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 From the Desk of
 Chief Gary Batton

 

Commemorative Walk Honors Choctaw Ancestors' Sacrifices 4/2017

This time of year is a time of reflection for me as we plan the Choctaw Nation's annual commemorative walk to honor our ancestors who were removed from Mississippi in the 1830s.

We never want to forget the sacrifices that were made along those long journeys. The Choctaw people faced many enemies-bitterly cold weather, rain and snow, hunger, exhaustion, deception and disease. They walked hundreds of miles, carrying their meager belongings, or at times carrying the weak who could no longer take a step.

Saturday, May 20, will be the day we gather to celebrate the strength of our ancestors who survived the Trail of Tears and honor those who perished. I hope you can travel to Tvshka Homma to join us for the commemorative walk and Heritage Day.

Staff will be on site early to guide you to parking east of the amphitheater. The walk will start at 10 a.m. with water stations along the way.

Cultural demonstrations and activities are planned, including Choctaw artists, pottery, baskets, beadwork, ancient weapons, dancing, singing, and men's and women's exhibition stickball games.

The Choctaw Nation's foundation reflects the values our ancestors learned in the Mississippi homeland. Those values remain strong as does our foundation.

The Choctaw Nation is based on culture, honor, integrity, accountability, responsibility, servant leadership and teamwork.

The survivors of the Trail of Tears supported each other as they settled in their new home. Houses, churches, schools and businesses were built.

Communities thrived until there was another enemy-the railroad. The railroad brought prosperity to many cities but others, such as Skullyville, the Choctaws' "money town," withered away. Then there was the Depression era and the oppression that many Indian tribes faced in the land once called Indian Territory.

The history of our tribe reflects the highs and lows of many journeys through the centuries.

Our path is now rising to new heights. Everything we do is based on the vision: Living out the Chahta spirit through faith, family and culture.

The Tribal Council, Assistant Chief and I believe this vision is one for the Choctaw people.

It encompasses everything we strongly believe in and is followed by our mission: To the Choctaw proud, we are the sovereign Nation providing opportunities for growth and prosperity.

The historic agreement on this vision and mission will guide us as we create new relationships, businesses and services.

I have had several people comment on how they appreciate the Choctaw Nation for beginning our meetings with prayer. That is our faith. We are thankful for all of God's blessings and pray for guidance as we make our decisions. We pray for each other-those who are ill or facing challenges. Our faith and values should be lived out at work and in our home life. They are what motivate me to try to be a better person every day.

The Partnership of a Couple Extends to the Community 2/2017

The evolution of Choctaw marriage is an interesting part of our history, one that reflects the changing roles of husbands and wives while retaining a strong commitment to each other and their families.

My wife, Angie, and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in January. I am very blessed to have Angie and am looking forward to the next 30!

The Choctaw Nation is historically a matriarchal tribe. The women were considered the heads of the families. They created the pottery and baskets they used every day, gathered food, cooked, and raised the children.

The men and women worked together to build the chukka, or houses, they lived in. Some of the women were doctors. The men were the hunters and protectors. The partnership between the men and women sustained the community.

Versions of the traditional Choctaw wedding ceremony still used today are symbolic of love, humility, family, and accepting the responsibilities that lay ahead of them.

Historical accounts by Henry Halbert describe how friends and relatives of the couple would meet at the location of the ceremony. Brothers of the woman would go to the other family and bring the man to sit on a blanket spread on the ground. The man's sisters would do the same with the woman, bringing her to sit by the man. The families remain an integral part of the entire ceremony, and with humor as Choctaw people like to do.

Sometimes, the woman is expected to break loose and run, chased by the groom and brought back. I've watched this many times and it is always a lot of fun. The bride can make the groom work to catch her.

The man's family provides meat for the wedding meal and the woman's relatives bring bread, symbols of the days when the men were the hunters and the women raised corn for the bread and hominy. The couple will then sit quietly, not speaking, while presents are thrown, snatched, and distributed.

A minister officiates during the ceremonies now, and we often include the Wedding Dance in the celebration with the married couple dancing in the center of a circle of other couples. The name of the dance indicates its connection with the courtship and marriage. The partners hook little fingers to represent the way eagles choose their partner. Bald eagles are well-known for their "courtship flights."

The marriage is the beginning. The bond is formed and as with any Nation of people, we have adjusted to society. There are Choctaws who go to school, to work, to the grocery store, blending in today's world. When they get home, they are just Choctaw. They live with their spouse and family the same as their parents and grandparents. They have successfully merged Choctaw and modern cultures, teaching the things they know of their heritage and making memories that keep the traditions alive.

We provide anniversary certificates to couples celebrating milestone anniversaries and just sent one to a couple from Tushka who has been married 70 years-Tot and Wanda Calvert.

Congratulations to them!

Please let us know if any of your Choctaw family is celebrating a 50th, 60th or 70th wedding anniversary. You can email Jason Hicks at jlhicks@choctawnation.com. We'd love to hear from you.

