Longtime Choctaw Chief Phillip Martin Dies at Age 83

Phillip Martin, a longtime chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, died Feb. 4 in Jackson at age 83. As chief, Martin oversaw the tribe’s rise from widespread poverty with the opening of casinos and other businesses on tribal lands outside Philadelphia.

Chief Martin worked closely with the MDAH to preserve and interpret the history of Native Americans in Mississippi. Under his leadership, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians was an active partner with MDAH in developing the award-winning exhibit “Mississippi 1500-1800,” which explored the period of earliest contact between Native Americans and Europeans in Mississippi. The exhibit opening, held at the Old Capitol in 1997, was supported by generous funding from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Phillip Martin was born March 13, 1926, at the Indian hospital in Philadelphia, the third of six children. Following the death of his father in a hit-and-run, Martin went to a boarding school in North Carolina. After high school he served for a decade in the Air Force.

Martin began his career in tribal governance in 1957 and was elected chief in 1979. In 1981 he persuaded Philadelphia officials to issue bonds to bring the American Greetings company to the Pearl River Reservation. During his 28-year tenure the Choctaws constructed an industrial park and the $750 million Pearl River Resort.

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