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From the Desk of
Miko Apela Jack Austin Jr.

Choctaw Nation Health Services Continue to be Innovative in Providing Exceptional Services in Southeastern Oklahoma - June 2018

Congratulations to the Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority on being nominated for the Indian Health Service's National Director's Award for Exceptional Group Performance for Health Promotion and Wellness for their impact on the youth and elderly within the 10½ counties of the Choctaw Nation.

A nurse practitioner, and several pharmacists and pharmacy technicians were involved in the project.

They targeted one school and one community center within each of our 10½ counties for a total of 22 events with 876 students and over 1,000 adults attending one of the events.

The medication safety group discussed proper storage of medication, disposal sites within each county and appropriate home disposal of medications. They were able to provide valuable information and resources to all participants.

Congratulations also go to the Choctaw Health Care Center Pharmacy in Talihina for winning the Indian Health Service National Director's Award for sustained and improved performance during 2017.

The CNHCC pharmacy worked with health administration and tribal leadership to expand services designed to improve patients' care and develop innovative and far-reaching programs to improve access as well as increasing the amount of revenue that the pharmacy portion of the healthcare system recoups.

With clinics in Atoka, Broken Bow, Durant, Hugo, Idabel, McAlester, Poteau and Stigler, and the hospital and clinic in Talihina, the Choctaw Nation offers many services including family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, women's health, surgery, physical therapy, dental, optometry and behavioral health.

The Lois White Burton Pharmacy Refill Center in Poteau assists in filling eligible prescriptions for tribal members throughout the United States.

Providing access to wellness centers is another way to help stay fit. There are 13 wellness centers offering opportunities to work out with top-of-the-line fitness equipment, to pick the fitness class that works with your lifestyle, and to take advantage of the staff's extensive knowledge as they help you find the best fitness plan for you.

Grand opening ceremonies are scheduled for the new wellness center in Poteau on May 31 and in Durant on June 26 in conjunction with the grand opening of the new headquarters facility.

Good nutrition is vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and summer is time to gather an abundance of fresh food from the garden.

For anyone who is not able to have their own garden, farmers market programs are available to help make the fruits and vegetables more accessible.

The Farmers Market Nutrition Program for WIC (Women, Infant and Children) provides fresh food from local farmers throughout the 10½ counties of the Choctaw Nation.

The Farmers Market Nutrition Program for Seniors offers vouchers to eligible seniors age 55 and up that can be exchanged for locally grown fruits, vegetables, herbs and honey.

The farmers provide a much-needed opportunity for us by growing and selling a bounty of fresh food and in turn, we help the local farmers maintain the ability to keep producing on their farms.

More information about Choctaw Nation's health programs and facilities can be found on ChoctawNation.com.

As we improve our health, we add longevity and a quality of life that gives us a chance to enjoy every day.

 June Message Pic
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A grand opening ceremony for the Durant Wellness Center is scheduled for Tuesday, June 26 in conjunction with the grand opening of the new Choctaw Nation Headquarters.  The grand opening will begin at 10 a.m.  The Durant Wellness Center had already won awards for its unique design and is currently open to tribal members and first responders.

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Appreciating Our Armed Forces - May 2018

The month of May is Military Appreciation Month. On Memorial Day, May 28, the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country will be honored.

May 12 is Military Spouse Appreciation Day for all the spouses who support our country in a different way by sustaining the home and family.

May 19, the day of our commemorative Trail of Tears Walk, is Armed Forces Day.

During the opening program of the annual Trail of Tears event, before the Choctaw Color Guard begins leading the way for hundreds of people to follow the footsteps of our Choctaw ancestors, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Choctaw Color Guard.

The Choctaw Color Guard is an esteemed group of Choctaw veterans who give their time to attend tribal and community events around the country, including rendering military funeral honors and participating in parades and powwows.

Five members of the current Choctaw Color Guard were among the initial group formed in 1998-John Burleson, Shirley Mantaghi, John Barry, Terry Loman and Ron Scott. Yakoke for everything you do to represent the Choctaw Nation and veterans everywhere.

The Choctaw Nation is grateful to all who serve or have served and proud to be able to provide other ways of showing appreciation to the military. The Choctaw Nation Veterans Advocacy program was formed to ensure Native American veterans are receiving benefits equal to other veterans. The Veterans Advocacy team assists with VA claims, applications, referrals, Cell Phones for Soldiers, the Choctaw Veteran Cemetery at Tvshka Homma and scheduling the Choctaw Color Guard.

They purchase items and mail care packages every three months to military personnel stationed in active war zones. During 2017, Veterans Advocacy mailed out 1,269 care packages to soldiers stationed in a combat zone. From January to mid-April of this year, there have been 905 care packages sent to the soldiers deployed.

Family members, friends, or even groups can bring Veterans Advocacy items to be sent to our troops overseas at no charge, as long as they are stationed in a combat zone. Every district in the Choctaw Nation holds a special event during the summer to honor the Choctaw veterans in their areas. Every November, Choctaw veterans are invited to attend a ceremony at Tvshka Homma where they receive a special gift.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the original Choctaw Code Talkers and the end of World War I. During the Nov. 10 Veterans Ceremony, the Choctaw Nation and the Choctaw Code Talkers Association will be honoring all of the Code Talkers of World War I and II.

In 2017, both the Oklahoma House and Senate passed a bill to name 23 county bridges in southeastern Oklahoma after the Code Talkers. The first unveiling was the Joseph Oklahombi Bridge in Wright City in April.

During this month and every month, please say a prayer for the members of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard. We have everything to thank them for.

Color Guard - May 2018

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April Honors Choctaw Women - April 2018

April ushers in Easter, rains and the first full month of spring. It signifies renewal and hope. Choctaw tradition also refers to April as Tek i Hvshi or "Month of the Woman."

Culturally we are a matriarchal society. Before European settlement in southeastern North America, women were held in high esteem and wielded positions of power among Choctaws.

Today, our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers nurture us, teach us, and still have a strong influence in carrying on Choctaw traditions.

Even our language has grown with meaningful references because of the role of women. The Choctaw wordhollorefers to the "feminine essence." From that comesholitopaor holy;hullochi, to sanctify; evenihollo, meaning to love.Nvnih Waiya, perhaps the most sacred place for early Choctaws, wasHolitopa Ishki, which translates to Beloved Mother.

The concept of Mother Earth was integral in Choctaw belief. Women, like Earth, were viewed as the providers and sustainers of life itself.

Early Choctaw women held vital roles in their tribe, communities and their families. It is no different today. As we move into spring 2018, the Choctaw Nation employs 5,531 women, more than half of the tribe's total employees.

At Tvshka Homma, a permanent statue stands in honor of former tribal councilwoman, Charlotte Jackson. The full-size statue was the first female statue in the garden. Charlotte, often described as a selfless woman, was well known for her dedication to others and to the Choctaw Nation. The statue shows Charlotte with a young female child, both honoring the spirit of women.

That spirit is strong in our young girls learning to compete on the stickball field. It is strong as they set goals to reach beyond what was expected for their mothers; and it is strong as they become a mother, holding their newborn for the first time and already planning a better future for their child.

The Choctaw Nation has programs that primarily focus on the needs of individual women and women with children, including Choctaw Nation Better Beginnings; Women, Infants and Children (WIC); Child Care Assistance; Head Start; Chi Hullo Li, a residential treatment facility; Support for Expectant and Parenting Teen Program; Project EMPOWER and EMPOWER 2; and Project SAFE.

Many more serve a large number of women: Adult Education; Higher Education scholarship program; Career Development; Nutrition Services; Behavioral Health; and Wind Horse Counseling Program; as well as health and wellness facilities throughout the Choctaw Nation. A good place to find what may be available is your local Choctaw Nation Community Based Social Work Program. For a listing, check the website, www.ChoctawNation.com or call (580) 924-8280, or toll-free (800) 522-6170.

Yakoke to all the women who have helped shape us to be a caring, strong family of Chahta people.   

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A statue of former tribal councilwoman Charlotte Johnson with a
young girl stands in the garden at Tvshka Homma.           

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March Madness Fun has Begun - March 2018

Are you ready for the excitement of March Madness? We all have our favorite collegiate teams to follow during the tournaments ahead of us this month. And to add to the fun, sports action began for the Choctaw Nation in February with the kickoff of the annual youth stickball league games.

There are six teams in the youth stickball league, each with junior and senior divisions: Osi Heli, Nashoba Homma, Tvshka Waya, Yvnnvsh Homma, Hiloha Ossi and Bak Bak. The league was developed in 2014 and has proven to be a major factor in revitalizing the game. They will practice on weekends and hold games March 10 and March 17 with the end-of-season tournament scheduled for April 24. All games are held at the Tvshka Homma Stickball Field where the players and their families gather for the day.

March 17 is March Mania Day for Choctaw Nation employees. The 13th Annual March Mania Basketball Tournament will be held at the old and new gyms at Talihina with games starting at 9 a.m. The tournament is so popular that there are now two divisions-junior and senior.

The Choctaw Nation also participates in an annual tournament over spring break called Madness in March, organized by 4 Love of the Game. High school-age kids are selected from a showcase held in the fall every year by the Choctaw Nation Youth Events and Special Projects department and teams are entered in the tournament. The 15th Annual Madness in March will be held March 22-24 in Henryetta, Oklahoma.

The Amerind All West Native American 100 Basketball Classic is held annually in April in Colorado. The Choctaw Nation sends teams to the tournament, in its 33rd year, which has over 100 teams. It is comprised of native kids from all over the United States. A good feature of this tournament is that it has several college scouts watching the kids play.

Almost all of the Choctaw players involved in the all-star basketball programs are currently playing college ball. The exposure that we can help give these talented young people allows them the opportunity to play ball and get a good education.

The Youth Events and Special Projects department also hosts clinics throughout the year in baseball, softball and basketball for graduating seniors. Junior colleges and large universities are invited to come watch our kids at their best. This is another opportunity for the colleges to see our Indian students and how competitive they can be.

Summer camps are held every year to help enhance skills in stickball, basketball, football, softball, baseball and golf. The camps provide an atmosphere conducive for the youth to develop self-confidence while they build on their abilities.

I am looking forward to the variety of sports our Choctaw boys and girls will be involved in. Yakoke to all of the staff who are dedicated to providing these opportunities. Because of you, they have another chance to excel.

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OK Choctaws1 were the girls runner up team in the 14th Annual Madness in March tournament.  The 15th Annual Madness in March will be held March 22-24 in Henryetta, Oklahoma.

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A Choctaw Program Improves Chahta Lives One Job at a Time - February 2018

One of our most successful programs has been Job for the Day. It offers tribal members six weeks of temporary work with the Choctaw Nation that can turn into a permanent opportunity either within the Nation, or with a business in their community.

Job for the Day works with other Choctaw Nation programs such as Work Force Development and Career Development to enhance skills and opportunities.

They identify and address issues that may be preventing an applicant from being hired and start coaching the member to alleviate the issues.

Jerry Wood Jr. is a great example. He visited with Job for the Day staff and expressed a strong desire to work for the Nation.

They discussed his work experience and education and he was added to the list. Jerry said he had applied to Choctaw Nation in the past, received interviews, but had not been hired.

One of the services Job for the Day extends to program participants is providing suggestions on how to improve the interview process. It was noticed that Jerry appeared extremely nervous and that could cause him to present poorly during an interview.

Job for the Day went to work. Jerry's skills were identified. He had the experience and education required to make him a good fit in any accounting role. He was placed in the Choctaw Nation Purchasing Department and also connected with Career Development, who provided video and audio for him to take home to hone his interview skills and become more comfortable.

At the end of the six-week position in the purchasing department, he interviewed and was hired by purchasing. He has enrolled in Choctaw U, has interviewed and will transfer from purchasing to Choctaw Nation Fleet in the next few weeks.

Jerry is cheerful and interactive and shows a level of confidence he did not have when he first contacted Job for the Day.

Krystal Cato contacted Job for the Day while working as a shift manager at McDonald's in Atoka. Krystal's hours had been cut and she was in need of more stable employment.

During her assessment for Job for the Day she discussed her experience, education, and where she wanted to be in the future. Krystal was about seven hours from being a junior in college and was interested in reception or secretarial work that would keep her busy.

Job for the Day was in need of an administrative assistant at the time so her skills were discussed more in-depth. Krystal was very comfortable with Microsoft Office, Excel and PowerPoint.

Based on the way she presented during the assessment and the way she answered questions she appeared to be a good fit for the position. Krystal was placed with Job for the Day on Aug. 29, 2016, where she continues to be a valued part of the team.

The Job for the Day program has made a difference in many lives. They have helped build confidence, and with good work ethics, the members are following career paths they hadn't thought possible.

To read more about the Job for the Day program turn to Page 11 in this issue of the Biskinik.

February Message Pic

When Krystal Cato discussed her experience, education and where she wanted to be in the future during her assessment for the Job for the Day program she appeared to be a good fit for the administrative assistant position the Job for the Day program needed filled.  Cole has been a Job for the Day team member since Aug. 29, 2016.

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Jones Academy Guiding Students and Creating Future Leaders - January 2018

It's known as a "place to call home." The Choctaw Nation's Jones Academy has been providing a home and education to Native American children for 127 years.

I visited the campus of Jones Academy last month to join in its Christmas celebration.

As I turned from the highway to begin the drive onto campus, I noticed several brightly colored flags lining the road-each with inspirational words such as integrity, leadership and dedication.