There are many, many couples who understand that compromise and honesty are important to marriage. They are willing to give and take and invest the love and respect needed to ensure a long, caring relationship. I admire you all and want you to know Angie and I are learning as we go from the great examples you have set for us.

As Valentine's Day approaches, let's remember our partners and thank them for their unique gifts and talents and the bond that is shared between a couple.


Success Begins with Setting Goals and Keeping Them 1/2017

New Year's resolutions are easy to make and hard to keep. Goals are key to our successes and as we start the New Year, I'd like to ask everyone to think about how we can make this world a better place.

Being Choctaw is about doing the greater good. Our tribe is built on a foundation of faith, family and culture with values of servant leadership, accountability, integrity, honor, responsibility and teamwork. We look beyond tomorrow, next week or even next year. We want our children and grandchildren to do better.

Research shows that specific and challenging goals have better results, and I have learned that if I write mine down I will fulfill them.

SMART goals teach us to think through our objectives. We should be Specific, ask ourselves what is the goal and how much time would it require. We should have Measurable goals that provide specific feedback and hold us accountable. The goals should be Attainable. They should push us, but it's important they are achievable. The goals and time frames should be Realistic and a Time line helps motivate us.

I can think of many examples of struggles and perseverance to succeed. And, success isn't always having more money. Sometimes, it is as basic as having peace. A lady in Atoka stands out to me as one of the most optimistic people I've known. She has stage 4 cancer and recently held a celebration of life party. She celebrates this life and the life to come.

Another Choctaw lady, Betty Baker, is an inspiration to us all. We wished her a happy 87th birthday on Dec. 16 at the Choctaw Nation's annual Christmas and employee awards ceremony. Betty has worked for the tribe for 38 years, all of those years for the Choctaw WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program in Hugo. She is still a dedicated full-time employee coming in to work every day to make a difference in someone's life.

Three generations of Choctaw women devote their lives to their family business- Luksi Creations-in Oklahoma City.

Catherine Stairs passed her love of beading on to her daughters and a granddaughter. They have combined talents and efforts to create Luksi Creations. They fill a need for local beaders by providing a place to buy supplies and showcase their bead work, helping keep our culture alive.

James Winchester is an inspiration in many ways. An alumnus of the University of Oklahoma and currently long snapper for the Kansas City Chiefs, James tweeted, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."

These people have set goals-they believe and have faith, and they are focused on the good to be achieved.

As we reflect on the New Year, let's think of all the opportunities we have to sustain our families and our tribe. We can build on the legacy we have been given by providing a better one for generations to come.

May God bless you in the New Year and I hope you have success in every goal you want to achieve.

 

Remembering a Great Man and Friend, Ted Dosh 11/2016

The recent loss of Councilman Ted Dosh has deeply saddened us all. Ted was one of the first Councilmen elected under the 1979 constitution and he served all of the years since with one priority-the needs of the tribal members. I have heard the saying, "He never met a stranger," most of my life and in Ted's case I believe it is true. His smile, his laugh, and the way he would lift his cap in greeting were familiar to all of us. His dedication and love for his family and his extended tribal family are what we remember the most.

He enjoyed the livestock shows held for Choctaw youth, activities with the seniors, Thanksgiving dinners, and handing out presents to the kids at his Christmas parties. He would be just as excited as the kids.

Ted also recognized that economic stability and growth were fundamental to providing the opportunities and services our people needed. He also recognized the means to become financially secure in a time when many counties and states were fighting for that security.

During his tenure as Tribal Councilman for District 9 in Bryan County, Ted saw many changes. He saw the first Bingo Hall built in Durant and he was part of the subsequent expansions and transformations to create the award-winning resort that stands today.

The Choctaw Nation has been extremely blessed with success in businesses such as the gaming resorts, travel plazas, manufacturing, ranches, and new ventures such as the Choctaw Country Market. Because of these enterprises and a wide variety of programs focused on self-sufficiency, the chances are becoming greater now for our children and grandchildren to go to college.

The rural areas of southeast Oklahoma needed more educational opportunities and thanks to the Choctaw Nation and the Tribal Council, the number of programs to encourage education from Early Head Start through college and career development is continually increasing. Ted was so proud of the Choctaw Nation Head Start built in his hometown of Bennington because he knew it was an important step in providing academic and cultural knowledge at an early age.

The Tribal Council, as the legislative branch of the tribe, meets in regular session monthly at Tvshka Homma and spends many hours on the road and in meetings and planning sessions. Yakoke for the contributions provided by each of our Councilmen. They are available to the people, they help in the communities, and they keep their eyes on the future.

Combining the Past and Present to Plan for the Future 10/2016

The land and its natural resources are two of the most important factors of sustainability of the tribe. The Choctaw Nation's inherent sovereignty is intertwined with everything we do to preserve our rights and our stewardship of Choctaw Country. I believe the diverse landscape of southeastern Oklahoma is some of the most beautiful in the state-Ouachita Mountains, Potato Hills, Talimena Drive, Mountain Fork, Beavers Bend, Robbers Cave, and the many pasture, forest, lake, and river areas.

