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From the Desk of
Miko Gary Batton

Moving Forward - July 2020

So far, this year has been a year of ups and downs. It has been a time to reflect on our past, enact change, listen to each other and grow. The past few months have been difficult for so many. My heart goes out to everyone who has been affected by COVID-19. This pandemic is far from over. I urge you to continue to take precautions, wash your hands, wear face protection and continue to be mindful of your surroundings. As a nation, we must move forward, mindful of our mission and taking care to keep ourselves and others safe.

We began Phase III of our reopening process. Our casinos, tribal headquarters and various other facilities are now open with continued emphasis on social distancing and health precautions. We are still monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely, and the health and safety of our associates, tribal members, visitors and vendors is still our top priority.

COVID-19 isn't the only issue facing our nation and country today. America is a nation of the free, but it struggles with unity and is fractured by a lack of mutual respect. Now, more than ever, we must remember to love and pray for one another and to remember that together we're more. Equality comes from God, not man. Let's allow our faith to guide us, build strong, resilient families and maintain a culture that is respectful of one another as well as those beyond our tribal affiliations.

Today, we must stand on the right side of history. We can make a difference and positive changes for the future. There is still so much to be done. Allow the Choctaw Nation values to guide your actions. Our foundation is built on faith, family and culture. These are our strengths. Upon this foundation are the values of responsibility, honor, accountability, servant leadership, teamwork and integrity.

Nation Announces Recovery Plan - June 2020

Halito. I hope you all are doing well and staying healthy. My thoughts and prayers are still with anyone who has been directly affected by this pandemic.

The past few months have been a time of learning, reflection and preparation for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. We announced our COVID-19 Recovery Plan on May 5. The health and safety of our tribal members, associates, vendors, entertainment partners, guests and communities have been our top priorities throughout this process. We have continuously monitored the situation by staying up to date on the latest information provided to us by local, state and federal health officials. This is why we decided to take a public health-focused and data-driven approach as we reactivate our operations in phases. CNO's health and emergency management professionals have designated trigger points for key indicators that CNO will use as a base standard to either move into a new phase or stay in the current one. The key indicators are based on hospital and ICU bed utilization in the 10.5 counties and the states of Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas. We will continue to review medical data and key indicators rigorously, and we will only move to the next phase if the data suggests it is safe to do so.

We began Phase 1 on May 15. In alignment with our priority of health and safety, we implemented enhanced safety protocols and other guidelines at CNO operations and facilities. Approximately 25% of the CNO workforce returned to their onsite workstations. During Phase I, several health functions began to reopen with limited services at the Talihina Hospital and CNO medical clinics. Wellness centers and CNO Chili's dinein reopened with limited capacity, enhanced sanitation protocols and social distancing considerations. Phase 2 is set to begin on June 1. As I stated earlier, we will continue to monitor the key indicators and prioritize health and safety. Social distancing will continue to be encouraged to protect our associates and guests. Our target date for reopening all Choctaw Casino operations is June 1. We have developed a comprehensive plan for reopening. Operations and amenities will be limited at first. We are optimistic but cautious about reopening. We have implemented numerous safety protocols and measures to help protect our associates and visitors. Once we have determined that everything is going to plan and that the key indicators suggest it is safe to do so, we will move into Phase 3. During Phase 3, all operations will return to working order.

COVID-19 and the situation surrounding it is ever-evolving. By the time this information reaches you, there will most likely be additional updates, information and changes. To stay up to date on all CNO operations and recovery information, please follow us on social media or visit choctawnation.com/covid-19.

I wish everyone health and safety during this time. God bless you all.

Sense of Community Essential During Global Pandemic - May 2020

As you all know, a lot has changed in the world over the past few months. COVID-19, a new and highly contagious virus, has changed the way we live our daily lives. The global pandemic has forced leaders around the world to make difficult, but necessary, changes to protect the health and safety of everyone.

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has taken numerous steps to respond to the ever-evolving situation. Our top priority has always been the health and safety of our tribal members, associates, guests, vendors, entertainment partners and local communities. Choctaw Nation has been closely monitoring the situation based on the latest information from local, state and federal officials. We feel that we have an obligation to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

On March 16, we decided to temporarily suspend operations at all of our Choctaw Casino & Resort locations as a health precaution. Soon after, we closed all of our wellness centers, community centers and administrative offices. We've also had to make the difficult decision to cancel or postpone many of our events, including our annual Trail of Tears Walk. We began issuing work from home orders for associates who are not mission-critical and able to do so. Even though our doors may be closed, our programs are still working remotely to make sure our tribal members get the services they need during this uncertain time.

