Former tribal legislator Melvin Burris dies at 71

ADA, Okla. – Melvin Burris, a former legislator for the Chickasaw Nation, a professionally trained law enforcement officer and award-winning jewelry and basketry designer, died April 15 in Oklahoma City. He was 71.

Funeral services with full military honors were hosted April 19 at Crosspointe Church in Ada under the direction of Phillips Funeral Home, Ada. Burris served eight years in the U.S. Army National Guard. Interment followed at High Hill Cemetery.

Burris was born April 5, 1953, to Sebena Burris. He was the grandson of the late Willie D. Burris-Stick and the late Mose Burris, a Choctaw Lighthorse police officer who later became a U.S. Marshal prior to Oklahoma statehood.

He spent his life in the Ada and Allen communities before relocating to Stonewall where he purchased a home and acreage about a year ago.

Burris was elected to represent citizens of Chickasaw Nation Pontotoc District 3 in 2002. The district is in the northern regions of Pontotoc County. Burris was a strong proponent of education, scholarships for Chickasaw youth, tribal housing, increasing benefits to elders while accommodating disabled citizens and improving health care.

Burris dedicated his career to law enforcement, graduating from the Oklahoma Police Academy in 1975 after completing high school in 1972 at Tupelo. He served on the Coalgate and Stonewall police forces before becoming a security guard for the Chickasaw Nation in the 1990s.

He became the first armed security guard for the tribe in 1999, serving at Chickasaw Nation Headquarters and the former Carl Albert Indian Health Facility, both in Ada.
Burris was an educated and experienced farrier, attending the Oklahoma State School of Horseshoeing in the mid-1980s. He practiced that trade in his spare time for more than 20 years.

The Allen community honored Burris several times in the early 2000s.
In 2004, Burris told The Ada News he considered delivering the keynote commencement address to graduating Allen High School seniors his greatest honor.

He also supported county volunteer fire departments through participating in competition bass fishing tournaments, the article said.

Additionally, the Allen Board of Education named the school’s baseball facility the Melvin Burris Baseball Field and bestowed the “Mustang Award” upon Burris for unrelenting support of Allen athletics. The Allen Chamber of Commerce also honored his dedication and service to the community in 2004. The Johnson Chapel United Methodist Church cited him for his dedication and work at the Allen-based house of worship.

In 2003, Burris received the Non-Mason Award from the Allen Masonic Lodge No. 81 for service to the Allen community.

Burris is probably best remembered in recent years for his intricate and beautifully crafted jewelry. His infectious smile, friendly nature, sense of humor and pride in carrying on Chickasaw-inspired pieces of art endeared him to many art lovers and collectors at shows such as the Artesian Arts Festival and Southeastern Art Show and Market.

Burris’ art was unique by his placement of a single feather on each piece he created. Additionally, he paid homage to Chickasaws who labored as cowboys, making coiled rope basketry. His Chickasaw heritage was through his great-grandparent Elminy Porter Stick, an original Dawes Commission enrollee.

Burris is survived by three children; Adam and Joshua Burris, and Amanda Mericle.