The Christmas celebration began with a visit from Santa just after classes ended for the day. Santa and his elves delivered two activity buses to the students, a gift from the Choctaw Nation Division of Commerce.

Chief Batton and I had hitched a ride with Santa to deliver the buses as the students filed out of the elementary building. I will never forget the look on their faces-excitement and pure joy.

The activity buses, currently white, will be wrapped with a distinctive Choctaw design in black and will be available for transporting students round-trip from home or the airport.

They will be used to take the newly formed basketball teams to games and their field trips will be much easier for everyone. The students also visit cultural sites, festivals, and museums throughout the year, as well as academic competitions and fun days bowling, skating, and going to the movies.

The residential learning center has welcomed students from at least 29 different American Indian tribes. Jones Academy has an Indian Club and provides cultural and traditional programs such as traditional dances and pow wows on campus.

Jones Academy is involved in determining a student's interests. They start focusing as early as first grade to find out what the students want to do with their lives and guide them along the right pathway. There are many programs within the Choctaw Nation that can also help along the way.

In addition to an award-winning academic program, focus is on developing artistic expression and social skills.

Its agriculture program has produced many champions. They are busy now preparing for the Choctaw Nation's annual livestock show in February, county shows, and state fairs in both Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Encouragement and drive are accomplishing the best environment at Jones Academy for learning and allowing student-led decision making. They are truly creating leaders.

January Message Pic

Jones Academy students greet Santa as he arrives for the Christmas celebration on one of the activity buses.  The buses will be used to transport the newly formed basketball team to games.  They will also be used to transport students to academic competitions, fun days, pow wows and field trips.

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Wishing Everyone a Wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year - December 2017

I hope everyone had a blessed Thanksgiving and is enjoying the Christmas season. The autumn foliage has been beautiful in Oklahoma and we have thoroughly appreciated the chance to travel to events throughout the Choctaw Nation.

The Thanksgiving dinners at the Choctaw community centers are, as always, a great time to visit and enjoy the fellowship and delicious food.

I look forward to them every year. It gives Chief Batton and myself a chance to listen to the seniors' needs, as well as to celebrate good news about their family, such as a graduation, wedding, or the birth of new great-grandchild.

We love to hear the Chahta hymns that are often sung and are very thankful for the staff who volunteers to prepare the meal, serve, and clean afterward.

The Choctaw Nation has also held ribbon cutting ceremonies recently for the expansion of the Choctaw Casino & Resort-Grant and a new facility for the Choctaw Nation Head Start in Wright City.

As we grow the tribe's businesses, we have the ability to build more facilities such as the new location for the Head Start program. The teachers and students will have the newest technology, new playground equipment, and a safe room.

The location of the facility is close to the community center so I anticipate there will be a lot of fun interaction with the seniors. The students attended the ribbon cutting and checked out their new space with lots of happy chatter.

Some of the parents and grandparents were also at the grand opening of the Head Start. It was good to see them take an active interest in the youth's education.

Family is the most important gift. They love us for who we are and in the Choctaw Nation, we have extended families that include friends and the people we spend our days with at work.

We share principles and values. We are becoming more immersed in the Chahta culture. As we move forward, it is with the confidence that we come from a long line of Chahta who faced challenges, showed initiative, and succeeded.

I am proud to tell my grandchildren about their heritage. I am confident they will grow up thinking of the Nation as their home, as their family, and their culture. We give thanks to God every day and include a prayer for the Chahta people. May you all have a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year.

December Message Pic

Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr. is pictured with his wife, Philisha; oldest son, Clark and his wife, Tara; daughter, Malacha Sisk and her husband, Ethan; grandsons Dawson and Drake; youngest son, Samuel.

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Throughout History Choctaw Warriors Have Volunteered When Needed - November 2017

Choctaw history shows multiple instances when Chahta tvshka stepped up to protect what they loved.

Choctaw Chief Pushmataha was considered a great warrior. According to historical accounts, he fought in a war for the first time at the age of 13.

He continued to fearlessly protect his homeland in the War of 1812 by forming a company of Choctaw warriors who fought for the United States. He worked tirelessly for years as a Choctaw leader and mediator.

Pushmataha received full military honors as he was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Almost a century later, the Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I, who were not considered United States citizens at the time, volunteered to join the armed forces.

Several were handpicked to experiment with sending messages. The unique Chahta language had never been heard by the enemies and they were able to create messages that totally confused the other side. They ingeniously crafted phrases using the Choctaw words for "little gun shoot fast" which meant a machine gun. "Big gun" was field artillery, and "twice big group" was battalion. These codes within a code were extremely effective. The telephone squad was instrumental in winning several key battles and ending the four-year-long war.

Choctaw men and women continue to guard our country, our families, and the life we hold dear. This is done not only by literally protecting our freedoms in battle but also offering assistance when needed. I speak often of servant leadership because it is close to my heart and it has been very evident during the last few months.

There are many of our Choctaws and employees who volunteered or were deployed to assist in southeast Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Staff members from Choctaw Nation Public Safety and Emergency Management traveled to the ravaged areas to assist in assessing the damage and providing emergency relief. Choctaw Nation Health Services also provided supplies and the Choctaw Nation received calls from tribal members in the area with referrals to housing, social and emergency assistance services.

The wildfires in California are another devastating travesty. Members of the Choctaw Nation's wildland firefighter group have often assisted throughout the country with ravaging fires such as these in the past.

We hear of mass shootings, bombings and other terrible attacks in addition to natural disasters. I am very thankful for the military, law enforcement, and emergency personnel who face each day with one thought in mind-to protect. The efforts of these courageous people are not to be taken lightly. There are many accounts of bravery and sacrifice.

Yakoke to you all.

November Pic

During a 2016 trip to Washington, D.C., Chief Gary Batton and Assistant Jack Austin Jr. laid a wreath at Chief Pushmataha's gravesight in the Congressional Cemetery.

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Labor Day Festival Highlight of The Year  -  October 2017

This year's Labor Day Festival was the epitome of faith, family and culture-from the opening night when the capitol grounds was host to the annual princess pageant through the whole weekend when we reached tens of thousands of visitors. 

It is my favorite annual event, because I see so many good friends and family and have the opportunity to enjoy the fun.

Congratulations to the young ladies representing the Choctaw Nation for the next year-Miss Choctaw Nation BreAnna Jefferson of Millerton, District 1; Jr. Miss Choctaw Nation Jade Cossey of Spiro, District 4; and Little Miss Choctaw Nation Mya Thomas of Boswell, District 8.

They are truly our ambassadors as they represent the Choctaw Nation everywhere they go. I want to extend a very heartfelt thank you to all of the staff that put the festival together. It takes a full year of planning.

Once the Labor Day Festival ends, lists are started for the next year. It takes well-oiled professionalism to seamlessly provide so many activities. The teams behind the scenes delivered a great weekend.

Several of those teams, along with many volunteers prepared the grounds, assisted with traffic and parking, saw that the grounds were kept clean, recyclables were gathered, electricity and water kept flowing, ensured safety standards were maintained, and help was provided when needed. Those are many of the things we take for granted and I am very grateful for them all.

I have many great memories from the weekend. Chief Batton and I had the privilege to present a jacket to a softball legend on Friday night at the Red Warrior Park. Wayne Tisho was honored for 53 years of dedication to the game.

He is retiring after playing and then coaching with the same team and many players. Yakoke to you, Wayne, for your commitment and love of softball that you have shared with us through the years.

This year was the first to have Choctaw talent open the concerts on Friday and Saturday nights. They were great! Joni Morris took the stage Friday night and Jerry Tims rocked the night on Saturday-a great way to start the concert entertainment. I am so proud of them for stepping up to the challenge of opening before well-known entertainers. They delivered concerts equal to, if not better, than many we have had at Tvshka Homma before.

The Choctaw National Day of Prayer is held every year during the festival. It is an inspiration to hear the prayers and testimonies from the very young to our revered elders. This year, the Red River Prayer Network and the congregation at the chapel took up a special offering for victims of Hurricane Harvey. They gave from the heart to help the thousands who were in need. Since then we have had several teams and staff members deploy to assist with recovery of both Hurricane Harvey and Irma. Our prayers are with them and those who are faced with disaster.

The Chahta spirit was evident everywhere during the festival. And, now it is time to count down to next year's amazing event.


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 (from left) Assistant Chief Jack Austin, Jr., Wayne Tisho and Chief Gary Batton share a laugh after Tisho was presented a jacket to honor his 53 years of dedication to softball at the Choctaw Nation Labor Day Festival.

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Bless the Chahta Tvshka & Troops Who Protect Our Freedom - September 2017

   When I greeted Leo Smallwood of Rattan during his 100th birthday celebration, I was immediately impressed with his strength, both inner and outer.

   Mr. Smallwood and his late wife, Jane, set the example and their family stays connected even though all of their children and grandchildren have spread their wings.

   Their relationship is strong and they are very close. My dad spoke of him and his coaching days and how mentally tough his teams were because he had them prepared.

   He is a very down-to-earth guy who worked hard and loves his family, preparing them in much the same way, a trait very reminiscent of that generation.

   Leo is also an Army veteran of World War II with many stories to share. We are very grateful to all the veterans who serve to maintain our freedom and we are extremely proud of the Chahta Tvshka who protect our families and homeland.

   The Choctaw Nation recently had an opportunity to partner with the Chickasaw Nation to assist a group from the 180th Cavalry to return home for a pass before deployment.

   Last year, the two Nations also combined efforts to bring several members of the 45th Infantry Brigade home for Christmas. We continue to pray for the safety of all of the members of the Armed Forces.

Tvshka Soldier Pic
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On Aug. 3, 2017, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Veteran's Advocacy presented the First Squadron 180th Cavalry with a donation of $30,000. This donation is a part of a combined mission of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO), the Chickasaw Nation, and various other orginazations to lease buses to bring members of the 180th Cavalry home for a pass before they deploy to Afghanistan. Pictured from left, CNO Veteran's Advocacy Deputy Director Roger Hamil, Sergeant Chad Dougherty, Sergeant First Class Bruce Williams, CNO Community Service Senior Director Brent Oakes, Larry Marcy from Bryan County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3916, Jim Garner from Bryan County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3916 and Michael Robbins from CNO Veteran's Advocacy.

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Communities Still Celebrate Life in the Choctaw Way

   The closeness of communities coming together is one of the things I love the mostabout life in the Choctaw Nation. In our rural communities, everyone pulls together to help someone in need or to celebrate life in the Choctaw way with our friends and families.
   I had the opportunity to attend the first day of the meeting at Bobb-Myers Methodist Church in Antlers and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
   It was a perfect example of community as people gathered together to hear a message, take communion, and visit the camp houses where there was great food and fellowship. We are blessed to still have camp meetings to connect and inspire people in ways I remember as a young boy.
   Boom in the Valley is always a great community event and is very reflective of family values and time spent together.
   It was held July 3 at Tvshka Homma, the first time the event was held on the Choctaw Nation's capitol grounds. Boom in the Valley reminded me of that small-town feel of families getting together to enjoy the day.
   A spectacular fireworks display closed the evening. Yakoke to all who pitched in to provide a wonderful celebration.

Boom in the Valley pic

 During Boom in the Valley on July 3, fireworks lit up the sky in Tvshka Homma. The large crowd watched as the fireworks illuminated the Capitol Building. This year was the first time the fireworks show was held in the heart of the Choctaw Nation.

   Tvshka Homma will literally become a community of thousands for a short time as the annual Labor Day Festival kicks off August 31.
   Choctaw staff members spend weeks preparing the grounds and more work throughout the long weekend to ensure everyone has a good time.
   Many Choctaw families are already preparing for Labor Day. Those who play softball set up camp near Red Warrior Park to be close to the fields. They don't want to miss any of the action provided by the approximately 50 teams in the tournament.
   It isn't uncommon to see two or three generations on a fast pitch or volleyball team or in the horseshoe pits.
   Opening night brings Choctaw families in from across the Nation to support and cheer for their favorite young ladies in the princess pageant. The contestants model in their Choctaw dresses and jewelry often made by a member of their family. Mom, Dad, brothers, sisters, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts, uncles and cousins are in the audience. It's one of the most anticipated events every year. Other highlights include village activities, a stickball tournament, and an inter-tribal pow wow.
   The grounds at Tvshka Homma will be filled with culture, art, sports, food and entertainment. It gives us an opportunity to forget our troubles and bring us closer while we celebrate our Choctaw traditions.

*Photo above by Jack Austin, Jr.

Visit Strengthens Choctaw and Irish Bond 4/2017

I had the privilege to visit with a group from Ireland last month.

Pat Breen, the Minister for Small Business and Employment; Adrian Farrell, Consulate General/Austin, and Minister Breen's assistant, Sinead Ryan, wanted to stop at the Choctaw Headquarters on their way to Oklahoma City.

It was a very busy week for them - the week of their national holiday, St. Patrick's Day. We had interesting discussions about our history, culture, businesses, and where we are headed in the future.

I was surprised at the similar hardships and successes, and how we share similar goals for the future of our people. They also have a traditional sport-hurling-that uses a stick and small ball and we compared the game with the Choctaw traditional sport, stickball.

Minister Breen expressed his gratitude for the donation made by a group of Choctaw people in Indian Territory in 1847.

He said he was happy to meet us on a day so close to the 170th anniversary of the $170 gift. It doesn't seem to be much, but it created a bond that strengthens through time. Minister Breen said the generosity saved a lot of lives.

