OUR OPINION: Chickasaw Nation plans a return to Mississippi

Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby’s strong reassurance Monday that the Chickasaws want to create a presence in their homeland with a cultural center on the Natchez Trace Parkway in Tupelo creates the possibility of a reinvestment in the future of Northeast Mississippi.

Chickasaws were removed from the homeland, centered around present-day Tupelo and extending into northern Alabama, west Tennessee, Kentucky and westward to the Mississippi River, after treaties in the early 19th century opened Northeast Mississippi to widespread settlement by European Americans.

The 1839 resettlement to Oklahoma created a new Native American culture and removed from easy memory most of the Chickasaw presence in Mississippi, but did not erase all of the ties and legacy of places and events dating from before the European presence in North America.

Anouatubby spoke with more certainty on Monday than in past references to a culture center or “welcome” center as some have referred to the undertaking.

Sen. Thad Cochran, working with the Chickasaws and the National Park Service, years ago procured a $1 million earmark for planning the center, but progress has at times seemed uncertain.

Identifying a site – 100 acres at what’s known as the Chickasaw Village on the Natchez Trace between the West Main Street and McCullough Boulevard interchanges – is the most specific description of what’s envisioned so far.

It’s important to remember that the prospect of a cultural center is an idea driven by the Chickasaw Nation and not by any kind of federal mandate. The Chickasaws, as do other Native American nations/tribes, have a relationship with the national government defined by treaties and special laws.

The cultural center will be a project driven by the Chickasaw Nation and the private sector.

The nation’s willingness to return to the homeland taken from them in bad-faith dealings almost 200 years ago demonstrates remarkable tolerance and patience, and also the intensity of feelings about the ancestral lands on which much of their history unfolded.

The Chickasaw Nation and those presenting their interests are involved in other heritage projects in our region, but those are held in remarkably low profile for the time being. Much of what the Chickasaws left in Mississippi lies underneath layers of dirt, sacred ground in some instances, and all to be respected as part of another great nation.