August Message

Governor Bill Anoatubby

1856 constitution laid the groundwork for Chickasaw self-sufficiency

By Bill Anoatubby, Governor, Chickasaw Nation


Today, we have a strong Chickasaw Nation. A nation built by Chickasaws committed to the progress and empowerment of our people. This month is the anniversary of the ratification of our 1856 constitution. This constitution was vital to a sovereign and autonomous Chickasaw Nation in Indian Territory. A document that forged the path for our nation to become what we know today.

Early in our history, a clan system was the foundation of the Chickasaw belief system and society. A matrilineal society, Chickasaws were born into their mothers’ clan and clans determined societal status, obligations, marriage opportunities and more.

Impacted by the continually evolving environment, including trade and negotiations with Europeans and, later, Americans in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, our society began to adapt as well. By 1837, when Chickasaws were removed from our Homeland to Indian Territory, tribal society was functioning by a code of written laws.

Chickasaws adapted to meet the needs of our people during a time of great change, politically and societally, so they would continue in the new America. By putting the needs of Chickasaw people and the tribe as a whole first, tribal leaders ensured the longevity of our culture and, soon, our government.

For a time, in Indian Territory, Chickasaws were assigned a district within the Choctaw Nation. Eager for their own land, and realizing that a modern form of government would be necessary in dealing with the federal government, a treaty granting separation from the Choctaws was signed. In August 1856, a Chickasaw Nation constitution was written and signed during a constitutional convention at Good Spring on Pennington Creek in Tishomingo. This constitution created the modern tribal government, including a three department form of government.

Though we now operate under the 1983 constitution, it cannot be overstated how important the original constitution was for our people, our future and our cultural identity in our new home.

Under this constitution, the Governor, legislative and judicial offices would be filled by popular vote. Chickasaws elected their first governor, Cyrus Harris, and built schools, banks and businesses in Indian Territory. The seeds of self-sufficiency and sustainability were laid and Chickasaws saw and understood the value of a strong government, leadership and community.

As we celebrate the anniversary of the 1856 constitution, we praise those with the forethought, determination and understanding to fight for the future of the Chickasaw Nation, Chickasaw culture and tribal sovereignty. These principles have served us throughout history and we can be certain that they will carry us far into the future.