In the spirit of Native American Heritage Month, UNC welcomed a seasoned Indian government figure Monday night to talk about the history of the Chickasaws, their current state and their hopes for their nation's people.
Bill Anoatubby, governor of the Chickasaw Indian Nation, spoke to a large crowd of UNC students and received a special introduction from his nephew and UNC graduate student Joe Anoatubby.
Joe Anoatubby said the governor is an inspiration for all Chickasaws. "(Gov. Anoatubby) had made great improvements in the Chickasaw way of life," he said. "He has worked to solve problems in a cooperative and efficient manner."
The Chickasaw nation is located in the south-central area of Oklahoma and has a population of about 40,000.
The nation is a sovereign government that operates much like the U.S. government. The tribal government has a three-branch system. Officials are elected by the 17,000 registered voters in the nation, Gov. Anoatubby said.
He said many outsiders wonder why the tribe wants to exercise authority outside the U.S. government. "Indians are the most poverty-stricken of all U.S. groups," he said. "The federal government has tried to help us, but we have to take matters into our own hands."
The Chickasaws have made improvements by establishing their own health, housing and educational programs, Gov. Anoatubby said. "Our success, while due to hard work and determination, is greatly in part to increased flexibility among all levels of government.
"We were the first Indian tribe to send a Chickasaw as an ambassador to the United States. We are truly leaders among the tribal governments."
As governor, he manages 50 government programs, 13 tribal businesses and an annual budget of nearly $200 million. He said the Chickasaw are looking to further increase their revenue through any business venture that will improve the welfare of their people.
"Our vision for the future is to live up to our mission statement," he said. "Most importantly, we are concerned with improving the quality of life."
Anoatubby said long-term goals include reducing the control and dependence of the Chickasaw on the federal government and eliminating the need for social programs. The tribal government has great confidence that its goals will someday be met, he said.
Anoatubby boasts a distinguished career in the Chickasaw government. He became the first lieutenant governor for the Chickasaw in 1979 and is now serving his fourth term as governor.
UNC faculty members extended a warm welcome to the respected speaker. American studies Professor Michael Green said he was excited because Anoatubby offered firsthand expertise on a timely subject.
"What he's got to say will be of great interest, because the Chickasaws represent a contemporary Indian tribe that is addressing a whole host of economic and social questions of interest to Native Americans," Green said.
Anoatubby closed his speech by saying he takes great pride in his heritage and by pointing out how far his people have come since the days of the Trail of Tears. He said, "I am proud of our ability to overcome adversity, and I eagerly await the challenges of the future."
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