On April 21, leadership announced the extension of pay and benefits to all employees through May 16. We will reevaluate the situation as that date approaches. We make these decisions knowing we must balance health and safety with the tribe's long-term financial sustainability and the economic needs of our tribal members, associates and communities.

While many of our facilities have been closed since mid-March, our mission-critical facilities have remained open to help serve our communities. Our healthcare facilities have remained open to bring vital care to our tribal members. Travel plazas, Choctaw Country Markets and food distribution facilities have remained open to provide necessary services to keep our communities going.

We are still able to feed our seniors through our nutrition program and deliver Mealson-Wheels to our communities, thanks to our associate volunteers. I'm so thankful and proud of our associates and how they have handled this situation. I want to give a huge shout out to everyone who has volunteered to prepare or serve meals, work in our refillcenter or stock shelves in our Country Markets. Yakoke to our health workers who are putting their own health on the line to provide care to others. Yakoke to our Country Market and travel plaza employees who are on the front lines working tirelessly every day to provide food and other essentials to our communities. Yakoke to our tribal police and security officers who are protecting our communities and facilities every day. Yakoke to all of our associates who are working onsite or from home. I want you all to know that your hard work and dedication are not going unnoticed.

This is a difficult time, but we will get through this together. As Chahta people, the blood in our veins is that of our strong and resilient ancestors. They endured hardships, sickness and suffering. But they were strong-willed and determined. They overcame everything that was thrown at them. We can draw from the strength of our strong Chahta ancestors to overcome our struggles today.

The COVID-19 situation is constantly changing. By the time this message reaches you, I'm sure there will be many more updates. But one thing is certain: we must continue to help each other, and keep our faith. Things will get better in time. We must do our part to help our communities until they do. I encourage you to call your families, check on your neighbors and support local businesses. We will get through this together as a community.

One thing I wanted to ensure through all of this was clear communication. On March 24, we began releasing COVID-19 special reports on social media. On March 26, I began releasing my daily COVID-19 reports to show the numbers of cases and testing in our area. For more information on closures, postponements and Choctaw Nation COVID-19 updates, please visit www.choctawnation.com/covid-19, and follow us on Facebook.

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Choctaw Nation Takes Necessary Precautions During Pandemic - April 2020

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. I want to assure you that the Choctaw Nation's top priority is the health and safety of our tribal members, employees, the public and patrons of tribal facilities and businesses. We are working closely with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, as we monitor the impact of COVID-19.

The state and federal governments are monitoring this situation closely. The Choctaw Nation and our emergency management team are in contact with state and federal health officials, and we will all work together to figure out what is best for everyone.

The information we have on COVID-19 is changing by the minute. By the time this column reaches you, things will most likely have changed. Please follow our social media accounts, as this is the quickest way we can share vital information. We have established webpages to help better communicate with everyone. Please visit www.choctawnation.com/coronavirus-information for up-to-date information on COVID-19 and its impact on the Choctaw Nation.

Our top priority is the health and safety of our guests, associates, vendors, entertainment partners and individuals in the communities in which we are located. Choctaw has been closely monitoring the constantly evolving situation regarding COVID-19, and based on the latest information from local, state and federal health officials, we feel it is our responsibility to do what we can to help reduce the rapid spread of this disease.

As a public health precaution to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma decided to temporarily suspend all Choctaw Casinos & Resorts operations effective at 11:59 p.m. on March 16, 2020, until further notice. This includes casinos, resorts and concert venues. All gaming inside Choctaw Travel Plazas was temporarily suspended as well.

All concerts at the Grand Theater were postponed through April 3. Please check the Choctaw Casino & Resort events page for new dates. If you purchased tickets through Ticketmaster and prefer to receive a refund now, you must request one by calling Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000. We encourage you to hold on to your tickets, though, as they will be honored for the rescheduled date. Ticketmaster is the official ticketing agent for the Choctaw Grand Theater. All other ticket sellers are considered third party agencies. Third-party ticket sellers may have a different refund policy. You will need to reach out to that company directly for more information regarding refunds for postponed or rescheduled shows.

Casino Events & Promotions are temporarily suspended. This information will be made available on the Choctaw Casinos promotions page at choctawcasinos.com.