The Choctaws were new to Indian Territory. They had just arrived about 15 years before and when news of the Great Famine reached them, they remembered the suffering and anguish of the Trail of Tears.

They recognized a country in need, a country whose people were starving, whose people had to leave their homeland to travel to other countries to survive.

I'm sure it was hard to gather $170 in those days, and to give it away is an example of the wonderful giving nature of the Choctaw people.

The donation is known to almost everyone in Ireland. The story from this devastating time in their history has been passed down through generations. I have heard from several people from Ireland.

One used to love to sit on his grandmother's lap as she told the story. In February, there was a young man from Ireland visiting the states and the Choctaw Nation was on his list of places to visit.

It's a great honor to us that a sculpture, Kindred Spirits, has been erected in Middleton, County Cork, Ireland to commemorate the gift.

We are two Nations, separated by thousands of miles, yet the strong, resilient spirit of the Irish mirrors the spirit of the Choctaw.

We have the same goal to honor the past and keep our cultures alive.

Programs Encourage Choctaw Tribal Members to Follow Their Dreams 2/2017

One of the largest events the Choctaw Nation holds is the annual Career Expo. The huge job fair, hosted by Choctaw Nation Career Development, will be held Feb. 22 at the Southeast Expo Center in McAlester.

This is the 10th expo hosted by Choctaw Nation Career Development. It's a win/win situation-hundreds of students and job seekers planning their future can meet over 100 employers from across Oklahoma and surrounding states, as well as representatives from training facilities and service agencies.

It's heartening to see local businesses as well as other tribes, health facilities, welding schools, truck driving schools, and more reaching out to let others know there are opportunities waiting for them.

This year's guest speaker is Cherokee citizen Gary "Litefoot" Davis. Litefoot is recognized as a musician and has his own recording label, Red Vinyl Records. He is an actor, known for his role in "Indian in the Cupboard," public speaker, author and entrepreneur. He has also created a line of clothing-Native Style, and operates the Davis Strategy Group.

Litefoot is an inspiration to audiences throughout the country. His message reflects strong traditional values and is one of the best motivational speakers. Davis was selected as the speaker for the Career Expo because he understands the challenges many face as they make career choices.

The 2017 Achieve Your Dreams scholarship will be presented during the expo. The $1,000 scholarship is awarded to a high school senior to help the student reach his or her career goals.

Many Choctaw Nation programs are geared toward encouraging and assisting tribal members achieve their dreams.

The instruction begins with Choctaw Nation Early Childhood and continues through programs aiming to provide more opportunities through elementary, high school, college, or trade schools. In many cases, students are now teachers. I've watched two generations of the same family receive GEDs together during a Choctaw Nation Adult Education graduation.

Success becomes a reality for participants in programs such as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), High School Student Services, Educational Talent Search, Youth Empowerment and Advisory Board, Higher Education, Adult Education, Vocational Development, Chahta Foundation, Career Development, Choctaw Asset Building, and College and Career Resources. WIOA representatives are visiting schools now to share information about their program that helps prepare youth for entering the workforce. They have visited approximately 37 schools and have received around 600 applications in just the last three weeks.

The Chahta Foundation also offers a variety of scholarships from undergraduate to doctorate. Scholarship applications are currently being accepted. ChahtaFoundation.com has more information on what they offer to help broaden horizons.

The Choctaw Nation Youth Advisory Board also offers annual scholarships for high school seniors and they are currently accepting applications. Please see the ad on page 12. First, second and third place awards are given.

Quoting Litefoot, "Indian Country cannot have enough new up and coming business people." The hope we have for children, our grandchildren and ourselves is to have the knowledge and skills to reach and open those doors of opportunity, to succeed and provide a bright future for our families.

Small Changes Can Have a Big Impact on Health 1/2017

The New Year has become a time to focus on habits to improve our health. Chief Gary Batton and I have a wish for everyone to be in good health. As a tribe, we have strived to heighten awareness of the need for a healthier lifestyle.

Personally, I'm thankful I made the decision last year to change my lifestyle. With the help of Chief Batton's Miko Challenge for employees, I started watching what I ate and began moving more.

Small changes as simple as choosing to walk instead of hopping on the four wheeler, or choosing to skip dessert can have big impacts. I stayed committed through the whole year and feel much better.

I have more needed energy to help me keep up with my youngest, Sam, and grandson Dawson. We all have our reasons to improve our health we just have to take that fi rst step. Many of the senior groups at the Choctaw Community Centers are proactive. They have incorporated fun activities such as line dancing or chair volleyball as their workout at the Choctaw Wellness Centers.

Families or friends can do these things anywhere. There are 5k runs open to all ages so we can encourage our youth to get involved, walking or running together as a family. Kids need at least one hour of physical activity every day.

Health is always a top priority for the Nation. New health care services and technology will be available at the new Choctaw Regional Medical Clinic in Durant. Currently, the clinic in Durant provides only family medicine.

With the opening of the new clinic in February, services will also include pediatrics, pediatric dental, dental, audiology, internal medicine, physical therapy, speech therapy, respiratory therapy, radiology, psychiatry, podiatry, pulmonology, general surgery, ENT (ear, nose, throat), cardiology, orthopedics and an outpatient surgery center.

The clinic will have a wide bore MRI that is better for patients with claustrophobia. There will also be mammography tomosynthesis, or 3D technology, providing screening and diagnostic breast imaging to improve the early detection of breast cancer. A vacuum tube system will transport medications and specimens throughout the facility. It is truly a state-of-the art facility for regional care.

It's exciting to watch the advances being made. Another one designed for tribal members is the new mobile app from the Choctaw Nation Health Services-myCNHSA. It provides access to your medical information and helps you keep up with appointments, lab work, demographics and Choctaw Referred Care status. It makes it easier to refi ll a prescription or schedule an appointment. And, it's available any time of the day or night for your convenience.

The services, technology and education are available. Good health depends on the person having the willingness to the take the necessary steps to maintain or improve their health. I'm thankful I made that choice and want to encourage you to plan for a future, one that will keep you with your friends and family, welcoming many new years to come

Fall is a Time to Make Memories and Be Thankful for Blessings 11/2016

The fall season brings so much to enjoy and I hope you have the opportunity to reflect and be thankful for the blessings around you.

It's a time to honor others with special events such as the annual Choctaw Nation Outstanding Elder Banquet. The seniors from the community centers nominate their choices of top female and top male. It's a hard decision for the committee to choose the top two from all of the deserving nominees. There are so many men and women who have devoted their lives to others, who helped out at the center, or volunteered for events. This year's top Outstanding Elders are Eugene Branam and Maricie Smith. They are both familiar faces in the Choctaw Nation. Eugene was one of the original Choctaw Nation Color Guard members when the group was formed in 1998. Maricie is active in her district. All of the elders who were nominated are remarkable examples of Choctaw faith, family and culture.

The CHR's Fall Fest in October was another fun activity. The seniors were bussed into McAlester from every district and we all had a great time. The seniors lined up around the room to check out the information provided by Choctaw Nation programs. They also enjoyed the good meal and entertainment. It was also National See You at the Pole Day. Our staff came together in unity to pray for each other, our communities, our great Choctaw Nation, and the United States. I appreciate the faith displayed at this event and at all of our tribal facilities that day, and every day.

The Veterans Day ceremony is approaching. It is another of my favorite events. The veterans cannot receive enough of our gratitude for their selfless service to God and country. They and their families have sacrificed for our freedom.

Our Thanksgiving celebrations are in full swing. Making memories with our family and friends is irreplaceable. One of our family traditions on Thanksgiving is to take turns around the table telling what we are thankful for. I am most thankful for are my loved ones who are looking back at me.

I'd like to thank the staff for the time they spend every year helping Choctaw families have a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. They spend weeks gathering the names of the eligible families and ensuring they get vouchers for everything it takes to have a good holiday meal. They also hand out elder angels and gather and deliver the gifts to the elders.

The holidays are especially the time to reach out to others whether they are alone, have recently lost a family member, or need a meal and fellowship. We take food to friends and family who are homebound and they enjoy our visit more than the good food.

We thank God for all He has provided for our great Choctaw Nation. Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

October is Domestic Violence and Breast Cancer Awareness Month 10/2016

This month can be viewed through an array of colors representing many facets of our lives.

Fall is a time of change reflected in the beautiful foliage that signals the end of warmer temperatures and the approach of winter. I look forward to the Fall Fest held for Choctaw elders every year by the Community Health Representatives. The elders are bussed to McAlester for a day of educational information, fun entertainment and lunch. They thoroughly enjoy their daytrip.

And, our family has a great time at the Outreach Services' Harvest Carnival at Tvshka Homma where the haunted trail is a favorite. The kids (and a few adults) wear their costumes and enjoy the games. The carnival is scheduled for Oct. 21 this year.

October is the kickoff for many health and awareness campaigns. Flu shots are available, so please fi nd time to visit a clinic for yours or check with your fi eld offi ce to see when a health representative will be at your center. Last year, through a partnership with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, 23,987 doses of flu vaccines were administered. This made a marked difference in school closures within the 10 1/2 counties of the Choctaw Nation.

October is also recognized as the month to raise awareness of the domestic violence problems in our country. Native women are more victimized than any U.S. segment. Statistics show that 64 percent of American Indian women will be assaulted in their lifetime. We encourage everyone to wear purple during the month of October to show others how ending domestic violence is important to you. The Choctaw Nation has programs available to address domestic (family) violence. Please log on to ChoctawNation.com for more information.

Pink is a popular color year round. In October it stands out as a reminder that it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In 2016, there are more than 2.8 million women with a history of breast cancer in the United States. This includes women currently being treated and women who have finished treatment.

Choctaw Nation Health Services has several events planned including Paint the Town Pink on Oct. 15 in Talihina. The activities include a pancake breakfast, bike ride, trail ride, and March on Main Street.

Caring for others is a characteristic of most people. Gathering in fellowship or to educate about real life problems are ways we can improve elder care, our family units, and the future for our youth. Yakoke to all who devote their time to helping others.

Spring is the Time of Plans and Projects 5/2016

Spring is a time of renewal. I see the signs everywhere and am glad to see the family of bald eagles still flourishing near Sardis Lake. Their nest rests high in a tree and it's exciting to watch them sitting tall in their nest, guarding their home where they will soon have a family to raise. The fields are full of Indian Paintbrushes and other wildflowers, another sure sign of spring. It is a beautiful time of year here in Oklahoma.

Chief Batton and I had the pleasure of attending a singing and birthday celebration last month for tribal member Dan Adams at the Thessalonian Baptist Church in Red Oak. We spent the evening singing, eating good food, and sharing fellowship. One of the great things about being part of the communities is having the opportunity to attend such wonderful celebrations. Dan played the piano and Tribal Council Chaplain Joe Coley emceed and led the congregational singing. Like so many Choctaw churches, they have exceptional singers and cooks. It was a blessed evening, one in which we experienced the values of a loving group of God's family.

Chief and I sat down with Dan's sister, Laura Mackey, and visited with her quite a while. It was good to see their brother, Richard Adams, too. The Thessalonian Baptist Church is over 118 years old and Laura has spent years gathering documents and fascinating information about the church. The oldest documentation she has is dated 1898. They held their 100-year celebration in 1998. The stories she shared are very valuable to us as a tribe. They hold singings on the second Saturday of every month and have only missed one in the last 55 years because of an ice storm. The dedication of the church family is evident.

It was a trip down memory lane for me. The kids were having a great time after dinner, running around outside, and were really excited at finding some baby rabbits and a tiny turtle. I watched them playing and realized the things I did as a kid are still being enjoyed by the new generation. I thank God for His blessings and the simple things in life.

The Bounty of the Harvest 3/2016

Native people are known to be some of the first conservationists and protectors of the resources we have. This is how we have sustained our tribe over time. My dad has told me many stories about his dad my grandfather. My grandfather used a portion of his allotted land to provide enough food to sustain his family year-round.

My dad taught me the importance of a garden. He learned from his father and passed on the importance to me. We always had a large garden when I was growing up and when I married, my wife and I had a large garden. Our older son and daughter experienced it and I am planning to build a raised garden so that my younger son can also learn the values that come from planting, nurturing and harvesting food for the family.

As a child, it was exciting to see the tops of the plants break the ground and watch them grow, bloom, and then produce. Digging the potatoes was the most fun for me when I was young. The potatoes were spread out in a cool, dry place in the barn and our walls were lined with canned goods. We didn't know what it was to buy vegetables at a store. I've encouraged my children to learn as much as they can about growing and preserving fruits and vegetables, enjoying the homegrown flavor, and even making their own jams and jellies.

As my grandmothers grew older and were unable to continue gardening, it was a blessing for them and for me too, to be able to take vegetables to them. Dad said my grandfather enjoyed giving away excess from his garden to members of the community and this is a practice I still see happening today and something else I want to encourage Sam to do. I see people bringing in bags of fresh vegetables to church or at work, which is a great example of the way that Choctaws have always cared for one another.

Our youngest, Sam, is also interested in raising chickens. The responsibilities of gardening and taking care of the chickens will help him learn skills and values as well as helping him develop a better understanding of science and nature. All children need a chance to plan, plant, and watch how weather affects the plants, whether it's in a garden or a few small plants on the porch. Their problem-solving skills will be enhanced as they are faced with too much rain, drought, or destructive insects. It can help them become more caring individuals.

