A New Chahta Homeland: A History by the Decade, 1990-2000s
October 1, 2022
This month marks the end of our Iti Fabvssa series “A New Chahta Homeland: A History by the Decade,” which covers the span of Oklahoma Choctaw history. By examining each decade since the Choctaw government arrived in our new homelands using Choctaw-created documents, we have gained a better understanding of Choctaw ancestors’ experiences and how they made decisions that have led us into the present.
This month concludes the series with the years 1990-2000s, which saw the resolutions of lawsuits filed by Choctaw Nation against the U.S. government, the development of compacts with the state of Oklahoma, and the rise of casino gaming and its role in the expansion of the Nation’s economic development program that has brought us into the present.
Choctaw Nation’s success with bingo throughout the 1990s helped to jump-start many of the business ventures that we operate today. Bingo operations expanded into Idabel, Pocola and McAlester. The funds that bingo provided helped open other businesses like the Choctaw Inn and Three Arrows Restaurant across from the bingo palace, as well as the travel plazas, which began with the Hugo Travel Plaza. It even opened its own construction company in 1999 to build these Choctaw Nation businesses. While Choctaw Nation operated other enterprises like the Arrowhead Lodge and Resort at the same time, bingo highlighted the power and great potential of gaming. Casino gaming, already popular in other Native communities, was the next big step for Choctaw Nation.
In 2004, Choctaw Nation worked on state legislation that would help Oklahoma tribal nations upgrade their gaming machines to the Vegas-style slot machines and other Class III games that had been limited by the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulation Act. This led Choctaw Nation and others to enter gaming compacts that shared some of the earnings with the state of Oklahoma. Over the next year, Choctaw Nation massively expanded its gaming operations, and it quickly became its most lucrative business. In 2006, Choctaw Nation opened their first casino in Durant, Oklahoma. Located just across the street from the Bingo Palace, the new Choctaw Casino and Resort proved to be an immediate success. Plans for expansion were drawn up not long after opening. The Grand Tower was added in 2010, the Spa Tower in 2016, and the Sky Tower in 2022.
As Choctaw Nation expanded its gaming enterprises and increased the types of businesses that it operated, it also massively expanded the services for tribal members, which improved their quality of life and provided them with more opportunities. The Nation took on more governmental responsibilities that the federal government had been managing. It also applied for numerous grants to increase the kinds of services it could provide, especially the elderly and the youth. It massively expanded its Health Services and funded public infrastructure projects like the improvement of highways and roads.
Since statehood, taxation has been a longstanding point of contention between the state of Oklahoma and tribal nations, and that became even more public with the rise of Indian gaming. With the resurgence in tribal nations’ power throughout Indian Country, states took a more adversarial approach to engaging tribes. The state of Oklahoma was no exception. Unlike previous times in history, tribal nations had a lot more power to stand up for themselves and figure out the best course. Two important cases that resulted in a compact between the Choctaw Nation and the state of Oklahoma were regarding tobacco and motor fuels which divided part of the profit that Choctaw Nation gained from operating this business with the state.
In June 1997, Assistant Chief Gregory E. Pyle was sworn in as Chief of the Choctaw Nation. In 2007, Chief Pyle appointed Gary Batton as Assistant Chief. After serving as Chief for 17 years, Assistant Chief for 13 years and in numerous positions for nine years before that, Chief Pyle retired at the age of 65. This left Assistant Chief Gary Batton to finish out his term. In 2015, Choctaw citizens elected Gary Batton as Chief and re-elected him in 2019.
The 2000s marked the resolution of several lawsuits that Choctaw Nation filed to protect Choctaw sovereignty. As mentioned in last month’s article, a key lawsuit was regarding the Choctaw-Chickasaw timberlands. The Choctaw-Chickasaw timberlands lawsuit began in 2005. Located in today’s McCurtain, LeFlore, Latimer, Pushmataha and Choctaw counties, the Choctaw timberlands were exempted from the allotment process in the early 1900s and were managed by the U.S. government. Research into the old land records revealed that approximately 1.3 million acres of these forest lands were sold to local timber companies that took the valuable timber without compensating Choctaw Nation. There was also evidence of U.S. officials working with timber companies for the sale of Choctaw-Chickasaw lands. The litigation for this case went back and forth for 9-10 years before the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations and the U.S. government reached a settlement of $181 million in 2015. Another major lawsuit was regarding Choctaw-Chickasaw water rights at Sardis Lake. This lawsuit was settled in 2016 and resulted in an agreement regarding to protect those water resources and their sustainability.
From the 1990s onward, Choctaw Nation made great strides in governmental operations to provide for the Choctaw people by engaging in a robust economic development program. Since arriving in our new homelands in the 1830s on the Trail of Tears, Choctaw people maintained resiliency and learned much from the past to bring us where we are today. Learning from centuries and decades of interaction with European and American traders and settlers, our ancestors learned and developed what they thought were the best strategies for counteracting settle their infringement on Choctaw lands. They secured powerful treaties that still protect many of our rights and lands – even if those treaties were not perfect and were also undermined by the U.S. government. When faced with major challenges like the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War and debates regarding allotment, Choctaw leaders chose what they thought gave the nation the most autonomy at the time. And while those decisions might not have played out as Choctaw leaders had hoped, they have had a lasting impact. Despite the great difficulties that Choctaw people faced, we have persevered through it all and remain today.
This concludes our series, “A New Chahta Homeland: A History by the Decade.”
About Iti Fabvssa
Iti Fabvssa seeks to increase knowledge about the past, strengthen the Choctaw people and develop a more informed and culturally grounded understanding of where the Choctaw people are headed in the future.
If you have questions or would like more information on the sources, please contact Megan Baker at [email protected]