All hotels will be closed until further notice. If you already had plans to visit in the upcoming weeks, please contact, 888-652-4628 where a guest service representative will work with you to accommodate your needs.

All venues and related events and activities at The District are closed effective March 17. This includes the District movie theater, bowling and arcade.

The health of our tribal members, employees, the public and patrons is always our top priority. We have enhanced cleaning and sanitation actions at all of our properties to ensure that everyone is safe.

We are reminding employees through multiple channels about the importance of frequent hand washing. We are talking to them about it in daily meetings, posting signage in key employee areas and providing additional hand sanitizer dispensers in employee areas.

Hand-washing signage is located in public areas like bathrooms and restaurants for all of our guests.

Additional liquid hand sanitizer stations have been installed throughout our properties in high traffic areas. We have also increased our supply of hand sanitizer, so it is available for our guests and associates for an extended period of time.

In addition to purchasing more cleaning and disinfecting supplies, Choctaw is increasing the number of times per day we clean high touch surfaces throughout our properties including restaurants, bars, fitness centers, public restrooms, hotel rooms, elevators, slot machines and table games.

To ensure proper cleaning and disinfecting, we have provided additional training for employees.

I want to reiterate, that as of March 19, when this paper was published, we had no reports of cases of COVID-19 connected to associates at any Choctaw Casinos & Resorts Properties or related businesses at this time. Further updates with additional details will be provided as needed.

We ask that our guests follow the precautionary measures outlined by medical authorities to help ensure everyone stays safe.

• The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before eating, after using the bathroom, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, and before and after caring for a sick friend or a family member.

• Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.

• Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

• Staying home when you are sick.

• Covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throwing the tissue in the trash.

To keep up with the latest and most accurate health information, please visit the World Health Organization's website www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019 or the Centers for Disease Control's website www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index. html.

If you have a question about coronavirus (COVID-19), including testing criteria, there are call centers available. The CNHSA coronavirus call center can be reached Monday - Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. by calling 866-536-2766. The Oklahoma State Dept of Health coronavirus (COVID-19) call center is available Monday - Friday 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. by calling 877-215-8336. The CDC information line is now open 24 hours, 7 days a week for questions related to coronavirus (COVID-19) by calling 800-232-4636.

I encourage all of you to follow the recommendations of the CDC and the World Health Organization. If you are ill, please contact a medical provider and practice social distancing. We will make it through this by working together and doing our part to flatten the curve.

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Choctaws Count in 2020 Census - March 2020

The 2020 U.S. Census will be conducted this year and I am asking you on behalf of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma to participate. It is crucial for our members to be counted and their voices to be heard.

The census is conducted every 10 years, as required by the U.S. Constitution. The census collects important data from every person living in our country. Census numbers help to decide how an estimated total of $880 billion a year in federal funding is distributed. These federal dollars are distributed for schools, roads, public services, and tribes through grants. Those dollars also are used by emergency responders during natural disasters. The census also helps determine the number of congressional seats and Electoral College votes every state gets. The census is more than just a survey; it is a vital tool. It is essential that our tribal members complete and correctly identify themselves in the census.

The Choctaw Nation is partnering with the U.S. Census Bureau to increase participation and help clarify how to accurately identify your Choctaw citizenship. The information you provide helps put money back into your communities. It helps support important services like emergency management, roads, schools and healthcare.

During the 2010 census, only 24,000 members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma correctly identified themselves on their submissions. There are roughly 200,000 members of the Choctaw Nation. That means approximately 80% of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma wasn't counted in the last census. So show that our ancestors are not forgotten by standing up and being counted. Let everyone know that we are 200,000 Chahta strong!

If you want to help ensure that all of us are counted, there are multiple things you can do. For the first time in the 230-year history of the U.S. Census, participants will be able to respond online and by calling 1-800 numbers. Paper forms will still be available, and census workers will make door to door visits to rural areas. Households who haven't responded by April will be visited by door knockers who will conduct interviews and collect responses by smartphone. Please complete the census by July 24, 2020. When you reach the "Tribal Affiliation" section, please write "Choctaw Nation." This is the only way for your response to truly count toward the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. If you only write "Choctaw," it will not count.

Make sure your voice is heard in this year's census and remember that Choctaws count.

