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Businesses in the Philadelphia area may benefit from the presence of the Pearl River Resort and Casino, but no one benefits more from the casino than the Choctaw Tribe who reside on the reservation itself. With this benefit, local businesses are regulated under the tribe’s jurisdiction, causing friction.
Leverette Brown, the lead surveillance technician at the Pearl River Resort, has been working for the casino since it opened in July 1994.
“With the casinos pulling in that many people,” Brown said, “it’s done things like raise property value and bring in business.”
According to Brown, prior to the casino coming to Philadelphia in 1994, the town suffered economic hardships.
“The casinos have helped us weather the financial difficulties,” Brown said.
According to a study conducted by Mississippi State University (MSU) in October 2002, the Pearl River Resort is responsible for over 14,000 permanent jobs in Mississippi, paying over $350 million in payroll annually.
The Choctaw tribe, who owns the casino and resort located on their reservation, has provided enough jobs for everyone that lives within their reservation, along with many jobs for those outside the reservation.
Local businesses that have been around before the casino’s opening have been able to keep their doors open due to the influx of tourism the casino has brought into Philadelphia, Miss. For instance, the local Walmart upgraded to a Super Walmart due to the increase of tourism, as well as permanent jobs. Along with local businesses thriving, new business chains have rooted themselves in the area to benefit from the local economy.
One business, in particular, while not located on the reservation, benefits from the reservation greatly. The McDonald’s of Philadelphia, located three miles from the Pearl River Resort is not under the jurisdiction of the tribe.
“We get a lot of business from the casino,” said Victor Isaac, general manager of the McDonald’s located in Philadelphia. “They bring in a lot of tourists which gives us a lot of business.”
Along with the business the casino brings McDonalds, the company decided to go into business with the Choctaws. According to an article written by John Porretto, “Other recent additions to Tribal enterprises have been the Choctaw Construction Enterprise, which produces plastic cutlery by injection molding for McDonald’s restaurant franchises in the eastern U.S.”
However, not all of the businesses have those same benefits. The Dollar General, located on the Choctaw property, is under the jurisdiction of the tribe.
Recently, the Dollar General is facing legal charges, and since they are located on the reservation, the case is seen through the Choctaw courts.
According to the Petition of Writ of Certiorari in the Supreme Court case of Dollar General Corporation vs. the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, the decision is whether the tribe has jurisdiction over the employees of Dollar General. The Choctaw Indians were ruled in favor of, and the Dollar General has taken the case to the Supreme Court.
The appeal is still being considered in the Supreme Court as to whether the tribe has authority over the Dollar General store. The Dollar General manager in Choctaw refused to comment on the allegations.
Since the Choctaw reservation is considered a “sovereign nation,” the case first went through the Choctaw court system, which varies from a normal court system setting.
Being a “sovereign nation” also applies to taxes. The Choctaw reservation is tax exempt, and does not pay taxes to the Mississippi government, but rather to their own government.
According to Oxford Tax Assessor, Mike Lewis, the tribe is essentially a state within a state.
“The Choctaws have their own government, their own school system, their own healthcare,” Lewis said. “They don’t use the Mississippi government, so they don’t pay the government.”
According to the study by MSU, the resort accrues over $18 million in tax revenue annually.
Since the Choctaws have their own government, the money they have in taxes goes right back into their pockets. It’s a continuous cycle that benefits the tribe. The money they make goes back to helping their people, and the taxes they collect from their people, also goes back to helping their people.
“They have their own mill rate, so they set how much money they need.” Lewis said. “They collect money from all the houses, cars and mobile homes that live on their land.”
The Choctaw tribe is governmental and sovereign, but they also work within their own system, which some businesses see as unfair.
In the article written by Porretto, the previous Choctaw chief, Phillip Martin, recognizes the opposition with the tribe’s sovereignty.
“Some people complain that we don’t pay taxes, but they fail to acknowledge that we do not cost the state anything, either.” Martin said. “We are a huge financial benefit for Mississippi, and we don’t ask for anything in return.”
Starting from a life of unemployment and poverty, the Choctaw Tribe worked their way into creating a prosperous life for themselves and those in need around them.
(Laura Pace, Jordan Mckeever, Amanda Wilson)
The Choctaw Indian Reservation sits across 10 counties in east Mississippi on 35,000 acres of land. Living amongst eight reservation communities, consisting of Bogue Chitto, Bogue Homa, Conehatta, Crystal Ridge, Pearl River, Red Water, Standing Pine and Tucker, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians consists of nearly 10,000 members.
During the 16th century, the Choctaw Indians were settled in the south-eastern region of the United States, which would later become Mississippi. However, following the defeat of the French in the French and Indian war, the land was taken and they were forced to resettle onto new land.
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As the United States began growing, the federal government demanded more land resulting in the Choctaws having to negotiate over their land.
President Thomas Jefferson, implemented a military strategy forcing the government to seize all land bordering the Mississippi River for defensive purposes against France, Spain, and England.
In 1801, the Treaty of Fort Adams was signed in which the Choctaws surrendered 2,641,920 acres of land. This was the first of nine treaties between the United States and the Choctaws.
By 1830, more than 23 million acres were surrendered to the United States. Then in 1830, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek marked the final cession of and outlined the terms of Choctaw removal to the west. They became the first American Indian Tribe to be removed from their land by the government and was forced to relocate to what is now Oklahoma.
When the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed, there were over 19,000 Choctaws in Mississippi. Between 1831 and 1833, almost 13,000 Choctaws were removed to the West. Members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians are descendants of Choctaw individuals who refused to leave and relocate to Oklahoma.
Nevertheless, life has since changed over the past 150 years on the reservation. On July 1, 1994, the Pearl River Casino Resort opened its doors. Bringing in an average of $100 million a year, the casino has become a cash cow for the reservation.
Leverette Brown, the lead surveillance technician at the Pearl River Resort said, “When they first started they had a management group that opened itup for them, then they wound up buying out their own contract and operating it themselves.”
Brown is the lead technician for the casino properties and has been with them for 20 years.
“Employees were worried but it’s been a fairly smooth transition,” Brown said.
Brown also said working with the Choctaws has been just as smooth.
“Whatever tribal policies are in place for the government, are in place for the casino entities as well,” Brown said. “They are a pretty easy partner to work with.”
For the Choctaw tribe, they have worked hard for their position.
According to Misty Dreifuss, Public Information Specialist for the Choctaw tribe, the tribe was not federally recognized until 1945. Before that, the tribe suffered severe financial difficulties.
“Chief Phillip Martin brought a lot of industries to the reservation over the years,” Dreifuss said, “which brought us out of poverty.”
Dreifuss, who is a member of the Choctaw tribe as well, said that the tribe has almost at 10,000 members.
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The industries and manufacturing were brought to the reservation in the 90s, and at that time there were only four manufacturing jobs.
According to Kay Rowell, the Executive Director of Tourism for Neshoba County, between manufacturing jobs and the casino itself, Pearl River Resort is one of the biggest employers in the county.
“Pearl River brought more jobs to our community,” Rowell said, “therefore the economy went up and it was better for our people.”
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The history of the Choctaws has changed drastically over the years. They have created a prosperous life for their community and their people.
(Laura Pace, Jordan Mckeever, Amanda Wilson)