What is the Chickasaw Nation?

Mike Howells
Mike Howells
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The Chickasaw Nation is a sovereign tribe of Native American peoples recognized by the United States government. It was created following the removal of the Chickasaw people from their original homes, in areas of the American deep south to Oklahoma, in the 1830s. As of 2010, the Chickasaw nation numbered fewer than 50,000 people.

The original Chickasaw tribe was historically localized in the states of Mississippi and Alabama, and north into Tennessee, Kentucky, and South Carolina. The tribe is closely related to the Choctaw tribe, and their members both likely originated and migrated north from what is now Mexico. The Chickasaw were first encountered by Europeans in the 16th century, and experienced mixed relationships with successions of Spanish, French, and English settlers.

Following the founding of the United States in the 1770s, the Chickasaw were subjected to overt attempts at assimilation into American society, both legally and culturally. Through a range of treaties, and financial dealings, historical Chickasaw lands were gradually annexed by the U.S. Government. Many tribe members traveled west in the 1830s as part of what is known as the Trail of Tears — the deportation of many Native American tribes from their eastern homes to a portion of modern Oklahoma, which at the time was designated Indian Territory.

The Chickasaw and the Choctaw that were removed to Indian Territory combined to form the Chickasaw-Choctaw Nation. In 1856, the combined group split and the Chickasaw Nation, as it largely remains organized in the 21st century, was established. Those Chickasaw that remained in the East, mainly in South Carolina, eventually formed a separate nation and are not considered part of the Oklahoma tribe.

The Chickasaw Nation allied with the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Following the conclusion of the war, the restored United States forced the nation to agree to a new treaty, which notably included freeing its slave population. As part of the new treaty the U.S. Government also took over roughly half the land the Chickasaw had accumulated in Oklahoma.

Following the admission of Oklahoma as the 46th state in 1907, the Chickasaw Nation was dissolved as its people became American citizens. The officers of the nation were appointed by the U.S. President until the passage of the Indian Self-Determination Act in 1975. With this legislation, the Chickasaw joined the other Native American tribes as being able to have quasi-autonomous governments, as well as delegates in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Like other Native American tribes, the Chickasaw are allowed to own and operate casinos. They have taken advantage of that right, and their corporation owns 17 casinos and numerous other gambling venues. The Chickasaw Corporation also owns other assets, including radio stations around their headquarters in Ada, Oklahoma.

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