Philip Martin, 83; transformed Indian life

By Holbrook Mohr
Associated Press / February 6, 2010

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JACKSON, Miss. - Phillip Martin, a longtime chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, was remembered yesterday as a visionary who lifted the tribe from stifling poverty with casinos and other businesses.

Mr. Martin died Thursday night at a Jackson hospital with his family by his side after a stroke a few days earlier, said his niece, Natasha Phillips. He was 83.

Mr. Martin’s 28-year tenure saw the construction of an industrial park and the $750 million Pearl River Resort, complete with two casinos, a golf club, and a water park, on tribal land in rural east central Mississippi, about 65 miles northeast of Jackson. He was praised for creating thousands of jobs. He also set up a scholarship that pays 100 percent of college costs for tribal youth.

“He was a great man and a visionary leader,’’ said Miko Beasley Denson, the current chief, who defeated Mr. Martin in 2007. “. . . He transformed the economy of our tribe and with it the fate of our people.’’

Governor Haley Barbour also praised Mr. Martin’s leadership.

“His attention to economic development while preserving the cultural aspects of Native American life in Mississippi will be long remembered,’’ Barbour said in a statement.

US Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, said Mr. Martin “inspired his people’’ and “created hope and opportunity for Mississippi Choctaws.’’

Mr. Martin spent a decade in the Air Force and began a career in tribal leadership in 1957.