Thursday, September 8 2011
Perry inducted into Hall of Fame
By SUE WATSON
Chickasaw elder Robert Johnson Perry is among three inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame, begun in 1987 to honor those who have made outstanding contributions to the Chickasaw Nation.
Perry was inducted August 18, along with Jesse Green and chief Tishu Minko (Tishomingo) at the Riverwind Casino in Goldsby, Okla., and joins 57 prior inductees.
An author and retired engineer with the petroleum industry, Perry was elected to the Chickasaw Advisory Council in 1965, where he has served as secretary and chairman. He also has represented the Chickasaw on the Five Civilized Inter-Tribal Council.
He served five years as chairman on the Chickasaw Industrial Development Board after being appointed in 1993. Much of Perry’s service to the Council has been connected with the Chickasaw Historical Society board where he served eight years and continues as an Emeritus CHS member. He was chosen to serve as on the Council of Elders in 2004. The council advises the government of cultural issues.
He is author of several historically-based books and lives with his wife Faye in Ada, Okla.
Tribes divided in Alabama/Mississippi
Perry has made almost annual trips from the headquarters of the Chickasaw Nation in Ada, Okla., to Mississippi and Alabama in search of the historical roots of his tribe and to assist and participate in important installations. On his trips to Tuscumbia Landing, one of 12 designated national parks with historic trails, Perry has often stopped in Holly Springs to visit the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center.
At Tuscumbia, the park celebrates the landing where members of three tribes left to go on “The Great Migration” out West.
Perry said the “Trail of Tears” connotes an extremely unhappy historic event.
“But more and more it is like a homecoming to celebrate the diaspora,” he said in connection with annual celebrations at Tuscumbia Landing and park trail.
Though many Indians in the Georgia Territory, which included the states of Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama, did participate in “The Great Migration,” many Indian women with ample doweries opted to stay home and marry white settlers, he said, as a means of keeping their homes and lands.
The result was that there were members of the Indian tribes who stayed behind and those who made a new home out West. Their connection with each other was forgotten, but recently has received much attention.
Perry said the moving of the Indians to the West was begun by the Thomas Jefferson Compact of 1802, designed to move Indians off the land from the east to the west of the Mississippi River.
“If they stayed, they were required to give up their rights to their land,” he said.
Then President Andrew Jackson eagerly passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830 dictating that the Indians would be removed from the Georgia lands to Indian Territory. Then the U.S. government made treaties with the different tribes. Essentially, they would take the land in exchange for lands in Indian Territory. A portion of the land in Mississippi or Alabama would be given to the Indian family and the majority sold to settlers at public auction. The average price the government paid for an acre was about $1.25, he said. The family could either sell the land and move far away, or remain on the property.
“If they stayed, they gave up their land rights as an Indian and became a U.S. citizen,” Perry said.
A hundred years later, Indians such as the Tugaloo Cherokee began to buy back their land on the free market, he said.
It was in the 1830s that “The Great Migration” began with members of three tribes leaving by water at Tuscumbia Landing.
A recent project to celebrate “The Great Migration” is underway, he said. The project will celebrate the first railroad built in 1834 - a 43-mile long railroad that connected Decatur, Alabama, to Tuscumbia. The railroad was built as a way to move river freight from Tuscumbia to Decatur and avoid laborious portages over land on foot to avoid the rapids below Tuscumbia. It was an important river route for commerce that connected New Orleans, to Paducah, Kentucky, then to the Tennessee River to Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
The Chickasaw Nation has about 40,000 members with two-thirds of its members living off the Chickasaw Nation’s historic boundaries established prior to Oklahoma statehood in 1907, Perry said. The tribe is still empowered by the U.S. government as a federally recognized tribe within the old boundaries. So, two-thirds of the Chickasaw citizens reside beyond the old boundaries.
Today there is a movement within the nation to modernize and evolve so Chickasaws will have jobs, he said.
In Oklahoma, the tribe owns a race track and two of the largest casinos in the world. The Chickasaw just built a $50 million cultural center in Sulfur, Okla., to educate the world about the unique culture of the Chickasaw.
“We are probably one of the earliest tribes to meet Hernando DeSoto in 1540 and who are still alive,” Perry said. He thinks the Chickasaw probably met DeSoto near Tupelo.
The history of the Chickasaw is now being unearthed and retold, he said.
“It’s history that hasn’t been written,” Perry said. “It would take books and books to tell it all. We are digging history back up.”
Perry became involved in the tribe in 1965. As an engineer with Phillips Petroleum, Perry said his boss was the CEO of the company and chief of the Cherokee Nation.
“He suggested I volunteer to help my tribe,” said Perry.
As a long-range planner for the economic development of large refineries and chemical plants worldwide, Perry gained the expertise he needed to volunteer with his tribe about 40 years ago.
As an elder, his responsibility is “to give back” to his tribe by imparting wisdom and to advise the tribal government on cultural issues, Perry said.
“I’ve received a lot of things in my past and it is about turning around and giving back,” he said.
Perry said he likes to get himself in a spot where he has too much to do - to challenge himself and motivate himself.
Challenge and curiosity are his prime motivators to create, he said.
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