Overton James, 90, who served as Chickasaw Nation Governor from 1963 to 1987, died Sept. 16. He was the youngest man to serve as governor of the tribe.
James, whose Indian name was Itoahtubbi, was born July 21, 1925, in Bromide, to Rufus (Cub) James and Vinnie May Seely James, both enrolled Chickasaws.
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby served as Lt. Governor for James, and succeeded him as governor when he retired in 1987.
“Overton James served the Chickasaw people during a crucial turning point in our history as a nation,” Anoatubby said. “Appointed governor by President Kennedy in 1963, Overton James helped lead the Chickasaw people out from under the control of the federal government into a new era of self-governance.
“As the first elected Governor of the Chickasaw Nation since Oklahoma statehood, he helped blaze the trail for the success we enjoy today. His leadership was vital to the birth of a political and cultural resurgence which is continuing to transform the Chickasaw Nation.
“While this is a day of sadness for everyone in the Chickasaw Nation as we mourn the loss of a visionary leader and irreplaceable friend, we should also take time to celebrate the great things he accomplished for the Chickasaw people.”
James served as appointed governor until 1971, when he became the first governor of the Chickasaw Nation elected by the Chickasaw people since Oklahoma statehood in 1907. During his tenure as elected governor the number of tribal employees grew from about 30 to near 200 and tribal revenues increased from $750,000 in 1975 to approximately $11 million.
James combined service to his own tribe with service to all American Indians. He served five terms as president of the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes. He also served as president of the Choctaw-Chickasaw Confederation, chairman of the State Indian Affairs Commission and trustee of the National Indian Athletic Hall of Fame. He was also a member of the Indian Education Subcommittee of the National Council on Indian Opportunity, and a member of the National Congress of American Indians.