidwell (2007); Kidwell (1995)
  20. ^ "An Indian Candidate for Congress". Christian Mirror and N.H. Observer, Shirley, Hyde & Co. July 15, 1830. 
  21. ^ Ward, Mike (1992). "Irish Repay Choctaw Famine Gift: March Traces Trail of Tears in Trek for Somalian Relief". American-Stateman Capitol. Retrieved 2007-09-20. 
  22. ^ "And Still the Waters Run" Angie Debo Princeton University Press 1972 pg 159-180
  23. ^ a b "World War I’s Native American Code Talkers"World War I’s Native American Code Talkers." History. Greenspan, Joseph. May 29, 2014. Retrieved August 19, 2014.
  24. ^ Fowler, Louis. "MARY FAILING: Choctaws speak out against Gov. Fallin appearing at this weekend’s Labor Day celebration". Red Dirt Report. 

External links[edit]