I rely a lot on my mom, dad and my ancestors before them; what they have taught, and continue to teach me. Every day I have a thought about something they have passed along that parallels the tribe's vision of Faith, Family and Culture. I think we as tribal members should make every effort to pass along the lessons from those who came before us. I encourage you to cherish the elders around you, for who better holds the knowledge needed to sustain our lives and culture.

Step Up to Good Health 2/2016

The Choctaw Nation started off the new year with the Miko Fitness Challenge, an 8-week program for tribal employees to learn to sustain a healthy lifestyle. It's a motivator that promotes good health. It also creates a positive atmosphere and new friendships as the teams compete. I've enjoyed being a part of the challenge and a team that is having fun with the contest and showing quite a bit of competitiveness! I commend everyone who joined the fitness program and is striving to make a change. Good luck to you all!

It is tough to get outside for physical activity in the winter months to fulfill any commitment to exercise more. My son, Sam, and I have been creative on the cold and rainy days. Activity can come in many forms and I enjoy the time we spend thinking of different ways to get moving. One of the things we like to do when stuck in the house is grab a ball and play basketball with a laundry basket for a goal. We play games of HORSE and have a great time.

The youth stickball season has started, giving the boys and girls another opportunity to get active. It's changed from when I was young and there was only the exhibition game for us to play once a year during the Labor Day Festival. Now, there are seven youth teams with practices held twice a week. The practices include all aspects of Choctaw stickball. It's a learning opportunity for the kids to gain more knowledge of Choctaw history and the culture connected to the game.

The kids aren't the only ones having a good time. My family and I share Sam's excitement and are looking forward to the games. My dad gets a big kick out of listening to him talk about stickball. We find time to practice at home, too, tossing the ball around, and Sam really likes to try to score on me.

All of the teams are preparing to meet for tournaments at Tvshka Homma with the first round on February 13. Families gather, bringing their chairs or blankets to line up around the field and it gives everyone a chance to get out of the house, walk around and visit with friends and family.

The benefits of physical activity to lower the risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease are well documented. Any innovation we can find to stay active will help us have a better chance for long and productive lives, a fulfillment of the Choctaw Nation's vision

The Choctaw Tradition  1/2016

Faith, family and culture equal HOME to me.

I spend a lot of my time on the road, driving to the office as the sun rises over the Potato Hills. It's a great opportunity for reflection on what is important. My faith, my family, and my Choctaw culture are my foundation. These values are a reason we are a close family.

The month of December was fun in Choctaw Country with parties for the elders and for the kids. The bond between our employees and the Choctaw people reflects a sense of family as well-it's our second family.

The Tvshka Homma Christmas in the Park light display is growing. It is the only park display in the area and we look forward to it every year. It is a beautiful display of cultural, traditional, and modern creations.

Every Friday and Saturday was hot chocolate night with Choctaw Nation employees handing out cups to visitors. It's good to see the departments volunteering to serve others. That is another important value we frequently see throughout the Nation. Some groups make it an annual get-together for their department, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows at the fire pit while handing out the hot chocolate. It's fellowship that can't be replaced.

The people who live in the area are thankful for the display and often bring lawn chairs to place around the fire pit, talking and laughing for hours with their friends and neighbors, especially in the warmer weather we have been having.

We had the opportunity to go out with some of our Outreach employees to assist the department with angel deliveries to some of the Choctaw elders. It's another example of the Nation's stewardship. We look forward to the home visits and spending time with our tribal members. I believe the biggest present for us all is the heartfelt visits and the stories we get to hear.

The new year has begun. With it will be many more opportunities to spend time with our families, reach out to others, and reflect on how we can work together for everyone.

Traditions of Christmas 12/2015 

The weather in the Choctaw Nation is finally feeling like winter. We experienced record rainfall over the Thanksgiving holiday but many have remarked that this gave their families more time to be indoors and enjoy spending time together. Building that first fire in the fireplace and playing games together without the television on is a treat. Sadly, it is not something we get the chance to do often but that kind of quality time is cherished. The avid hunters, however, were not pleased that the weather did not present a perfect opportunity for harvesting a trophy buck!

Although December is a very busy time with holiday events and of course carrying on business as usual, I love this time of year. The employees of the Choctaw Nation are remarkable individuals whose calendars are full of countless events including dinners, parades, and events for the kids with special appearances from Santa himself. I truly appreciate their tireless efforts for the Choctaw tribal members.

Remembering old traditions from my childhood and carrying them forward with my own family is such a joy. There was always an eventful journey involved when we went out to select the perfect Christmas tree each year and then make the popcorn strands to decorate it when we get home. Living in the country, my kids always have several in mind on our property to choose from. It's fun to look back at pictures of me cutting the tree, then my oldest son and my daughter getting their turn. Watching them grow up through those photos is priceless and it won't be long until our youngest will have the honor of cutting the family Christmas tree, maybe sooner than I think.

I love that I get to read the story of Christmas from the Bible to my kids so that the real meaning of Christmas is always at the forefront in our home. We are so very blessed; my wife and I try to instill in our children that doing something for others is really the essence of Christmas. Of course, there is nothing like the excitement of Christmas Day, especially with our six year old already anticipating what gifts are his under the tree. This reminds us daily how much we should all appreciate life and the blessings that we can be thankful for. This year our two oldest children have married so we have two new grown children to enjoy and we have our first grandson who we look forward to teaching all the traditions we share in the Austin family.

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma emphasizes Faith, Family and Culture and it is truly a privilege to work in a place that mirrors the priorities in my home. Chief and I spend a lot of time out in the communities visiting with our members and to see old Choctaw tradition being carried forward through the generations is so encouraging. The Choctaw Nation is strong because our faith shows us the way, our families hold us together, and our culture is the thread that makes us Choctaw. I hope that all of our employees, their families, and all of our tribal members have an opportunity to share special traditions together. From my family to yours, may you all have a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.

Autumn is a time for family and reflection 11/2015 

November has arrived. And if you are like me, it is hard to believe this year is going by so quickly, and soon we will be in 2016.

Personally, I spend a lot of time in my vehicle commuting from my home in Pushmataha County to the tribal offices in Durant. What would seem a tedious routine to most, is actually a great opportunity to prepare myself for each day. This time allows me to see beautiful sunrises, make phone calls, or just spend time in prayer before beginning a busy day.

Oklahoma is known for its beautiful landscapes and I often refl ect on how it must have been for our ancestors when they were new to what was then Indian Territory. They must have been thankful for the abundant wildlife, water and timber which were needed resources to provide for those ancestral families in southeastern Oklahoma.

I am so proud that protection of our natural resources is still a priority for the tribe. The successes of the Choctaw Nation today would be unfathomable to those who had everything taken from them. What a resilient people we are to start with very little and build ourselves back to the third largest tribe. That resiliency has also kept our rich culture and traditions alive and drives us forward to a successful future for generations to come.

This month is also an opportunity to honor our Choctaw Veterans. As a veteran myself, attending the annual Veterans Ceremony is always a highlight of the year. Many people do not fully understand that our American freedom was won because of the selfl ess duty of these distinguished individuals.

If you want to receive a blessing, I challenge you to shake the hand of a Choctaw Veteran and look into the face of a real hero. It is an experience you will not soon forget.

Most people associate November with the beginning of the holiday season and Thanksgiving is festively celebrated in each of our communities with a meal and time of fellowship. Chief Batton and I attend as many of the community dinners as possible and I can attest that the meals are delicious.

The cooks in the centers take great pride in preparing traditional Thanksgiving food but often some traditional Choctaw dishes are served as well. There is no better treat than tanchi labona and grape dumplings made the way Choctaws do it. We often tease that "Choctaws know how to eat" but it is more because Choctaws really know how to cook!

I hope that this month you have the opportunity to reflect and be thankful for the blessings around you. Be thankful for the beautiful colors of the fall foliage, the time spent with family and friends at deer camp, a wonderful family, or simply being given another day to live.

Being thankful is a choice-choose to be thankful. God bless you all.

Employees always ready to aid Choctaws 10/2015

Fall has officially arrived and like any other time of the year, there are many things going on in the Choctaw Nation. Thankfully, we can enjoy an extended reprieve from our hot Oklahoma summers in more pleasant weather for upcoming events.

I am very proud of the exceptional employees who work out in our communities to ensure that the needs of Choctaw people are met. This tribe is blessed with a broad spectrum of programs and services in place which are designed to assist tribal members of all ages. These employees know our members and are their best advocates for a better future.

The purpose of our tribal programs continues to be to educate and ensure happier, healthier lives for our tribal members. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to begin before birth. The Support for Expectant Parenting Teens (SEPT) program works with young women and men who are preparing to be parents. Specialists give the young mothers and fathers valuable tools to handle the significant challenges of parenthood which increases their chances of success moving forward.

Because of the personal relationships built by caring employees, our employees are able to anticipate needs of tribal members throughout their lives. Kids in hardship situations are identifi ed and programs such as annual coat and shoe drives are there to make a difference. Fun events such as the Harvest Carnival held at Tvshka Homma off er an enjoyable environment for entire families to spend quality time together.

The care of our elders is paramount and service employees spend countless hours in homes assisting with things as simple as helping to complete an application for services. In one such situation, a tribal member expressed his gratefulness by saying, "thanks for caring." This job is tough emotionally on workers, but an affirmation as simple as this makes one know that they are making a difference. A favorite program is the Elder Angel Christmas gift drive because employees across the Choctaw Nation have the opportunity to select an "angel" and bless them with Christmas gifts. I am convinced that there are none more generous than the employees of the Choctaw Nation.

Many times, the situations are not pleasant but workers strive for positive outcomes. The circumstances that assistance arises from could be from the loss of a job, a divorce or an extended illness. Sadly, the reason could be life threatening and involve domestic violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Victims Services will hold its 2nd Annual Domestic Violence Awareness Walk on Oct. 23 at the walking trail located by the Outreach Services complex in Hugo, Oklahoma. Also this month, Choctaw Nation's Children and Family Services department held its annual Remember my Name Memorial/Vigil on Oct. 2 at Tvshka Homma.

The employees of Choctaw Nation do a tremendous job daily that exemplifies the values of our ancestors. A full list of services can be found on www.choctawnation.com.

From the classroom to the workplace 8/2015

My first grandchild was born this month. As I look at him, I think of all the future may hold and thank God for His blessings on our family. I pray my grandson has every chance to grow, thrive, and excel at whatever he wants to do.

I am so proud to be a member of the Choctaw Nation and know the significance Chief Batton and the Tribal Council place on developing sustainability for generations. They realize starting early in life increases the possibilities.

The Partnership of Summer School Education (POSSE) is one of Choctaw Nation's fastest-expanding programs. The summer school for kindergarten through third-graders began in 2013 in Durant only. In 2014, it had expanded to schools in Bryan County and this year it grew to 14 sites that included 23 school districts. POSSE's 2015 enrollment quadrupled to 1,827 students.

The students made significant progress in reading and math and they thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon enrichment classes, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities, and field trips. The children participating in the program have received a boost for the formative years ahead.

POSSE partnered with Oklahoma State University's College of Education and Center for Sovereign Nations to bring seven OSU elementary education majors to assist the summer school teachers this year. "Educate and Collaborate" brought the student teachers into our schools for a summer, and could also attract more teachers to establish careers in the schools within the Choctaw Nation. It's a win-win for teachers and students because it encourages the kids' interest in learning.

The Choctaw Nation also created a new Internship Program in 2015. Fourteen Choctaw college students spent their summer working in the Human Resources, Information Technology and Safety departments. The interns represented students throughout the United States including Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Florida, Missouri, and Georgia. We expect the program to grow significantly next year.

Another example of helping develop our next generation of leaders is the agreement between the Choctaw Nation, Choctaw Defense, and OSU's Institute of Technology. Two OSU-IT students signed an agreement to intern at the manufacturing plant and work there for a year following their graduation.

The Choctaw Nation considers opportunities to develop a student from the first classroom experience through his or her choice of career. These positive paths can lead to successfully breaking cycles of poverty. The Choctaw people will be better equipped with skill-sets that lead to higher-quality jobs and improved lifestyles. 

Our youth, our culture 7/2015

President Obama stopped in Durant on July 16. More than 970 people packed Durant High School to participate in this historical visit. The majority of President Obama's speech focused on investing in this country's youth and ensuring they have the tools they need to succeed.

He said, "We're in this together. We're bound by a shared commitment to leave a better world for our children. We're bound together by a commitment to make sure that that next generation has inherited all the blessings that we inherited from the previous generation."

The Choctaw Nation places high priority on encouraging the growth and development of its youth.

Choctaw Nation Head Start Centers have been named an "Excellent 2015 Certified OK Healthy Early Childhood Program," the first year Oklahoma awarded in this category. Two new centers will open soon in McAlester and Bethel.

We are seeing more Choctaw students graduate high school than ever before throughout the Choctaw Nation due in part to the Making A Difference Program. This program intervenes when there is a need and informs Choctaw students of opportunities to prepare them to achieve greatness after high school. Their one-of-a-kind database allows Making A Difference counselors to track and work with Choctaw students to ensure high school graduation.

Even the theme of this year's Labor Day Festival reflects our faith in the new generation of Choctaws "Choctaw Youth: Connecting the Culture." Choctaw tribal member Janie Semple Umsted is sculpting a statue commemorating our youth that will be unveiled Sept. 4 on the Tvshka Homma Capitol grounds. Janie is a descendant of former Chief Peter Pitchlynn. The statue of two girls, the older teaching the younger, will inspire the hope we have in our young men and women carrying on the Choctaw culture.

