Skip to main content

Chickasaw, Choctaw highlight economic development

TULSA, Okla. - Two of the leaders of Oklahoma's "five civilized tribes"
took advantage of a federal American Indian housing summit to highlight
their peoples' great strides forward in economic development.

Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby and Choctaw Chief Gregory E. Pyle both made
recitals of what their tribes have been able to establish from humble
beginnings to where the two nations now employ more than 10,000 between
them.

Chief Pyle noted that while the focus of the Department of Housing and
Urban Development's Southern Plains regional housing summit was to leverage
outside financial resources, he said that a lot of the Choctaws' financial
success has come from observing what other Indian tribes have done.

Pyle said that his tribe has gone all over the country - to Arizona,
Florida and Las Vegas - to observe successful Indian economic development
ventures, and hasn't been afraid to try to replicate the ones it saw as
viable. And while not all have been successful, he said his tribe might
start four businesses to find one or two that work.

The tribe, based in Durant, Okla., employs 5,700 people currently, with an
annual payroll of $85 million. Chief since 1997, Pyle noted that housing
has played a key role in the tribe's development.

He said the Choctaw have built cluster houses at multiple sites, with the
tribe buying the land and the tribal housing authority placing the houses
there. The tribe has built its own houses, training people to be
carpenters, and then ships the home to the site.

Pyle said the tribe builds houses to be sturdy, wanting them to last 50 to
100 years. As far as financing goes, the tribe would typically put up
$500,000 of gaming money and leverage it with private sources, building
houses for $50,000, which would include a driveway and a little bit of
money for furniture. Monthly cost for tribal members would be $400.

Plans now are to build more health facilities, such as the diabetic
wellness center just built with the help of a large grant from HUD. The
tribe is now planning to build a healthy lifestyles facility in Durant.

The Chief also stressed the importance of the Choctaw language as a bulwark
of the nation's culture and success. According to the tribe he has
"negotiated millions of dollars of new contracts for the Choctaw Nation;
increased higher education scholarships to more than 4,000 students for
this academic year; built a new tribal hospital, and six elderly
communities" among other accomplishments.

Gov. Anoatubby, who has led the Chickasaw Nation since 1987, has seen its
ventures grow from 250 employees with an annual budget of $11 million to
4,500 employees and almost $300 million and almost three dozen businesses.
He remembered that when he first became associated with tribal government,
less than 30 people worked for it and the nation was almost entirely
dependent on federal support.

Economic development is "a big key why the Chickasaw Nation is not 99.99
percent dependent on the United States," he told the meeting.

The governor spoke of the success of the Chuka Chukmasi mortgage program
that has provided 270 loans to date to Chickasaws all around the country,
providing $19 million in financing to tribal members. "Housing is very,
very important to the overall mission" of the nation, he said.

Chuka Chukmasi (the phrase means "Beautiful House" in Chickasaw) has won
two national awards for innovation - the Social Impact Award, and a tribal
governance award from the Kennedy School of Harvard University. Financial
partners include Washington, D.C.-based mortgage agency Fannie Mae, lender
First Mortgage of Oklahoma City, and mortgage insurer PMI Mortgage of San
Francisco.

The nation also has an active home building program, he said, with more
than 100 units under construction right now.

The governor noted that the Nation's more than 30 businesses include a
chocolate factory, a commercial bank and a radio station.

Health and education are big priorities. Anoatubby can remember when the
Chickasaw had no health facilities at all. Today, it has "a health system
unmatched anywhere in the United States." There are four general practice
clinics, a diabetes clinic and a wellness education facility.

Other tribal leaders at the HUD housing summit included Kenneth Blanchard,
governor of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and John Philip Froman,
chief of the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma.

HUD's Southern Plains region, which consists of Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and
Louisiana, includes 48 tribes and some 500,000 Indians. This was the fifth
of six regional summits held this year. Next year, HUD plans to hold a
national Indian housing summit, at a time and place yet to be determined.