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Choctaw Nation Gives Back Through Community Partnership Fund - February 2020

Community is an essential part of our Chahta culture. I'm so honored and humbled to be able to represent the Chahta people and be a part of this great community. With current events and what is happening with the Oklahoma Gaming Compact, I have realized that many people are unaware of the impact our tribes have on the State of Oklahoma. Sometimes we get so caught up in what we are doing for the Chahta community that we forget to share all the things we do for our local communities as well.

The Chahta people have always strived to live their lives with servants' hearts. From helping each other during forced removal, to collecting a donation to send to the Irish people on the other side of the world, we as Choctaws have been taught to help not only our own, but our neighbors as well. We hear and see the phrase "living out the Chahta Spirit" often. We can do this in many ways. Being a servant leader and helping others for the greater good is a perfect way for us to live it out each day. We at the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma strive to uphold the values that have been passed down for generations in every decision we make. One of the ways we show this is through our Community Partnership Fund.

In fiscal year 2019, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma was able to put $1,613,300 back into southeastern Oklahoma. Thanks to our Community Partnership Fund, 26 counties and cities throughout the 10½ counties received funding for needed projects and equipment.

Though we are a sovereign nation, we recognize the impact and influences we have in the communities our members live and work in. This is our home, and most of us grew up right here in this area. We love and care about the people who live here, regardless of their race, religion or creed.

With funding from the Community Partnership Fund, the city of Durant chose to use its $232,500 for road repairs and improvements. McAlester combined funds with additional donations for a streetscape project that includes sidewalk expansions, bump-outs, decorative light poles and street signs. Pushmataha county used their funds, matched with federal grants, to purchase a new Sheriff's Department vehicle, make much-needed repairs to the fair building and upgrade the courthouse boiler system. Other cities and counties used their funds for street repair, building repairs, community beautification, city park upgrades and water projects as well.

We just started our second year for this program, and our funds will continue to help strengthen our communities, region and state. The Choctaw Community Partnership Fund is a voluntary distribution to cities and counties within the Choctaw Nation's 10½ county jurisdiction that operate Tribal non-gaming businesses. Together, we can make Oklahoma an even better place for our citizens to live and grow.

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Tribes Still United in New Year - January 2020

In August, I released an op-ed that explained the facts of the Oklahoma Tribal Gaming Compact and its automatic renewal. It is now January, and my opinion on the matter still stands. Oklahoma tribes are rooted firmly in this great state, and we continue to help all Oklahomans every day. Tribal gaming continues to be a win-win for the state and tribal nations as it always has been.

Going forward, any threat to exclusivity could jeopardize billions in future dollars to the state of Oklahoma. In 2019, Oklahoma tribes paid the state $148.2 million in gaming fees. However, the overall economic impact of tribal dollars on Oklahoma is one of the highest on any state in the country. Tribes funnel billions of dollars into this great state outside of gaming fees.

We will continue to pay our fees to the state as agreed upon through the existing compact and continue to give back to the people of Oklahoma, exceeding what the fees require.

As stated in the compact itself, "Following the effective date of this Compact, the Compact shall automatically renew for successive additional fifteen-year terms."

Tribes across Oklahoma are united on the fact that the compact automatically renews, and we are all operating our casinos, "business as usual." We remain positive and united in our stance, and we will continue to do what is right for our people. We are not taking this stance out of greed or pride. We are doing this to protect the future of our tribe, our members and our state.

We have every right as a sovereign nation to take legal action, if necessary. It is our duty as tribal leaders to protect our sovereign rights and the well-being of our people.

Many of our people rely on tribal programs, which are funded through our gaming funds. Our ancestors fought to get our tribes to the position they are today. Tribal gaming is a way for us to earn dollars to put back into not only our tribes, but our communities as well.

We help build and pave roads that benefit all Oklahomans and allow them to travel safer. We recently announced our partnership with local governments to help Antlers, Talihina and the Sardis Lake Water Authority to improve their water systems. This partnership will help Oklahomans have clean and safe drinking water. One of the key objectives of this grant is to ensure our region attracts new businesses and residents. These businesses will create jobs.

The Choctaw Nation, in collaboration with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, provides vaccines for all who qualify for free. Tribal dollars helped fund over 18,000 flu shots across Oklahoma and North Texas to tribal members and non-tribal members alike.