"Connecting the Culture" is very appropriate. The festival is more than 50 years old. The children scampering across the Capitol grounds in the 1960s are now watching their grandchildren have fun and learn about their heritage.

The Choctaw Village has a variety of activities on Saturday during the festival that demonstrates traditions handed down for centuries-pottery, basketry, beadwork, flintkanpping. I've watched the dancers and remember when the young man leading was a small boy following the steps of his older cousins. Stickball skills are shared in the village, on the stickball field, and on the Capitol lawn.

The Choctaw games are a lot of fun. I've had some practice throwing a rabbit stick and it isn't easy! The corn game is a favorite. They are both being played in the village on Saturday and Sunday.

The best part of the festival is the fact that families have been sharing the experience for years.

Traditions unite tribe 6/2015

They'll know we are Choctaw. Those words have a lot of meaning. The traits we exhibit are what define our Nation.

Faith, love, compassion, and wisdom are values to strive for faith in God, to love and not hate as He teaches us, to have compassion for others, and the wisdom to make the right choices. Respect is also important, for each other and especially our elders.

The Choctaw people are bound by rich traditions, a history of servant leadership, of striving for the good and wellbeing of all people. It is in our hearts to reach out and positively affect change throughout the communities we live and serve. It's in our hearts to respond to those in need, to be the first there and the last to leave. It's in our hearts to share our traditions of art, dance, and storytelling.

A post on the Choctaw Nation's Facebook page wished 82-yearold Melissa Bohanon a happy birthday. She received best wishes from around the world. It was amazing! Mrs. Bohanon has a large family and is a much-loved matriarch with close to 140 grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. Almost 74,000 people saw her through social media. They'll know she is Choctaw.

Tommy Wesley of Rattan recently returned from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. He is a pastor and retired Army veteran. He lives by faith and encourages others to do the same. It's always a blessing to talk with him.

Sara-Jane Smallwood comes from a long line of farmers and ranchers who make their living from the land. She was raised near Sardis Lake and the Choctaw Capitol in Tvshka Homma. Those experiences taught her the importance of the Choctaw Nation's culture, natural resources, and leadership. Sara-Jane received her Master of Public Affairs in 2012. She decided this month to pursue her doctorate.

Kisha Makerney grew up in Fort Towson. She joined the Army National Guard and made her first tour to Iraq at the age of 18. She lost her left leg because of a motorcycle accident, an accident not duty-related. Kisha pushed through physical therapy with a determination hard to match. She returned to Iraq as the first female amputee soldier in a combat zone. She has climbed many mountains in her career, including Mount Kilimanjaro.

These are only a few of our people. There are thousands more. There are Choctaw people throughout the United States and around the world, miles and miles apart, united by strength and resilience passed down through generations. The stories are different, yet all a reflection of who we are-Choctaws.

Steady march of progress 5/2015

Signs of progress continue as construction projects get well under way throughout the Choctaw Nation with more groundbreakings planned in the months ahead.

The dirt is being moved, slabs poured, and walls going up on facilities in Durant, Stigler, Wilburton, McAlester, Bethel, Broken Bow, Poteau, Smithville, Antlers and Atoka.

A grand opening will be held in June to celebrate the completion of the first phase of the expansion of the resort in Durant. The first phase includes a beautiful convention center and entertainment venue as well as a renovation of the Oasis pool area. The second phase involves the new hotel tower, the spa tower, and an indoor/ outdoor bar and grill. The completion of the final phase is slated for September and includes a food court, bowling alley, arcade, laser tag and cinema complex. These are great additions for the area and will provide a prime family vacation destination or just a fun day in Durant.

Construction is beginning in Antlers on a new Travel Plaza and Casino Too, the first for Pushmataha County. The slab is poured and framing begun on the Chili's® in Poteau and a groundbreaking May 8 marked the beginning of the new Chili's® in Atoka. The development of Choctaw Nation businesses equals more jobs and a boost to the economy in Choctaw Country.

I enjoy watching the sites being prepared for the community center and preschool in Bethel, the Broken Bow distribution center, an addition of a wellness center to the Smithville community center and an 8-unit elderly living community in Smithville for Choctaw senior citizens.

The McAlester campus is really shaping up. The projected opening for the community center, food distribution, head start and wellness center is this fall.

Ribbon cuttings will also be held this summer for the new 10-unit independent living community in Stigler, the expansion of the Rubin White Health Clinic in Poteau, and the Wilburton wellness center.

The health clinic expansion in Poteau will add 21,000 square feet to the existing clinic. New services available will include pediatrics, podiatry, behavioral health, mammography, optometry, physical therapy and employee health. A wellness center providing exercise facilities is part of the expansion and will include a basketball court. Chief Batton, the Council and I consider good health one of the number one initiatives. Being active and healthy leads to more energy, control of diabetes, less prone to sickness, and an overall better quality of living.

There is a lot happening in Choctaw Nation with much more to come-in new facilities, experiences, and opportunities.

Success is a choice 4/2015

Success is a choice. It is a frame of mind and the tenacity to always strive for what makes us truly happy and secure.

The career I chose to follow was very rewarding. People from all walks of life touched my heart during my years at the Choctaw Nation Recovery Center in Talihina.

The Recovery Center is a specialized treatment center for the rehabilitation of chemically dependent individuals. The staff at the center considers chemical dependence a treatable illness. Men can walk in with a sense of hopelessness but have an opportunity to successfully complete the program leaving with a new look on life. They are encouraged and taught skills to help guide them in a positive direction.

As in life everywhere, there are things to celebrate and things that sadden us. We don't always have the effect we desire, but we do have the chance to try again.

There are multiple opportunities for success and we hear of people every day who have doggedly kept moving toward their goal. We have talked about several programs through the Choctaw Nation to help tribal members be self-sufficient. There are times in everyone's life when they need a helping hand.

One of the newest programs is the Next Step Initiative to help tribal members reach the next step of self-sustainment through supplemental food vouchers. Offices are currently located in Durant, McAlester, Poteau, and Antlers, and there will soon be one in Broken Bow. The Next Step Initiative allows those families whose income is just over the limit for participation in the food distribution program to receive assistance. The program is available to eligible tribal members for up to a year. It can be used in increments of a month at a time if needed. A few months are all it takes sometimes to find a better job or recover from an unexpected illness.

I enjoy seeing the success stories sent to us from all over the world. They include sports feats, promotions, graduations, and military achievements. If you'd like to have your story shared in the News Room on our website, please email to the biskinik@choctawnation.com. To view the current stories, log on to www.choctawnation.com.news-room/stories-of-choctaw-success.

Your story is an opportunity to encourage others to stay on the path to success. 

The Choctaws' history of giving 3/2015

The Choctaw people knew extreme hunger for months on the Trail of Tears. Most of us have no comprehension of the pain and anguish they felt, not only because of their own emptiness but because they were helplessly watching loved ones die.

Serving others has always been a part of Choctaw traditional life. Just a few years after arriving in Indian Territory, our Choctaw ancestors learned of another group of people who were starving. The memories of having no food were still very fresh on their minds.

A disease was ruining the potatoes in Ireland in the 1840s. Almost a quarter of Ireland's citizens relied completely on the potato for food, so they, too, were dying. History tells us a million people starved during the Great Famine.

In 1847, while they were still trying to establish a new life in a new land, Choctaw men and women donated $170 to people in need over 4,000 miles away. They weren't helpless anymore. They wanted to reach out a helping hand to the citizens of Ireland.

The amount may not seem like much but a dollar in 1847 is equivalent to $28.57 today.

This story always amazes me. I am so proud of the example set for us.

I see the same caring examples being set today-donations of money, time, food, work and encouragement. Choctaw people give to assist in other states such as Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. They still reach across the world to aid victims through disaster relief efforts.

And they give closer to home. Volunteers help with clothes closets, coat and shoe drives, Meals on Wheels, and food banks.

If a family loses everything in a fire, the word is passed around and soon there are clothes, furniture, and household goods available to set up another home. Communities rally in support to help rebuild after storms or comfort a grieving family.

Servant leadership means to guide others to do good, to set the example. I see examples every day of selfless giving and am thankful to be part of such a caring Nation.
 

Choctaw businesses growing 2/2015

The Choctaw Nation did a soft launch of the Preferred Supplier Program shortly after Labor Day in 2014. The new program, designed to promote and develop established and up-and-coming Choctaw-owned business, has been a big success. It is actually soaring into this new year.

The concept is easy - as a Choctaw-owned business becomes registered within the Preferred Supplier Program the entire Choctaw Nation will be able to access its business information. We sometimes refer to it as the "Angie's List"of the Choctaw Nation. The success of Angie's List assistance in finding reputable and quality businesses for services and goods is famous around the world. The Preferred Supplier Program is earning the same reputation in the Choctaw Nation.

There are currently more than 200 registered suppliers in 39 business categories on the Choctaw Nation's Preferred Supplier list. The Choctaw Nation and Chickasaw Nation began working together this month to qualify Choctaw owned suppliers and vendors within each of the tribes' respective programs. The Preferred Supplier list can also be used externally by tribal members with businesses when they are searching for suppliers for sub-contracting or direct procurement.

Verified businesses are made available to all the departments in the Choctaw Nation. If a particular product or service is needed you simply visit the website preferredsuppliers.choctawnation.com and select from the certified vendors. We are registering new businesses daily, not only here in Oklahoma but nationally as well. This program was designed to help all of our Choctaw businesses far and wide.

Internally it makes shopping for a supplier or vendor easy for departments seeking a service or product. The interaction between our departments and the program have been extremely exciting and profitable for participating Choctaw members. If a Choctaw-owned business has the capability to meet the scope of work required, we want that business to have the opportunity.

The program recognizes and supports entrepreneurial efforts and we've been proud to share many of the success stories in the Biskinik. Some of the Choctaw-owned businesses highlighted include Studio 23 Photography, Common Roots and Dottie's Children's Boutique, all owned by the Lloyd family in McAlester. The Hamilton family from Coleman, Oklahoma, produces Achukma, a pure pecan oil. Choctaw sisters Cathy Nutt of Missouri and Pat Prigmore of Oklahoma are partners in Haughty Mae's Chocolate, packaging and selling chocolate gravy mixes. There's a recipe for chocolate pie, too!

Codi and Icy Conn own an insulation company in Caddo-Blow 'Em Tight. The idea for the business grew from a need to insulate buildings like barns, shops and houses, and they are now working with Preferred Supplier Program.

And these are just a few of the successes. There are many more.

The growth of this program is amazing. It is a huge step in identifying Choctaw entrepreneurs, supporting their efforts and increasing economic opportunities.

United in a common goal 1/2015

The Choctaw Nation's Tribal Council is comprised of 12 members who maintain an active interest in every aspect concerning the tribe and its citizens. The Chief, Council and I are united in our goal to provide the best opportunities for Choctaws.

The Council's regular sessions at Tvshka Homma are a good place to learn about current issues and I appreciate everyone who attends to watch our legislative body at work. The audience often consists of Youth Advisory Board students and their Youth Empowerment counselors from several districts, language instructors, and area citizens who attend every month.

The dedicated group of Councilmen considers the needs of tribal members and works with the Chief and myself to ensure the foundation of the Choctaw Nation remains solid. We explore many ways of creating new jobs, revenue, health benefits and educational options so that the legacy of our ancestors is not forgotten and their perseverance continues as an example through us to our children and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren. We don't just consider tomorrow or next week, we consider the next century and the wellbeing of the Choctaw people.

The Council's regular session is a culmination of long weeks spent on the road, at their centers, with tribal members, in meetings, conferences, attending events, or visiting different Choctaw Nation programs or businesses. Council Bills are submitted and have been thoroughly discussed before they are presented at the monthly session.

The Council members also meet regularly with tribal executives, directors, or managers to talk about their respective departments in the Choctaw Nation. Each Councilman gives a report during regular sessions and they can cover everything from ongoing construction to the success of Guest Services to Public Safety having a new K9 team. I enjoy listening as they relay the information and see their enthusiasm on a project going well or hear their suggestions on what will strengthen other areas.

Two of the Council - Speaker Delton Cox and Bob Pate - sit on the Inter Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, which meets quarterly. The Inter Tribal Council works more closely with legislation being submitted on a federal level.

I am proud of our Chief and Council and the vision of a Nation standing strong.

Honoring our Choctaw veterans 12/2014

It was such an honor to be able to participate in this year's Veterans Day ceremony. I have attended many in the past and I am always humbled to see our Choctaw warriors together at Tvshka Homma.

The Choctaw have a long history of protecting this land. I met veterans of Vietnam, Korea, World War II, and young men and women from the more recent fight against terrorism. We salute our American veterans everywhere and say Yakoke, thank you, for all that you do. As an Army veteran myself, I felt and recognized in others the instinct to snap to attention as the band played the song of each military branch.

It also warms my heart to see the appreciation shown to our veterans. The Vietnam veterans were met with a different attitude in the '70s. Now, they are stopped by people who notice them wearing a veterans cap and told thank you for their service. Their hands are shaken and they receive a long deserved pat on the back.

The Choctaw Nation's annual ceremony is one small way we can show our appreciation. The caps and jackets given to the veterans are worn with pride. We also have three veterans' advocates who work year-round with Choctaw veterans to assist with VA eligibility and the rights of veterans and their dependents. This is the first opportunity I have been blessed to participate in a Homes4WoundedHeroes presentation. I am grateful to be a part of such a wonderful Nation who cares for others.

