Warrior mentality saw Chickasaws through the troubles

This article appeared in the July 2021 edition of the Chickasaw Times

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

This quote, attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, captures the Chickasaw spirit that has defined our people for generations.

During the late 1600s and throughout the 1700s, the Chickasaws were well known as “Spartans of the Mississippi.” Our tribe conducted a dynamic, successful trading network among other tribes, and among the newly-arrived Europeans. The Chickasaw Nation was also home to a skilled and mighty military force of warriors who controlled the Lower Mississippi River for centuries.

Chickasaw military prowess proved overwhelming when the French and their allies were defeated at the Battle of Hikki’ya’ (Akia) in 1736. The French dominance was widespread but could not make headway along the big river because of Chickasaw strength. That battle, and a number of others, would prove the catalyst that eventually sapped French power and influence from the region forever.

The Chickasaws were highly valued allies during the American War for Independence. Peace was made with the new United States upon the signing of the Treaty with the Chickasaw and U.S. of 1786 (also known as the Treaty of Hopewell).

As we know, our relationship with the U.S. changed markedly throughout the first half of the 19th Century. With intense pressure from U.S. President Andrew Jackson and his administration, along with the State of Mississippi, Chickasaw leaders signed the Treaties of Pontotoc and Doaksville. Our tribe was forcefully removed, beginning in 1837, to Indian Territory.

Our leaders of the time negotiated an agreement for a new homeland. But this was wrenching change, and our situation would soon worsen with the advent of allotment and statehood.

We had survived and built our communities, our schools, our businesses and our churches in our new lands in the Chickasaw District within the Choctaw Nation. The allotment process brought the breakup of our new homeland and this new reality was incredibly hard for all Chickasaw people.

Decade upon decade following allotment, the Chickasaw people “Did what they could, with what they had, where they were.”

The people endured poverty, want and unfairness. Federal “Indian policy,” with only a few exceptions, was hard for all Indian people.

However, the Chickasaw people proved equal to all challenges. They actively recalled their history, and were true to their heritage, their families and their communities.

“Perseverance,” Victor Hugo wrote, “is the secret of all triumphs.”

And persevere we did. And that perseverance continues to this day.

We fought back from the very brink of extinction, and we were at that precipice for many long years. When the tiny flames of self-governance began glowing in the 1960s, the Chickasaw Nation was quick to add fuel to this fire of reliance on ourselves. It was certainly not easy, and we had plenty of bumps along the road. But our refusal to quit – our warrior mentality – allowed us to hang on until we generated the momentum to be where we are today.

It is imperative we recall where we came from, and the sacrifices made by the Chickasaw generations who paved the way for us.

Ours is an uplifting story, one filled with plenty of both tragedy and triumph. It has been 184 years since our people were forcefully removed from our historic Southeastern Homeland for our new home in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). We will remember the challenges of our journey, and they will arm our generations to come to meet the challenges yet unseen.