How to Succeed in Business: Follow the Choctaws’ Lead

Within a generation, the rural Mississippi tribe has created thousands of jobs and transformed itself into an economic dynamo

Writer Fergus M. Bordewich takes us on an absorbing journey onto a thriving reservation, where the tiny Choctaw Nation (8,000 members) has transformed itself from a stagnant welfare culture to a flourishing entrepreneurial outpost. As recently as 15 years ago, 80 percent of the tribe was unemployed; today, having achieved full employment for its own people, fully half the tribe's employees are black or white Mississippians from the surrounding region. Among other enterprises, Choctaw factories today assemble components for clients as various as Ford, Xerox, AT&T, Harley-Davidson and Boeing.

In large measure, this success can be attributed to the energy and vision of the Choctaws' chief, Phillip Martin. "He'll give you the shirt off his back," says Lester Dalme, a former General Motors executive who has managed the tribe's flagship plant since 1980. "He truly loves his people. He can't stand even one of his enemies to be without a job."

The article is adapted from Bordewich's new book, Killing the White Man's Indian: Reinventing Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century, published by Doubleday.

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