OKMULGEE -- At a time when other Indian leaders are involved in controversy and scandals, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation will honor its first elected chief in a special ceremony Saturday.
Claude Cox, chief from 1970 to 1990, is credited with leading the fight that brought Indian gaming to Oklahoma.
The event is deliberate, said Floyd Jones, chairman of the tribe's annual Creek Nation festival June 20-22.
Jones said Cox's success story is important to the tribe. But without saying so specifically, Jones indicated that the Cox ceremony is needed to counter the negative publicity generated by the ongoing controversy involving the Cherokee government and the aggravated sexual abuse conviction of the Choctaw chief.
A bronze bust of Cox will be unveiled during a 2:30 p.m. ceremony at the tribe's fairgrounds on the north edge of Okmulgee, Jones said.
Cox will be recognized for his 20-year leadership of the Creek Nation. Cox was elected chief in 1970 at age 57, within five years of retirement from Public Service Company of Oklahoma.
In a 1990 interview, "There was me, a desk, and I got an advisory board of seven people. We ran this place the best we could," Cox said of his first days in office.
The tribe's annual budget in 1970 was $20,000. When he left, the tribe's operating budget was $13 million yearly and tribal enterprises employed 1,000 in 45 facilities in eight Oklahoma counties.
Now the tribe has a $94 million annual budget -- including health, housing and gaming enterprises -- and employs 2,200 people in 80 facilities.
It was Cox's decision to bring Indian gaming to Oklahoma, which in turn enriched the tribe's budget. In 1984, after numerous court fights, the Creeks opened their first bingo parlor on a small tract of land at 81st Street in south Tulsa.
The tribe has six bingo parlors in eight Oklahoma counties.
While Cox was chief, the tribe opened a 39-bed hospital in Okemah, built housing projects (which now total more than 2,000 units) and instituted educational programs.