Published on May 9, 2012 by Amy
Phillip Martin (March 13, 1926 – February 4, 2010) was the democratically elected Tribal Chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, a federally recognized American Indian tribe of 8,300 enrolled members living on or near 30,000 acres (120 km²) of reservation land in east central Mississippi. Martin had a 40 year record of service to the Tribal government, including 32 years as the Tribe’s principal elected official. Chief Martin left office in 2007 after the election of Miko Beasley Denson.
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After serving in the US Air Force for a decade, Martin returned to his home in Mississippi and entered tribal leadership in 1957. Nationally, Martin had served as president of the National Tribal Chairmen’s Association, and president of United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. (USET), an association of the 23 federally recognized tribes in the eastern portion of the United States. Martin founded the USET organization in 1969. He was the first president of the Board of Regents of Haskell Indian Junior College, between 1970 and 1976 (now Haskell Indian Nations University).
He was first elected tribal chief in 1979.
In that period, Martin worked with other tribal leaders to acquire and maintain accreditation for Haskell, and to improve campus facilities, including construction of dormitories, a cafeteria, resource center, and field house. In 1992, Martin founded the United South and Eastern Tribes Gaming Association. At the time of his death the chief presided over that aforementioned organization.
Locally, Chief Martin served the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians on numerous Boards of Directorship. During his tenure as Tribal Chief, Martin has established the following Tribal businesses and service operations on the Choctaw Indian Reservation:
Of his service to his tribe, Martin said, “I felt compelled to recount the major events of my life because I believe I owe it to the Choctaw people, especially the young and those yet to be born.”
Martin died on February 4, 2010 in a Jackson, Mississippi hospital after suffering a stroke days earlier.
He is survived by his wife, Bonnie Kate Bell, their two daughters Deborah and Patricia, and five grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Before he died, he wrote, Chief: The Autobiography of Phillip Martin.