Oklahoma tribes are constantly and consistently helping others. It is a part of who we are as a people. Our roots run deep here are longstanding and deep, predating Oklahoma itself, which we have taken pride in helping build. We have worked hard for decades to create a great relationship with the state. We would love to continue that relationship; we are open to negations, but we want this done in a fair way, respecting the existing compact language agreed upon by the state, tribes and Oklahoma voters

 

Faith, Family, Culture and Christmas - December 2019

I can't believe another year has flown by and it is once again Christmastime. Christmas is truly the most wonderful time of the year. It is a chance for us to share our faith, family and culture. Some of my most cherished memories have been made during the time spent with loved ones during the holidays. I'm truly thankful to have the opportunity to make those memories and hope you all have a blessed Christmas with your families.

Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I am so thankful for the blessings God has given me, and for the sacrifice Jesus made for all of us. He is the ultimate gift and true reason for the season.

The Christmas season also brings up memories of those we have lost. This year, we go into the holiday season with heavy hearts. We lost a great man, friend and leader, Chief Greg Pyle. I am so grateful for the time I got to spend with him, learning how not only to be a leader but also a better person. Please keep his wife Pat, children and grandchildren in your thoughts and prayers as they go into the holidays.

I love seeing all the signs of Christmas popping up around us with the decorations, music, lights and the spirit of giving. It is so heartwarming to see so many Choctaw people giving back to their communities. The Choctaw Nation hosts numerous events in the spirit of Christmas. Our annual Christmas in the Park is happening again this year. The event kicks off Dec. 6 and runs through Dec. 28. The free event is held at our historic capitol grounds at Tvshka Homma. Every evening, beginning at sundown, the park comes to life with festive lights and décor. I invite all of you to come and check out this wonderful display. It is sure to get you in the Christmas spirit. Our community centers are also once again hosting their annual Christmas parties. These events are a great way for our communities to come together. Having a strong sense of community is essential in keeping our culture and bond strong. I encourage those of you who can to attend these events. There is a list of parties in this month's issue of the Biskinik.

The spirit of giving and the Chahta Spirit go hand in hand. That spirit, to help not only each other but everyone who is in need, has been instilled in the Choctaw people for generations. It truly is the embodiment of the Choctaw Spirit. The Choctaw Nation held numerous food and clothing drives during the month of November. It is so heartwarming to see our people coming together and helping their fellow man. The Bible says, "And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased," Hebrews 13:16 NIV.

On behalf of myself, my family and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, I would like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!

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Celebrating Native November - November 2019

November is a special time of year. Not only is it a time to spend with our families during Thanksgiving , but it is also Native American Heritage Month. Native American Heritage Month, also known as Native November, is a time to celebrate our cultural heritage and share with others the history of our people. Native Americans were here long before Europeans made it to America. Our history is rich, and our culture is vibrant. Through hardships, struggles and turmoil we still managed to hold on to what makes us uniquely Choctaw.

At the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, we try to embrace our culture every day. We host Heritage Monday events at our tribal headquarters in Durant. During these events, visitors can take part in cultural and language classes, eat traditional meals and purchase Native American art. We also have year-round language classes that are taught online through our Choctaw School of Language. Our teachers, many of whom are first-language speakers, take pride in keeping our language alive. It is up to us to pass our language on to future generations, and our language department is doing a great job.

We are eagerly awaiting the opening of the Choctaw Nation Cultural Center in Durant. Construction is coming along, and we cannot wait to be able to share our story through its state-of-the-art exhibits. In this month's issue of the Biskinik, you will get a glimpse into some of the traditional artwork that will be displayed in the facility. Some of the artwork has been created in the spirit of long-forgotten art styles. For example, there are buffalo wool skirts and a turkey cape, which was last documented centuries ago. This is just a small glimpse into the fantastic array of curated pieces that will be on display. I cannot wait to see the finished product next year.

Another great resource on Choctaw Culture is the Choctaw Capitol Museum in Tvshka Homma. Housed in the historic capitol building, which was built in 1907, the museum is full of history. It houses numerous exhibits that depict life before colonization, the Trail of Tears, Choctaw life in Oklahoma, code talkers and much more. If you ever have the time to visit, I highly encourage it. It is a fascinating place to visit, and you are sure to learn more about our culture.

I also encourage you to visit the Hina Hanta Project website, hinahanta.choctawnation. com. This website allows visitors to view curated Choctaw artifacts and art pieces. This is a great resource to use while we wait for the Cultural Center to open.