I am also very proud of our tribe's Color Guard. It is currently comprised of 18 Choctaw veterans. Members of the Color Guard posted the colors, presented arms and fired a 21-gun salute in respect during the ceremony. These men and women represent the Choctaw Nation at numerous events around the country.

May God bless you all for giving us the freedoms we have and we continue to pray for the safety of those serving around the world.

Giving our kids a head start 11/2014

We believe our children have brilliant minds waiting to be unlocked.

The Choctaw Nation's Partnership of Summer School Education (POSSE) began with 184 students in Durant in 2013. This year they expanded to include eligible students from eight schools in Bryan County and in 2015, they will be available in schools throughout the 10 1/2-county service area.

Studies show children who can't read at the required level by the end of third grade are more likely to drop out. There is a tragic link between dropping out of high school and prison. This is not the future we want for our children.

POSSE focuses on kids in pre-K through second grade and it is for all children. A CDIB is not required. The POSSE staff , the schools and the communities in which we live are working together to inspire and empower the students.

The Choctaw Nation helps with funding teachers' salaries and supplies for the seven-week program. The schools provide the other necessary expenses.

The students are given a chance to grow.

There are many other programs the Choctaw Nation has developed or partnered on to ensure youth excel in school.

Jump Start to Kindergarten focuses on Head Start-age children and we have 14 Head Start facilities in the Choctaw Nation.

The Youth Advisory Board helps students grow more aware of what is happening in their communities and how to be involved. They are learning to be leaders.

The Making a Difference program helps provide students with information to help them decide the path they want to follow after high school graduation.

More possibilities open once they graduate high school.

The Higher Education program continues to be our largest service areas and is available nationwide for students to apply for assistance with college. Advisors also begin working with the students to assist with fi nding additional scholarships.

We recognize college isn't for everyone and the Career Development program is one of the best I have seen. They help tribal members develop skills and obtain certifications in a variety of careers.

If you are interested in learning more about these programs or others helping to prepare our youth for success, log onto choctawnation.com. We want everyone to secure a better future.

Nation's progress exciting to see 10/2014

The Choctaw Nation is growing tremendously and there are several projects under way. Development has included wellness centers, food distribution centers, community centers, housing communities for our elders, the resort, and Head Start facilities.

Each time we hold a groundbreaking or ribbon cutting ceremony, we come together as a family, a part of the community.

We have gathered this year for openings of new wellness centers in Atoka, Idabel, Broken Bow and Crowder and we have held groundbreakings for two more in McAlester and Wilburton. They are conveniently close to the community centers and are used regularly by our senior citizens and other tribal members and employees. The availability of exercise equipment and classes is valuable in improving the health and well being of people. It's good to see groups form who continue to work out together and spur each other on to better health.

Food distribution centers are planned in McAlester and Broken Bow. The markets are similar to a grocery store and the program's clients have a choice of healthy food products including fresh produce.

Larger community centers have been needed in several areas, and McAlester and Bethel are at the top of the list. There will also be new Head Starts for McAlester and the Bethel and Battiest area.

An Independent Living Community is being developed in Stigler. This will make the seventh in the Choctaw Nation, designed to provide a safer environment for Choctaw senior citizens. The Stigler community will consist of 10 units and a common area for the residents. Applications for the units will be accepted beginning in January.

The expansion of the casino resort in Durant equals hundreds of additional jobs and will be much-needed entertainment hub for the area. The new hotel tower will have over 200 rooms. There will be a bowling center, movie theater, laser tag and arcade, a new Oasis Bar and Grille, a spa, convention center, and an event center. It will become a family destination for local residents and tourists.

We are also in the planning stages of a new headquarters campus. The Choctaw Nation has over 100 programs available to tribal members. Offices are located in numerous buildings throughout Durant for a majority of these programs and administration. The new headquarters will bring them together in a more localized area and provide easier access to staff and services. Construction is a sign of success and it is exciting to see the progress of our great Nation.

Choctaw Day of Prayer 9/2014

The Choctaw Nation is strong because it is built on faith. As Chief Batton said during his Labor Day State of the Nation, God is going to lead our great Nation.

When I was a lot younger, I attended Bertram Bobb's Bible Camp. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was watching Brother Bobb as we unveiled the sign in front of the new chapel at Tvshka Homma. He loves God and he loves the Choctaw Nation.

The chapel has been named the Bertram Bobb Chapel to honor his decades of service. His camp near Antlers has provided a positive influence on thousands of youth over the years and his Biskinik newspaper column reaches almost 90,000 households every month. At 90 years old he still has the heart of a servant and will never retire from sharing God's Word.

I also had the opportunity to be a part of the early-morning Choctaw Day of Prayer. It was the first time to have church services in the chapel. Services began as the sun came up and the bell was rung that Sunday morning to call all to worship. The chapel was overflowing with people lining the walls and spilling out the doors. We enjoyed hearing Brother Bobb preach again and his memory for scripture always amazes me. The end of the day brought Choctaws back for a traditional singing and Choctaw hymns were lifted up by truly joyous voices.

It was a blessing to have the chapel on the grounds and an even larger blessing to have our Choctaw brothers and sisters to share it with.

I am amazed at the amount of people who tell us they are praying for the tribe and us. I appreciate your prayers very much. As long as we continue to put God first, all other things will fall into place.

The Giver of Life 8/2014
Honoring Choctaw women

The Labor Day Festival has grown so much over the years. I can remember when Saturday was the main day with lots of softball, horseshoes and good food. I played and worked hard with friends and family and have some great memories.

This is my first year to attend the festival as the Assistant Chief. I am excited! I look at the schedule and every familiar event has new meaning. It will be a privilege to help crown the new royalty at the Princess Pageant on the festival's opening night. I'm just glad I'm not one of the judges. Choosing the winners between our beautiful district princesses will be hard decisions.

Another event that we are all anticipating is the ribbon cutting of the chapel on Friday morning. It is across the road from the capitol building and south of the village with a range of hills behind it. I walked across one day and snapped a picture from inside the village fence. It is a beautiful area, and felt tranquil even with the chapel still under construction. I look forward to the first church service to be held there.

This year's sculpture will be unveiled Friday night right before the pow wow. The statue has been created in the likeness of former Council member Charlotte Jackson. Charlotte was very special to many people and a perfect example of "Honoring the Giver of Life," the theme of this year's festival. She was a humble individual and graciously gave honor to others. She loved people. I will never forget her laugh, her sense of humor, or her commitment to her family and tribal members, many also considered family.

I hope all you daughters, mothers and grandmothers will gather with us in front of the capitol for the unveiling ceremony in honor of all Choctaw women.

The festival is packed with things to do. I pray for everyone's safe travels during the holiday and hope you have a chance to join us for this celebration of family and culture.

Living traditions 7/2014

Choctaw Days in Washington, D.C., was an amazing event on many levels. The highlight for me was seeing our young people sharing the Choctaw culture.

More than 5,000 visitors attended Choctaw Days on June 26 and on June 27, over 7,000 were recorded - 12,000 people who learned about the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, or possibly learned a little more than they already knew as they talked with our group.

The dancers performed the Four-Step War Dance, the Raccoon, the Stealing Partners and the Snake in the Potomac area of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. The circle is open to all three upper levels and people were lined along each floor, drawn by the sounds of our chanter and the dancers' steps. Members of the audience in the circle were invited to dance during the Stealing Partners and a lot of them stayed to be whipped around as part of the Snake. Their laughter brought even more to watch.

As each of the Potomac segments of the day ended, the staff, including our Royalty, would take on other tasks such as teaching how to make corn husk dolls, talking about our traditions or explaining the intricacy of making stickball sticks and balls. Traditional clothing was worn and I heard many admiring comments about the diamond design, the Choctaws' sign of respect for the eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

After the museum closed on Friday evening, we walked together to the lawn of the U.S. Capitol to demonstrate our ancient Choctaw stickball. There, again, they took time to instruct others how to play. Anyone who wanted to join the game was welcome.

One young man visited the museum during the day, learning enough to be able to play, and play well! I thoroughly enjoyed being a "goalie" and appreciate all of the pointers the other players gave me. It was a wonderful experience.

Choctaw Days is just one example of how this generation is learning the traditions and in turn teaching others. They spend long hours preparing for and holding events such as summer camps for culture, stickball and other sports. They visit schools, community centers and present classes for employees. Pottery, basketry and beadwork classes have been held throughout the 10 1/2 counties and in many other states. Several wear medallions as they travel. Some are modern designs reflecting their love of OU, OSU or Thunder teams but distinctly and noticeably a reflection of our culture for all to see.

The future of the Choctaw Nation is in good hands. These young men and women don't speak about our traditions as if they are something ancient to remember - they "live" them.

Wisdom of our elders very important during first days in new role 6/2014

One of the most important things the Chief and I have been doing together is spending time in our communities with the Choctaw people.

I have gotten to see a lot of people I haven't seen in a while and talked about things I haven't thought of in a while. It's been wonderful. I greatly appreciate the welcome I have received and most of all, the advice from our elders.

As they described events in their life, the obstacles they overcame or the blessings they had received, it was clear to me that no matter how old or experienced we think we may be, we can always learn more. Every experience shared has the potential to be a lesson learned.

My generation and older remember the days we gathered together as communities and had singings or dinners under the brush arbors. We would listen to stories for hours after dinner was over. Everyone knew everyone else, and the sense of family was strong.

The grassroots approach was the norm growing up. It was having friends or neighbors stop by and visit on the front porch. Families pitched in to help when a neighbor needed a hand.

Times are a lot different now but our communities are still close and the people remain dear to our hearts.

The beautiful community centers in all of our districts are a hub of activities for seniors and their families. Many children come to lunch with their grandparents or great-grandparents, especially during the summer. It's good to see them in such close relationships with their elders. Someday they will realize how precious this time has been and they, too, will remember the words of knowledge and instruction.

I am enjoying my time in the communities immensely and look forward to more visits, more chances to share my day with people who may not think of themselves as exceptional but in our eyes, they are Choctaw; they are remarkable folks with many life lessons to share.

Employees always ready to aid Choctaws 10/2015

Fall has officially arrived and like any other time of the year, there are many things going on in the Choctaw Nation. Thankfully, we can enjoy an extended reprieve from our hot Oklahoma summers in more pleasant weather for upcoming events.

I am very proud of the exceptional employees who work out in our communities to ensure that the needs of Choctaw people are met. This tribe is blessed with a broad spectrum of programs and services in place which are designed to assist tribal members of all ages. These employees know our members and are their best advocates for a better future.

The purpose of our tribal programs continues to be to educate and ensure happier, healthier lives for our tribal members. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to begin before birth. The Support for Expectant Parenting Teens (SEPT) program works with young women and men who are preparing to be parents. Specialists give the young mothers and fathers valuable tools to handle the significant challenges of parenthood which increases their chances of success moving forward.

Because of the personal relationships built by caring employees, our employees are able to anticipate needs of tribal members throughout their lives. Kids in hardship situations are identifi ed and programs such as annual coat and shoe drives are there to make a difference. Fun events such as the Harvest Carnival held at Tvshka Homma off er an enjoyable environment for entire families to spend quality time together.

The care of our elders is paramount and service employees spend countless hours in homes assisting with things as simple as helping to complete an application for services. In one such situation, a tribal member expressed his gratefulness by saying, "thanks for caring." This job is tough emotionally on workers, but an affirmation as simple as this makes one know that they are making a difference. A favorite program is the Elder Angel Christmas gift drive because employees across the Choctaw Nation have the opportunity to select an "angel" and bless them with Christmas gifts. I am convinced that there are none more generous than the employees of the Choctaw Nation.

Many times, the situations are not pleasant but workers strive for positive outcomes. The circumstances that assistance arises from could be from the loss of a job, a divorce or an extended illness. Sadly, the reason could be life threatening and involve domestic violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Victims Services will hold its 2nd Annual Domestic Violence Awareness Walk on Oct. 23 at the walking trail located by the Outreach Services complex in Hugo, Oklahoma. Also this month, Choctaw Nation's Children and Family Services department held its annual Remember my Name Memorial/Vigil on Oct. 2 at Tvshka Homma.

The employees of Choctaw Nation do a tremendous job daily that exemplifies the values of our ancestors. A full list of services can be found on www.choctawnation.com.

From the classroom to the workplace 8/2015

My first grandchild was born this month. As I look at him, I think of all the future may hold and thank God for His blessings on our family. I pray my grandson has every chance to grow, thrive, and excel at whatever he wants to do.

I am so proud to be a member of the Choctaw Nation and know the significance Chief Batton and the Tribal Council place on developing sustainability for generations. They realize starting early in life increases the possibilities.

The Partnership of Summer School Education (POSSE) is one of Choctaw Nation's fastest-expanding programs. The summer school for kindergarten through third-graders began in 2013 in Durant only. In 2014, it had expanded to schools in Bryan County and this year it grew to 14 sites that included 23 school districts. POSSE's 2015 enrollment quadrupled to 1,827 students.

The students made significant progress in reading and math and they thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon enrichment classes, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities, and field trips. The children participating in the program have received a boost for the formative years ahead.

POSSE partnered with Oklahoma State University's College of Education and Center for Sovereign Nations to bring seven OSU elementary education majors to assist the summer school teachers this year. "Educate and Collaborate" brought the student teachers into our schools for a summer, and could also attract more teachers to establish careers in the schools within the Choctaw Nation. It's a win-win for teachers and students because it encourages the kids' interest in learning.

