Native History: Chickasaw Nation Corrects Names of Famed Leaders
Joshua Hinson, director of the Chickasaw Language Department, spells and pronounces their Chickasaw titles.
Hopayi’ Minko’ and Tishominko’ are foreign-sounding to those who Anglicized the names centuries ago.
Lisa John, secretary of culture and humanities, in tandem with historians, anthropologists and the Chickasaw Nation, are now correcting age-old errors.
The tribe took the first step April 28 when a statue of Hopayi’ Minko’ was dedicated on the grounds of the Chickasaw Nation Capitol. The tribe now refers to him as Piominko. Until the dedication, most would say “Piomingo.” Monday, October 13, will mark “Piominko Day” for the Chickasaw Nation.
“We are going back to our roots and calling people by their proper title,” Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said at the dedication. The word “Minko” means “leader” in Chickasaw. Piominko means “prophet leader” in the native tongue, Hinson explained.
“Our research shows calling him Chief Piominko is the same as saying President President Obama,” Hinson said in illustrating the need for action. Chickasaw forbearers would not have uttered the vernacular “chief chief.”
The same community that recently rolled out the red carpet for Piominko’s statue should be called “Tishominko,” according to Hinson.
“Does that mean Tishomingo, Oklahoma, will change its name? No. We can’t go back and attempt to fix everything,” Hinson said. “But, we can start an educational initiative to let people know we are using correct Chickasaw language to refer to our leaders.”
The Chickasaw Nation will now refer to him as Tishominko. The literal translation in the Chickasaw language is “assistant leader.”
Revered But Mysterious
The personal and war names of both Piominko and Tishominko elude researchers, though Piominko may have signed the Virginia Chickasaw Treaty of 1738 as Tushatohoa Mountain Leader while on the 1805 Treaty of Chickasaw Nation, a signature read “Okoye/Tishumustubee.” There is evidence this was the individual later known as Tihominko.
“Names changed for warriors and leaders by virtue of their last noteworthy accomplishment,” Hinson explained. “A young warrior who fought with distinction in a battle may have been called ‘fox’ before the battle, but he might be called ‘Kills on Top’ or ‘Walked Around there Killing ’ after the fight. With each successive accomplishment, his name would change,” Hinson explained.
Hinson compared it to a modern military promotion. A person may have started out as a Lieutenant but achieved the rank of Colonel. Due to the promotion, the individual would not be called Lieutenant any longer.
“It is the same with all Chickasaw warriors,” he observed
Born near Tupelo, Mississippi, in approximately 1750, Piominko served the Chickasaw people as a leader, diplomat and negotiator during the infancy of the United States of America. Chickasaws owned territory in Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee.
He signed the Treaty of Hopewell on the tribe’s behalf in 1786. It formalized diplomatic relations with the United States and spelled out Chickasaw Nation boundaries.
Piominko and President George Washington were friends. Piominko, along with several other Chickasaw leaders, were hosted by Washington in his Philadelphia home in 1794.
Piominko was awarded a Washington Peace Medal by the president as a way of honoring the Chickasaw leader for his loyalty to the new nation.
Also known as Mountain Leader, Piominko embarked upon diplomatic missions to several states and conferred with other tribes. He met with governors, tribal leaders and U.S. emissaries to preserve and protect the Chickasaw Nation. It is believed he died near Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1799 of natural causes.
His image adorns the Chickasaw Nation flag, yet he served as an assistant leader to Ishtehotopah, who was ‘Hereditary minko’ of the Chickasaws just prior to the Trail of Tears in 1837. Tishominko would speak to Chickasaws on behalf of Ishtehotopah.
Tishominko’s “sign” is on many treaty documents between the Chickasaw Nation and the United States government, including the Treaty of Pontotoc, which set in motion abandonment of the Chickasaw homeland.
Tishominko presided as leader of the Tishomingo District until the Chickasaws were forced to relocate to lands west of the Mississippi River. It is believed Tishominko succumbed to smallpox on the Chickasaw Removal between 1838 and 1841 at Eagle Town, Indian Territory. He was approximately 100 years old when he died. Until recently, experts believed he died near Little Rock, Arkansas. Hinson said documents, which are still being examined, indicate he survived the march but died shortly after arriving in the new territory as attested by Choctaw leader Peter Pitchlynn, who memorialized Tishomingo in 1841 at present day Eagle Town, Oklahoma.
Tishominko also was awarded a silver medal by President Washington, having served with distinction in the U.S. military at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the Red Stick War and the War of 1812. He also served under Gen. Andrew Jackson, whose policies as president led to the Indian Removal of 1830 and the removal of the southeastern Indian nations.