This month I hope you take some time and get in touch with your Choctaw roots and share with others what it means to you to be Choctaw. You don't have to travel to Oklahoma to do this. You can attend a Native November event in your area, wear a piece of traditional clothing or jewelry, tell a story about your heritage, or even simply wear a Choctaw t-shirt. Be creative and be proud of what makes you a Native American and of the Choctaw blood that is running through your veins no matter the month on the calendar.

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State of the Nation Address Highlights Growth, Encourages Sustainability - October 2019

By Kellie Matherly

On Sept. 2, Chief Gary Batton addressed the Choctaw Nation in a speech that highlighted growth and progress in several areas, including elder care, healthcare, education, employment, and government.

This year's State of the Nation address closed out the 2019 Labor Day Festival and began Chief Batton's second consecutive term in office.

Batton began his address by acknowledging all the people who work together to make the Choctaw Nation successful.

He then shared graphs showing where the Choctaw Nation gets its money and where the money goes. "We are making our own way. We are proud to be the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma," Batton said.

According to the most recent reports, 54% of revenue comes from tribal businesses, 30% from grants, 13% from Medicare and third-party insurance, 2% from general government sources, and 1% from housing.

Chief Batton emphasized the fact that the Choctaw Nation spends nearly 80% of the money it receives on services to tribal members, while the rest helps fund investments, sustainability initiatives and capital projects.

"The success of our nation is measured by the strength of our people," Batton said.

One way the Choctaw Nation ensures that strength is through elder care and other healthcare programs. Last year, 62,770 meals were provided to Choctaw elders. In addition, farmers markets were established for seniors to ensure they have access to healthy food.

There was also considerable growth in the healthcare system last year, including 999,000 visits to healthcare facilities and 1.5 million prescriptions provided to tribal members.

Chief Batton praised council members for removing age restrictions on eyeglasses, dentures and hearing aids so that all Choctaws nationwide have access to them. Last year, the Choctaw Nation provided over 14,000 eyeglasses, dentures and hearing aids.

Another area of growth was education.

Nearly 10,000 Choctaws went through education programs designed to help people finish their college degrees or certificates. Programs offering summer employment, on-the-job training, and internships had 1,146 participants. The Choctaw Nation also has programs for students who attend trade schools. Chief Batton shared the story of Jeremy Gray, a Choctaw tribal member who has found success with the help of the reintegration program, which helps people who have been incarcerated.

Gray's desire to own a house brought the address around to a discussion of progress in housing and home repair.

Over 5,000 people received assistance ranging from home purchases, rental homes and independent elderly homes to home repairs. At least 200 new homes were built for lease or purchase last year and over 1,200 repairs to existing homes were made.

"That is like quadruple what we've done in the past," Batton said as he gave credit to the Council for the achievement.

Chief Batton went on to discuss gains in employment.

Currently, the Choctaw Nation employs 10,868 people and has 421 positions open online. "We've got a job for you if you're interested," Batton said.

Job for the Day is one of the employment programs available. People who participate in this program are given a job working for the Choctaw Nation for up to eight weeks. Some participants are able to get permanent positions.

The past year has seen many changes in governmental operations.

Chief Batton praised the Choctaw Nation judicial system as "one of the best, if not the best within the United States."

He also highlighted the efforts of the Council, Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr. and Rep. Markwayne Mullin in getting vital legislation passed, including amendments to the Stigler Act, which prevents Choctaw families from being taxed on land allotments they have inherited.

Batton credited the Assistant Chief with successes in negotiations on the fish and wildlife compact and Chahta Sia Hoke car tags, which saved tribal members 12 million dollars.

Before closing, Chief Batton made a point of emphasizing the Choctaw Nation's position on the proposed changes to the state's gaming compact with Oklahoma tribal governments. Governor Kevin Stitt has sought to renegotiate the compact in a way that would cost the Choctaw Nation and other tribes a considerable amount of money.

Batton noted that 30 tribes in Oklahoma came together to sign a resolution stating no one would act unless everyone acted together.

Tribal leaders have argued the existing compact will automatically renew in January. The governor has the right to submit a proposal prior to the end of the calendar year, but if tribal leaders do not agree on the proposal's terms, the Choctaw Nation "will continue to function just like we think it should," Batton said. "We believe we are on the right side."

As the State of the Nation drew to a close, Chief Batton turned his attention to the future of the Choctaw Nation.

