By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Seven members of the Oklahoma-based Chickasaw Nation flew to Tupelo on Monday to host community leaders for a social gathering, hoping to host a future gathering at a $5-6 million cultural center in a matter of years.
With deep historical and cultural roots in Tupelo, Chickasaw Nation leaders have long wanted a permanent presence in the community to help tell the Native American tribe’s history, culture and other significance to this area.
For decades now, leaders with the nation have wanted to create a cultural center in the area but didn’t have financial resources to make it happen.
Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby told the group of elected and community leaders gathered at Park Heights restaurant that he anticipated efforts for the cultural center taking shape in the future.
“It’s important that we preserve the culture and history of the Chickasaw in this area,” Anoatubby said.
In 1839, the federal government forced the Chickasaw people from their native land. The tribe relocated to south-central Oklahoma. However, Tupelo and other parts of north Mississippi remain important to the Chickasaw people’s history.
After a period of financial struggles, the Chickasaw Nation has found financial strength in ventures including casinos, race tracks, and even a chocolate company. Increased wealth through the years has allowed the Nation to devote resources to its Tupelo plans.
Establishing a welcome center would create ways to better connect Chickasaws to their native land, both providing education of their history here to the community and providing them with a long-awaited presence.
Identifying the site for the center on Chickasaw Village, a 100-acre site along the Natchez Trace, the National Park Service has supported the effort. U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran provided a roughly $1 million federal earmark about a decade ago to help with planning, design and other preliminary work.
With little optimism for additional federal funding, Anoatubby said the Chickasaw Nation will provide funding for the anticipated 6,000 to 7,000-square-foot facility.
“It needs to be designed for expansion,” the Chickasaw governor said.
No specific date is set for construction on the project to begin. Chickasaw leaders wait for the National Park Service to complete planning stages. However, the Nation plans to establish a foundation to help provide annual operational funds for the center.
Dale Wilkerson, Natchez Trace administrative officer in Tupelo, said the entire community will benefit from the planned center.
“It will help people have a better understanding of the culture, the history and value of the area,” he said.
Betsey Hamilton with the Union County Heritage Museum attended the gathering excited about future historical facilities to tell the story of the Chickasaw.
“It’s very much a part of who we are,” she said.