Four tribal citizens inducted to Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame

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GOLDSBY, Okla. - Four citizens of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma will be honored Aug. 21 by being inducted into the tribe's Hall of Fame. They include a former tribal governor, an elder dedicated to the preservation of Chickasaw culture, a state representative and a former tribal legislator.

Winchester Colbert will be inducted posthumously. Colbert was a distinguished tribal leader in the mid-19th century. He served as a member of the Choctaw council from the Chickasaw District but was a strong advocate of political separation of the Chickasaws and Choctaws. He was a framer of the Treaty of 1855, which accomplished the separation, and was seated as a member of the first Chickasaw Legislature. In 1858 he became the second elected governor of the Chickasaw Nation, serving from 1862 - 1866.

Ray Gene McCarter has been a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives since 1996, serving as assistant majority floor leader and on various committees including education, energy/technology, public safety, international economic development and veterans' affairs. A Vietnam veteran, McCarter holds a bachelor's from Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts, a M.Ed. from Southwestern State College and an Ed.D. from the University of Oklahoma, and has worked as an educator and administrator. McCarter lives in Marlow with his wife, Kathy, and their three children.

''This honor means so much to me. Nothing in my life will ever compare to this,'' he said. ''I can't believe they are honoring me this way. I don't believe I've done anything extraordinary - except work hard and do the best I can.''

Juanita Tate, 97, makes her home in Ardmore and has pursued an interest in genealogy since 1961. She has been active in tribal affairs throughout her life. After thoroughly researching her family's history, she wrote a biography of her great-grandfather, noted Chickasaw leader Edmund Pickens. The book will be published by Chickasaw Press. Tate was also very humble when asked her reaction to the honor, indicating that her friends are more deserving of the tribute.

''I don't think I should be considered seriously, because all I've done is what I thought I should do,'' she said. ''I've had a lot of calls from people interested in studying their family genealogy and Chickasaw history, and that is one good thing which has come out of this.''

Gene Underwood is a longtime member of the Chickasaw Legislature, serving from 1983 through 1992. He has also served as a member of the Chickasaw Nation Wildlife Commission. As a result of following his passion for Chickasaw culture and heritage, he has built an authentic replica of an early 18th century dugout canoe. In order to build the canoe, he conducted a significant amount of research and was aided in the project by his brothers Ted and Chet, and his son, Dennis. Underwood could not be reached for comment.

''Being a Chickasaw is really something to be proud of,'' McCarter said, reflecting on the hardships that Chickasaws have endured since their removal from their historic homelands in the South in the 1830s.

''It's amazing when I think back to the days when I was a boy in Comanche, Okla. We were so poor; we just equated poverty with being Indian. In the 1900s, our lands were taken through the allotment process. As soon as the allotments were assigned, [land speculators] were trying to get their hands on the deeds. My grandmother got about $300 for hers - a lot of money back then - but even when those poor people signed away their land, they never signed away their sovereignty. We have much more economic development now, and we have been able to buy some of our land back again.''

''I have been surprised that a lot of people don't even know the names of some of their grandparents or their great-grandparents,'' Tate said. ''And I think it would be so fascinating if they would just start doing that. I am encouraging all my people to just get right in there and start studying their history. They don't know what they're missing if they don't go back and study the history of their ancestors.''

The induction ceremony will be held at the tribe's Riverwind Casino in Goldsby. Rep. Lisa Billy, 41st District, will act as master of ceremonies, and Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby will address the gathering.

''Each of these individuals has made significant contributions to the Chickasaw Nation and to the larger community,'' Anoatubby said. ''It is our privilege to honor these individuals who have dedicated their lives to serving others.''

The tribe has maintained its Hall of Fame since 1987, and the new honorees will join 42 other prominent Chickasaws, including tribal leaders, judiciaries, artists, educators, athletes, scholars and activists who have previously been inducted.