The Choctaw Nation also created a new Internship Program in 2015. Fourteen Choctaw college students spent their summer working in the Human Resources, Information Technology and Safety departments. The interns represented students throughout the United States including Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Florida, Missouri, and Georgia. We expect the program to grow significantly next year.

Another example of helping develop our next generation of leaders is the agreement between the Choctaw Nation, Choctaw Defense, and OSU's Institute of Technology. Two OSU-IT students signed an agreement to intern at the manufacturing plant and work there for a year following their graduation.

The Choctaw Nation considers opportunities to develop a student from the first classroom experience through his or her choice of career. These positive paths can lead to successfully breaking cycles of poverty. The Choctaw people will be better equipped with skill-sets that lead to higher-quality jobs and improved lifestyles. 

Our youth, our culture 7/2015

President Obama stopped in Durant on July 16. More than 970 people packed Durant High School to participate in this historical visit. The majority of President Obama's speech focused on investing in this country's youth and ensuring they have the tools they need to succeed.

He said, "We're in this together. We're bound by a shared commitment to leave a better world for our children. We're bound together by a commitment to make sure that that next generation has inherited all the blessings that we inherited from the previous generation."

The Choctaw Nation places high priority on encouraging the growth and development of its youth.

Choctaw Nation Head Start Centers have been named an "Excellent 2015 Certified OK Healthy Early Childhood Program," the first year Oklahoma awarded in this category. Two new centers will open soon in McAlester and Bethel.

We are seeing more Choctaw students graduate high school than ever before throughout the Choctaw Nation due in part to the Making A Difference Program. This program intervenes when there is a need and informs Choctaw students of opportunities to prepare them to achieve greatness after high school. Their one-of-a-kind database allows Making A Difference counselors to track and work with Choctaw students to ensure high school graduation.

Even the theme of this year's Labor Day Festival reflects our faith in the new generation of Choctaws "Choctaw Youth: Connecting the Culture." Choctaw tribal member Janie Semple Umsted is sculpting a statue commemorating our youth that will be unveiled Sept. 4 on the Tvshka Homma Capitol grounds. Janie is a descendant of former Chief Peter Pitchlynn. The statue of two girls, the older teaching the younger, will inspire the hope we have in our young men and women carrying on the Choctaw culture.

"Connecting the Culture" is very appropriate. The festival is more than 50 years old. The children scampering across the Capitol grounds in the 1960s are now watching their grandchildren have fun and learn about their heritage.

The Choctaw Village has a variety of activities on Saturday during the festival that demonstrates traditions handed down for centuries-pottery, basketry, beadwork, flintkanpping. I've watched the dancers and remember when the young man leading was a small boy following the steps of his older cousins. Stickball skills are shared in the village, on the stickball field, and on the Capitol lawn.

The Choctaw games are a lot of fun. I've had some practice throwing a rabbit stick and it isn't easy! The corn game is a favorite. They are both being played in the village on Saturday and Sunday.

The best part of the festival is the fact that families have been sharing the experience for years.

Traditions unite tribe 6/2015

They'll know we are Choctaw. Those words have a lot of meaning. The traits we exhibit are what define our Nation.

Faith, love, compassion, and wisdom are values to strive for faith in God, to love and not hate as He teaches us, to have compassion for others, and the wisdom to make the right choices. Respect is also important, for each other and especially our elders.

The Choctaw people are bound by rich traditions, a history of servant leadership, of striving for the good and wellbeing of all people. It is in our hearts to reach out and positively affect change throughout the communities we live and serve. It's in our hearts to respond to those in need, to be the first there and the last to leave. It's in our hearts to share our traditions of art, dance, and storytelling.

A post on the Choctaw Nation's Facebook page wished 82-yearold Melissa Bohanon a happy birthday. She received best wishes from around the world. It was amazing! Mrs. Bohanon has a large family and is a much-loved matriarch with close to 140 grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. Almost 74,000 people saw her through social media. They'll know she is Choctaw.

Tommy Wesley of Rattan recently returned from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. He is a pastor and retired Army veteran. He lives by faith and encourages others to do the same. It's always a blessing to talk with him.

Sara-Jane Smallwood comes from a long line of farmers and ranchers who make their living from the land. She was raised near Sardis Lake and the Choctaw Capitol in Tvshka Homma. Those experiences taught her the importance of the Choctaw Nation's culture, natural resources, and leadership. Sara-Jane received her Master of Public Affairs in 2012. She decided this month to pursue her doctorate.

Kisha Makerney grew up in Fort Towson. She joined the Army National Guard and made her first tour to Iraq at the age of 18. She lost her left leg because of a motorcycle accident, an accident not duty-related. Kisha pushed through physical therapy with a determination hard to match. She returned to Iraq as the first female amputee soldier in a combat zone. She has climbed many mountains in her career, including Mount Kilimanjaro.

These are only a few of our people. There are thousands more. There are Choctaw people throughout the United States and around the world, miles and miles apart, united by strength and resilience passed down through generations. The stories are different, yet all a reflection of who we are-Choctaws.

Steady march of progress 5/2015

Signs of progress continue as construction projects get well under way throughout the Choctaw Nation with more groundbreakings planned in the months ahead.

The dirt is being moved, slabs poured, and walls going up on facilities in Durant, Stigler, Wilburton, McAlester, Bethel, Broken Bow, Poteau, Smithville, Antlers and Atoka.

A grand opening will be held in June to celebrate the completion of the first phase of the expansion of the resort in Durant. The first phase includes a beautiful convention center and entertainment venue as well as a renovation of the Oasis pool area. The second phase involves the new hotel tower, the spa tower, and an indoor/ outdoor bar and grill. The completion of the final phase is slated for September and includes a food court, bowling alley, arcade, laser tag and cinema complex. These are great additions for the area and will provide a prime family vacation destination or just a fun day in Durant.

Construction is beginning in Antlers on a new Travel Plaza and Casino Too, the first for Pushmataha County. The slab is poured and framing begun on the Chili's® in Poteau and a groundbreaking May 8 marked the beginning of the new Chili's® in Atoka. The development of Choctaw Nation businesses equals more jobs and a boost to the economy in Choctaw Country.

I enjoy watching the sites being prepared for the community center and preschool in Bethel, the Broken Bow distribution center, an addition of a wellness center to the Smithville community center and an 8-unit elderly living community in Smithville for Choctaw senior citizens.

The McAlester campus is really shaping up. The projected opening for the community center, food distribution, head start and wellness center is this fall.

Ribbon cuttings will also be held this summer for the new 10-unit independent living community in Stigler, the expansion of the Rubin White Health Clinic in Poteau, and the Wilburton wellness center.

The health clinic expansion in Poteau will add 21,000 square feet to the existing clinic. New services available will include pediatrics, podiatry, behavioral health, mammography, optometry, physical therapy and employee health. A wellness center providing exercise facilities is part of the expansion and will include a basketball court. Chief Batton, the Council and I consider good health one of the number one initiatives. Being active and healthy leads to more energy, control of diabetes, less prone to sickness, and an overall better quality of living.

There is a lot happening in Choctaw Nation with much more to come-in new facilities, experiences, and opportunities.

Success is a choice 4/2015

Success is a choice. It is a frame of mind and the tenacity to always strive for what makes us truly happy and secure.

The career I chose to follow was very rewarding. People from all walks of life touched my heart during my years at the Choctaw Nation Recovery Center in Talihina.

The Recovery Center is a specialized treatment center for the rehabilitation of chemically dependent individuals. The staff at the center considers chemical dependence a treatable illness. Men can walk in with a sense of hopelessness but have an opportunity to successfully complete the program leaving with a new look on life. They are encouraged and taught skills to help guide them in a positive direction.

As in life everywhere, there are things to celebrate and things that sadden us. We don't always have the effect we desire, but we do have the chance to try again.

There are multiple opportunities for success and we hear of people every day who have doggedly kept moving toward their goal. We have talked about several programs through the Choctaw Nation to help tribal members be self-sufficient. There are times in everyone's life when they need a helping hand.

One of the newest programs is the Next Step Initiative to help tribal members reach the next step of self-sustainment through supplemental food vouchers. Offices are currently located in Durant, McAlester, Poteau, and Antlers, and there will soon be one in Broken Bow. The Next Step Initiative allows those families whose income is just over the limit for participation in the food distribution program to receive assistance. The program is available to eligible tribal members for up to a year. It can be used in increments of a month at a time if needed. A few months are all it takes sometimes to find a better job or recover from an unexpected illness.

I enjoy seeing the success stories sent to us from all over the world. They include sports feats, promotions, graduations, and military achievements. If you'd like to have your story shared in the News Room on our website, please email to the biskinik@choctawnation.com. To view the current stories, log on to www.choctawnation.com.news-room/stories-of-choctaw-success.

Your story is an opportunity to encourage others to stay on the path to success. 

The Choctaws' history of giving 3/2015

The Choctaw people knew extreme hunger for months on the Trail of Tears. Most of us have no comprehension of the pain and anguish they felt, not only because of their own emptiness but because they were helplessly watching loved ones die.

Serving others has always been a part of Choctaw traditional life. Just a few years after arriving in Indian Territory, our Choctaw ancestors learned of another group of people who were starving. The memories of having no food were still very fresh on their minds.

A disease was ruining the potatoes in Ireland in the 1840s. Almost a quarter of Ireland's citizens relied completely on the potato for food, so they, too, were dying. History tells us a million people starved during the Great Famine.

In 1847, while they were still trying to establish a new life in a new land, Choctaw men and women donated $170 to people in need over 4,000 miles away. They weren't helpless anymore. They wanted to reach out a helping hand to the citizens of Ireland.

The amount may not seem like much but a dollar in 1847 is equivalent to $28.57 today.

This story always amazes me. I am so proud of the example set for us.

I see the same caring examples being set today-donations of money, time, food, work and encouragement. Choctaw people give to assist in other states such as Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. They still reach across the world to aid victims through disaster relief efforts.

And they give closer to home. Volunteers help with clothes closets, coat and shoe drives, Meals on Wheels, and food banks.

If a family loses everything in a fire, the word is passed around and soon there are clothes, furniture, and household goods available to set up another home. Communities rally in support to help rebuild after storms or comfort a grieving family.

Servant leadership means to guide others to do good, to set the example. I see examples every day of selfless giving and am thankful to be part of such a caring Nation.
 

Choctaw businesses growing 2/2015

The Choctaw Nation did a soft launch of the Preferred Supplier Program shortly after Labor Day in 2014. The new program, designed to promote and develop established and up-and-coming Choctaw-owned business, has been a big success. It is actually soaring into this new year.

The concept is easy - as a Choctaw-owned business becomes registered within the Preferred Supplier Program the entire Choctaw Nation will be able to access its business information. We sometimes refer to it as the "Angie's List"of the Choctaw Nation. The success of Angie's List assistance in finding reputable and quality businesses for services and goods is famous around the world. The Preferred Supplier Program is earning the same reputation in the Choctaw Nation.

There are currently more than 200 registered suppliers in 39 business categories on the Choctaw Nation's Preferred Supplier list. The Choctaw Nation and Chickasaw Nation began working together this month to qualify Choctaw owned suppliers and vendors within each of the tribes' respective programs. The Preferred Supplier list can also be used externally by tribal members with businesses when they are searching for suppliers for sub-contracting or direct procurement.

Verified businesses are made available to all the departments in the Choctaw Nation. If a particular product or service is needed you simply visit the website preferredsuppliers.choctawnation.com and select from the certified vendors. We are registering new businesses daily, not only here in Oklahoma but nationally as well. This program was designed to help all of our Choctaw businesses far and wide.

Internally it makes shopping for a supplier or vendor easy for departments seeking a service or product. The interaction between our departments and the program have been extremely exciting and profitable for participating Choctaw members. If a Choctaw-owned business has the capability to meet the scope of work required, we want that business to have the opportunity.

The program recognizes and supports entrepreneurial efforts and we've been proud to share many of the success stories in the Biskinik. Some of the Choctaw-owned businesses highlighted include Studio 23 Photography, Common Roots and Dottie's Children's Boutique, all owned by the Lloyd family in McAlester. The Hamilton family from Coleman, Oklahoma, produces Achukma, a pure pecan oil. Choctaw sisters Cathy Nutt of Missouri and Pat Prigmore of Oklahoma are partners in Haughty Mae's Chocolate, packaging and selling chocolate gravy mixes. There's a recipe for chocolate pie, too!

Codi and Icy Conn own an insulation company in Caddo-Blow 'Em Tight. The idea for the business grew from a need to insulate buildings like barns, shops and houses, and they are now working with Preferred Supplier Program.

And these are just a few of the successes. There are many more.

The growth of this program is amazing. It is a huge step in identifying Choctaw entrepreneurs, supporting their efforts and increasing economic opportunities.

United in a common goal 1/2015

The Choctaw Nation's Tribal Council is comprised of 12 members who maintain an active interest in every aspect concerning the tribe and its citizens. The Chief, Council and I are united in our goal to provide the best opportunities for Choctaws.

The Council's regular sessions at Tvshka Homma are a good place to learn about current issues and I appreciate everyone who attends to watch our legislative body at work. The audience often consists of Youth Advisory Board students and their Youth Empowerment counselors from several districts, language instructors, and area citizens who attend every month.

