Vol. LII No. 7
July 2017

Roots of Chickasaw renaissance began at Seeley Chapel


In Chickasaw history, the late 1950s and early 1960s marked a time of renewed energy and inspiration among Chickasaw people. This was the time when our tribe was emerging to rediscover itself following decades of universal hardship.

That important time of awakening featured Chickasaws’ historic gatherings at Seeley Chapel. The unique dynamics of that time marked the dawn of a new and progressive era for the Chickasaw Nation.

Seeley Chapel is an Indian Methodist church near Connerville, Okla., in the heart of the Chickasaw Nation. The little church proved to be “ground zero” during this critically important period of resurrection for the Chickasaw Nation.

During the early 1960s, our tribe, along with hundreds of others, was just emerging after decades of brutal federal Indian policy. But there was a feeling of great optimism at Seeley Chapel. In October 1963, Overton James had been appointed Governor of the Chickasaw Nation by President John F. Kennedy. Gov. James would be elected in 1971 by the Chickasaw people in our first election since 1904.

Speaker of the U.S. House Carl Albert, of tiny Bugtussle, Okla., visited with us at Seeley Chapel. Speaker Albert understood pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. He was an early and ardent supporter of the Chickasaw Nation and of tribal sovereignty.

We gathered at Seeley Chapel to discuss the news and to hear the reports from our tribal administration on the state of the Chickasaw Nation. We shared ideas and dreams. Everyone appeared united in the fact that our tribe was definitely on the right path.

Of course, we were just taking our first steps along this new journey. Our entire tribal budget was very small and virtually all of it was federal funds. The enormity of the challenge became clear to almost everyone. There were very limited resources available and the tribe was charged with providing an extensive menu of important services.

For many Chickasaws during those days, it was a daily struggle to provide the necessities of life. It became obvious we would have to come together and forge a plan that would provide for our people, and move toward making our big dreams turn into reality.

In 1987, we had made some progress with the plan. However, we knew there remained much work ahead of us.

Assistance from the federal government was not going to be the long-term answer to our needs. We would do what Chickasaws of the past had done – we would come up with a good, workable strategy and execute that strategy. We were going to build our own businesses, and develop our own means of support.

We had our share of challenges, and we had to make adjustments along the way. However, we stayed the course together and discovered the path that would support the programs and services so important to the people.

We are now engaged in a wide variety of tribal businesses. And we have found success! That success is the foundation that provides the resources for most of the important programs and services which Chickasaws receive every day.

In education, health care, cultural outreach, family life, careers and so much more, we are leaders. We can be proud that the Chickasaw Nation is recognized as one of the most innovative, successful sovereigns in the country.

Those Seeley Chapel gatherings planted seeds of progress for the Chickasaw Nation. Chickasaws intuitively understand struggle. And Chickasaws understand how to hurdle obstacles that block the path of shared prosperity.

We know there is still much work ahead, and we are committed to excellence for all Chickasaw people. The awakening that occurred decades ago at Seeley Chapel is ongoing. Those first steps along the path have led us to become a powerful and dynamic tribe. The lesson we learned along the way is “people matter.” Dedication to the Chickasaw people is the bedrock on which all our successes are built.