In the interest of sustainability, Batton's 2020 budget will include more dollars going into higher education programs and services for elders, including the possibility of new lawn mowing and handyman services.

Construction will continue on new homes, cultural centers, and the ongoing casino expansion in Durant. The growth and progress in the Choctaw Nation not only benefits Choctaws but all Oklahomans, and Chief Batton is proud of the positive impact the tribe has had.

In the final moments of the address, Batton reminded the audience to "remain strong and who we are as the Choctaw people." He emphasized the importance of inspiring the next generation and maintaining spiritual unity. "If we ever forget that, we'll fail to exist as a nation," he cautioned.

In addition to the swearing in of Chief Batton and the State of the Nation address, ceremonies included the swearing in of six tribal council members: Thomas Williston of District 1, Tony Ward of District 2, Eddie Bohanon of District 3, Ronald Perry of District 5, Perry Thompson of District 8, and Robert Karr of District 11.

The entirety of the event was streamed live and is available on YouTube.

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Choctaw Nation Cares About All Oklahomans - September 2019

If you've been paying attention to Oklahoma news lately, I'm sure you have heard about Governor Stitt's plans for the tribal gaming compacts in Oklahoma.

The leaders of 31 tribes throughout this great state and I strongly disagree with Gov. Stitt.

Yes, we are sovereign tribes, but we are also citizens of this great state. The name Oklahoma comes from the Choctaw language. We are the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and all of our members have roots in this state. This is our home. I graduated from Clayton and that is where I still live today. I love the people who live here and want every Oklahoman, tribal and non-tribal, to succeed. I'm sure that is a shared sentiment of all tribal leaders. The fact that Gov. Stitt suggests otherwise is honestly disappointing.

I recently released an op-ed in the Journal Record, explaining my thoughts and feelings on this matter. I want to share this letter with you, because I think it is essential that you all know how much we genuinely care for the people of Oklahoma.

The point of this letter isn't about bragging about what we do. Our ancestors taught us to stay humble but to have a servant's heart. Like the donation our ancestors made all those years ago to the people of Ireland, we are descendants of generous and loving people. That's is why it is so important to help everyone, not just the Choctaw people.

 

Enhanced Technology Providing Easier Access - August 2019

Technology is an ever-evolving tool. In a recent report, Cisco predicted that by 2020, there will be nearly 4.1 billion internet users around the world. More and more people are gaining access to the internet and using technology each day. With that in mind, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has made steps to increasing our online accessibility and exploring new technological endeavors.

With this increase of internet users, the Choctaw Nation has taken steps to help our tribal members access our programs and information online in a more user-friendly way.

Our new Chahta Achvffa member portal launched this summer. This technology platform was created to transform online interactions between the Nation and tribal members. Currently, members can set up profiles and have access to four programs. Programs on the portal at the moment include the 2019 Hunting and Fishing program, Student School Activity Fund, College Clothing Allowance, and name change requests. We plan to add more in the future and are excited to see how this benefits our members.

Our social media presence is also growing each day. One of our goals is to share with you all news and information as quickly and accurately as possible. Our social media team works hard each day to share with all of our followers information and news as it happens in real-time. You can keep up to date with us in all major social media networks.

Our online communications team also works diligently to keep our website up to date and share information through text and email alert systems. We want everyone to have access to news, information and programs at their fingertips. It is great to see and interact with our followers, and to watch our social media presence grow.

Our health services are also taking steps into the future with virtual visits. The Choctaw Nation Virtual Medical Visit service enables healthcare access for patients not able to travel to the provider for specific non-life-threatening injuries and illnesses. This service is a video appointment with a healthcare provider that is available to patients with specific symptoms.

To be eligible, patients must have a CDIB and have a current consent to treat on file. Patients must also reside in Oklahoma and be 5 years of age or older. This is a great service for individuals with minor conditions and saves them a trip to the clinic. For more information on the Virtual Medical Visit service, please call 580-916-9231.

The Nation isn't just making technological endeavors online, but in the physical sense as well. In 2018, we were named one of 10 Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program sites by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Nation has partnered with the Noble Research Institute to conduct research on the typical rural and agricultural community applications of drone technology. This is an exciting program and our researchers are hoping to discover information that can help our communities in the future.

There are many other ways that the Nation is using technology to help our tribal members grow, learn and access information. To find out more about the programs I have mentioned and others, please visit http:// www.choctawnation.com.  

 
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