The dedicated group of Councilmen considers the needs of tribal members and works with the Chief and myself to ensure the foundation of the Choctaw Nation remains solid. We explore many ways of creating new jobs, revenue, health benefits and educational options so that the legacy of our ancestors is not forgotten and their perseverance continues as an example through us to our children and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren. We don't just consider tomorrow or next week, we consider the next century and the wellbeing of the Choctaw people.

The Council's regular session is a culmination of long weeks spent on the road, at their centers, with tribal members, in meetings, conferences, attending events, or visiting different Choctaw Nation programs or businesses. Council Bills are submitted and have been thoroughly discussed before they are presented at the monthly session.

The Council members also meet regularly with tribal executives, directors, or managers to talk about their respective departments in the Choctaw Nation. Each Councilman gives a report during regular sessions and they can cover everything from ongoing construction to the success of Guest Services to Public Safety having a new K9 team. I enjoy listening as they relay the information and see their enthusiasm on a project going well or hear their suggestions on what will strengthen other areas.

Two of the Council - Speaker Delton Cox and Bob Pate - sit on the Inter Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, which meets quarterly. The Inter Tribal Council works more closely with legislation being submitted on a federal level.

I am proud of our Chief and Council and the vision of a Nation standing strong.

Honoring our Choctaw veterans 12/2014

It was such an honor to be able to participate in this year's Veterans Day ceremony. I have attended many in the past and I am always humbled to see our Choctaw warriors together at Tvshka Homma.

The Choctaw have a long history of protecting this land. I met veterans of Vietnam, Korea, World War II, and young men and women from the more recent fight against terrorism. We salute our American veterans everywhere and say Yakoke, thank you, for all that you do. As an Army veteran myself, I felt and recognized in others the instinct to snap to attention as the band played the song of each military branch.

It also warms my heart to see the appreciation shown to our veterans. The Vietnam veterans were met with a different attitude in the '70s. Now, they are stopped by people who notice them wearing a veterans cap and told thank you for their service. Their hands are shaken and they receive a long deserved pat on the back.

The Choctaw Nation's annual ceremony is one small way we can show our appreciation. The caps and jackets given to the veterans are worn with pride. We also have three veterans' advocates who work year-round with Choctaw veterans to assist with VA eligibility and the rights of veterans and their dependents. This is the first opportunity I have been blessed to participate in a Homes4WoundedHeroes presentation. I am grateful to be a part of such a wonderful Nation who cares for others.

I am also very proud of our tribe's Color Guard. It is currently comprised of 18 Choctaw veterans. Members of the Color Guard posted the colors, presented arms and fired a 21-gun salute in respect during the ceremony. These men and women represent the Choctaw Nation at numerous events around the country.

May God bless you all for giving us the freedoms we have and we continue to pray for the safety of those serving around the world.

Giving our kids a head start 11/2014

We believe our children have brilliant minds waiting to be unlocked.

The Choctaw Nation's Partnership of Summer School Education (POSSE) began with 184 students in Durant in 2013. This year they expanded to include eligible students from eight schools in Bryan County and in 2015, they will be available in schools throughout the 10 1/2-county service area.

Studies show children who can't read at the required level by the end of third grade are more likely to drop out. There is a tragic link between dropping out of high school and prison. This is not the future we want for our children.

POSSE focuses on kids in pre-K through second grade and it is for all children. A CDIB is not required. The POSSE staff , the schools and the communities in which we live are working together to inspire and empower the students.

The Choctaw Nation helps with funding teachers' salaries and supplies for the seven-week program. The schools provide the other necessary expenses.

The students are given a chance to grow.

There are many other programs the Choctaw Nation has developed or partnered on to ensure youth excel in school.

Jump Start to Kindergarten focuses on Head Start-age children and we have 14 Head Start facilities in the Choctaw Nation.

The Youth Advisory Board helps students grow more aware of what is happening in their communities and how to be involved. They are learning to be leaders.

The Making a Difference program helps provide students with information to help them decide the path they want to follow after high school graduation.

More possibilities open once they graduate high school.

The Higher Education program continues to be our largest service areas and is available nationwide for students to apply for assistance with college. Advisors also begin working with the students to assist with fi nding additional scholarships.

We recognize college isn't for everyone and the Career Development program is one of the best I have seen. They help tribal members develop skills and obtain certifications in a variety of careers.

If you are interested in learning more about these programs or others helping to prepare our youth for success, log onto choctawnation.com. We want everyone to secure a better future.

Nation's progress exciting to see 10/2014

The Choctaw Nation is growing tremendously and there are several projects under way. Development has included wellness centers, food distribution centers, community centers, housing communities for our elders, the resort, and Head Start facilities.

Each time we hold a groundbreaking or ribbon cutting ceremony, we come together as a family, a part of the community.

We have gathered this year for openings of new wellness centers in Atoka, Idabel, Broken Bow and Crowder and we have held groundbreakings for two more in McAlester and Wilburton. They are conveniently close to the community centers and are used regularly by our senior citizens and other tribal members and employees. The availability of exercise equipment and classes is valuable in improving the health and well being of people. It's good to see groups form who continue to work out together and spur each other on to better health.

Food distribution centers are planned in McAlester and Broken Bow. The markets are similar to a grocery store and the program's clients have a choice of healthy food products including fresh produce.

Larger community centers have been needed in several areas, and McAlester and Bethel are at the top of the list. There will also be new Head Starts for McAlester and the Bethel and Battiest area.

An Independent Living Community is being developed in Stigler. This will make the seventh in the Choctaw Nation, designed to provide a safer environment for Choctaw senior citizens. The Stigler community will consist of 10 units and a common area for the residents. Applications for the units will be accepted beginning in January.

The expansion of the casino resort in Durant equals hundreds of additional jobs and will be much-needed entertainment hub for the area. The new hotel tower will have over 200 rooms. There will be a bowling center, movie theater, laser tag and arcade, a new Oasis Bar and Grille, a spa, convention center, and an event center. It will become a family destination for local residents and tourists.

We are also in the planning stages of a new headquarters campus. The Choctaw Nation has over 100 programs available to tribal members. Offices are located in numerous buildings throughout Durant for a majority of these programs and administration. The new headquarters will bring them together in a more localized area and provide easier access to staff and services. Construction is a sign of success and it is exciting to see the progress of our great Nation.

Choctaw Day of Prayer 9/2014

The Choctaw Nation is strong because it is built on faith. As Chief Batton said during his Labor Day State of the Nation, God is going to lead our great Nation.

When I was a lot younger, I attended Bertram Bobb's Bible Camp. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was watching Brother Bobb as we unveiled the sign in front of the new chapel at Tvshka Homma. He loves God and he loves the Choctaw Nation.

The chapel has been named the Bertram Bobb Chapel to honor his decades of service. His camp near Antlers has provided a positive influence on thousands of youth over the years and his Biskinik newspaper column reaches almost 90,000 households every month. At 90 years old he still has the heart of a servant and will never retire from sharing God's Word.

I also had the opportunity to be a part of the early-morning Choctaw Day of Prayer. It was the first time to have church services in the chapel. Services began as the sun came up and the bell was rung that Sunday morning to call all to worship. The chapel was overflowing with people lining the walls and spilling out the doors. We enjoyed hearing Brother Bobb preach again and his memory for scripture always amazes me. The end of the day brought Choctaws back for a traditional singing and Choctaw hymns were lifted up by truly joyous voices.

It was a blessing to have the chapel on the grounds and an even larger blessing to have our Choctaw brothers and sisters to share it with.

I am amazed at the amount of people who tell us they are praying for the tribe and us. I appreciate your prayers very much. As long as we continue to put God first, all other things will fall into place.

The Giver of Life 8/2014
Honoring Choctaw women

The Labor Day Festival has grown so much over the years. I can remember when Saturday was the main day with lots of softball, horseshoes and good food. I played and worked hard with friends and family and have some great memories.

This is my first year to attend the festival as the Assistant Chief. I am excited! I look at the schedule and every familiar event has new meaning. It will be a privilege to help crown the new royalty at the Princess Pageant on the festival's opening night. I'm just glad I'm not one of the judges. Choosing the winners between our beautiful district princesses will be hard decisions.

Another event that we are all anticipating is the ribbon cutting of the chapel on Friday morning. It is across the road from the capitol building and south of the village with a range of hills behind it. I walked across one day and snapped a picture from inside the village fence. It is a beautiful area, and felt tranquil even with the chapel still under construction. I look forward to the first church service to be held there.

This year's sculpture will be unveiled Friday night right before the pow wow. The statue has been created in the likeness of former Council member Charlotte Jackson. Charlotte was very special to many people and a perfect example of "Honoring the Giver of Life," the theme of this year's festival. She was a humble individual and graciously gave honor to others. She loved people. I will never forget her laugh, her sense of humor, or her commitment to her family and tribal members, many also considered family.

I hope all you daughters, mothers and grandmothers will gather with us in front of the capitol for the unveiling ceremony in honor of all Choctaw women.

The festival is packed with things to do. I pray for everyone's safe travels during the holiday and hope you have a chance to join us for this celebration of family and culture.

Living traditions 7/2014

Choctaw Days in Washington, D.C., was an amazing event on many levels. The highlight for me was seeing our young people sharing the Choctaw culture.

More than 5,000 visitors attended Choctaw Days on June 26 and on June 27, over 7,000 were recorded - 12,000 people who learned about the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, or possibly learned a little more than they already knew as they talked with our group.

The dancers performed the Four-Step War Dance, the Raccoon, the Stealing Partners and the Snake in the Potomac area of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. The circle is open to all three upper levels and people were lined along each floor, drawn by the sounds of our chanter and the dancers' steps. Members of the audience in the circle were invited to dance during the Stealing Partners and a lot of them stayed to be whipped around as part of the Snake. Their laughter brought even more to watch.

As each of the Potomac segments of the day ended, the staff, including our Royalty, would take on other tasks such as teaching how to make corn husk dolls, talking about our traditions or explaining the intricacy of making stickball sticks and balls. Traditional clothing was worn and I heard many admiring comments about the diamond design, the Choctaws' sign of respect for the eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

After the museum closed on Friday evening, we walked together to the lawn of the U.S. Capitol to demonstrate our ancient Choctaw stickball. There, again, they took time to instruct others how to play. Anyone who wanted to join the game was welcome.

One young man visited the museum during the day, learning enough to be able to play, and play well! I thoroughly enjoyed being a "goalie" and appreciate all of the pointers the other players gave me. It was a wonderful experience.

Choctaw Days is just one example of how this generation is learning the traditions and in turn teaching others. They spend long hours preparing for and holding events such as summer camps for culture, stickball and other sports. They visit schools, community centers and present classes for employees. Pottery, basketry and beadwork classes have been held throughout the 10 1/2 counties and in many other states. Several wear medallions as they travel. Some are modern designs reflecting their love of OU, OSU or Thunder teams but distinctly and noticeably a reflection of our culture for all to see.

The future of the Choctaw Nation is in good hands. These young men and women don't speak about our traditions as if they are something ancient to remember - they "live" them.

Wisdom of our elders very important during first days in new role 6/2014

One of the most important things the Chief and I have been doing together is spending time in our communities with the Choctaw people.

I have gotten to see a lot of people I haven't seen in a while and talked about things I haven't thought of in a while. It's been wonderful. I greatly appreciate the welcome I have received and most of all, the advice from our elders.

As they described events in their life, the obstacles they overcame or the blessings they had received, it was clear to me that no matter how old or experienced we think we may be, we can always learn more. Every experience shared has the potential to be a lesson learned.

My generation and older remember the days we gathered together as communities and had singings or dinners under the brush arbors. We would listen to stories for hours after dinner was over. Everyone knew everyone else, and the sense of family was strong.

The grassroots approach was the norm growing up. It was having friends or neighbors stop by and visit on the front porch. Families pitched in to help when a neighbor needed a hand.

Times are a lot different now but our communities are still close and the people remain dear to our hearts.

The beautiful community centers in all of our districts are a hub of activities for seniors and their families. Many children come to lunch with their grandparents or great-grandparents, especially during the summer. It's good to see them in such close relationships with their elders. Someday they will realize how precious this time has been and they, too, will remember the words of knowledge and instruction.

I am enjoying my time in the communities immensely and look forward to more visits, more chances to share my day with people who may not think of themselves as exceptional but in our eyes, they are Choctaw; they are remarkable folks with many life lessons to share.

Three simple priorities prevail 5/2014

I am deeply humbled at the appointment by Chief Batton and the Tribal Council to be your Assistant Chief. We have been very busy since my swearingin. Chief Batton and I have toured facilities, participated in the annual Language Finale, visited senior centers, and visited with Choctaws at the Okla Chahta Gathering in Bakersfield. I have enjoyed making new friends close to home and on the West Coast. They all have interesting stories and I was surprised at how many in California still have ties to Oklahoma. I even met some folks and discovered we were related. Thank you all for making me feel so welcome.

I grew up watching my parents give their time and efforts to helping others, especially the Choctaw people. I wanted to continue doing the same and have worked the last 23 years in health and counseling services. My position as Program Director at the Recovery Center has allowed me to aid people who need not only a second chance but the courage to commit to a better life. Many have succeeded and it is always rewarding to know we have made a difference.

My priorities are simple - three things my God, my family and the Choctaw people. That's how I live my life and will continue to live it. I will work side-by-side with Chief Batton, the Tribal Council and all of the Choctaw Nation employees to do the very best we can for the Choctaw people.

 

 

 

 
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