A recent agreement with the State of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City is an example of years of scientifi c research and debate between the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations and the state to create a plan that will preserve and protect Sardis Lake water. The pending agreement has been passed in the U.S. Senate and will now be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Protecting Sardis will ensure there is enough water for residents. It ensures there is enough water for economic growth and development of recreation, fish, and wildlife uses. Most importantly, we have the right to say how much water stays in the lake.

Another important agreement made this year is the Nation's hunting and fishing compact. It, too, upholds our sovereignty and gives tribal members the opportunity to obtain a Choctaw Nation hunting and fishing license. We learned a lot during the process. We continued to build our relationship with the state while expressing what is important for tribal members.

With the hunting and fishing compact we will be able to use traditional Choctaw weapons such as the atlatl, one of the oldest weapons recorded to be used by Indian tribes. The atlatl is used to propel a dart, sometimes up to 100 miles an hour. I would like to see the atlatl become popular again among Choctaw hunters. Tribal members can also practice traditional hunting and fishing methods using blowguns, rabbit sticks, and spears. The usage of these tools, the same wielded by our ancestors, honors the culture of all Choctaw people.

The Choctaw Nation has purchased 2,556 acres of land since April 2014-including over 900 acres this year- bringing the total owned by the tribe to 71,523 acres. We have added to our ranches and bought land for economic development.

Starting Black Angus cattle herds on our ranches has optimized tens of thousands of acres, generating a renewable revenue stream for the tribe. The tribe's herd currently consists of 2,100 Black Angus cattle and they have begun producing calves. Ranch operations also include producing hay and pecans.

Choctaw people were farmers and it's important to remember the health and economic benefi ts of growing our own food. Farm-to-table practices will eventually allow the tribe to provide beef and produce in our markets.

I see a unique mingling of ancient Choctaw culture, centuries of tradition, and modern lifestyles to define who we are today-a Nation of people who do not forget, who stand strong, and who keep our eyes to the future.

Trail of Tears Walk is a Sign of Remembrance and Solidarity 6/2016

The annual Trail of Tears Walk in remembrance of our Choctaw ancestors is always a humbling experience for me. I think about the signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830 and I think our ancestors were envisioning what it would be like today-the Great Choctaw Nation.

It was good to see so many attend the Walk. It was a beautiful day to honor our ancestors and their perseverance to sustain our culture. We are blessed to have their blood running through our veins.

The Color Guard carried the U.S. and Choctaw Nation flags high as we respectfully fell into step behind them. There were children walking with their parents and grandparents. Everyone helped each other, as it would have been during the original long journey. There were families with several generations who had made the walk every year we've held it and there were elders walking it for the first time.

I heard people talking as we walked, sharing the stories that had been handed down about their grandmother or grandfather that was on the Trail of Tears.

There were many people lost on the journeys from Mississippi. We lost family and we lost a lot of our culture. It's a blessing to have so many today wanting to learn more about our people. This is the way we will continue to be such a strong Nation. The language, culture and history are being preserved through the foresight of families who share their knowledge and through classes held by the School of Choctaw Language, Choctaw Nation Cultural Services and Historic Preservation programs.

Language instructor Nicholas Charleston gave a special presentation on the day of the commemorative walk. The young man spoke as Chief George Harkins during the Trail of Tears, reciting a letter to the American people. The letter is considered one of the most important Native documents of its time.

The words from "our Chief" resonated in my mind and my heart. Our ancestors chose to suffer to be free. Chief Harkins hoped that another generation of Choctaws wouldn't feel the oppression they felt. I believe we have fulfilled his vision of hope and prosperity, and with God's blessing we will continue to succeed.

Signs of Progress for Our Nation's Youth 5/2016

April was recognized as the Month of the Young Child with events being held throughout the Choctaw Nation to educate on a number of topics.

The employees wore blue to promote awareness for child abuse prevention and tied blue ribbons to trees. I loved looking at the photos posted to social media with the hashtag "Choctaws Making a Difference". We hope we can raise awareness to prevent child abuse.

It was also Autism Awareness Month. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability that affects one in 68 people in the United States. The Choctaw Nation has developed the Autism Community CARES initiative whose goal is to establish a strong network available in tribal communities. We hear from our tribal members who have family affected by autism, so we are hoping CARES is just a first step in how we can begin to develop services in this area. The Choctaw Nation is the only tribe in the State of Oklahoma delivering a graphics media campaign that includes Native children in the autism community.

Recognizing the early signs of autism is critical. Young children may not respond to their name and are slow to develop speech and language skills. They may not want to play games or show interest in objects. Patterns of unusual behaviors over time or continuous problems with communication are causes for concern. Research shows early intervention can produce positive outcomes. The website AutismSpeaks.org has several helpful articles for anyone who wants to learn more about ASD.

Two of the events focusing on autism awareness last month were a training on challenging behaviors in children hosted by the Choctaw Nation Tribal Early Learning Initiative in Durant and a workshop on autism awareness held during the Oklahoma State Johnson-O'Malley Conference in Tulsa.

A ribbon cutting in Durant on April 11 celebrated the opening of the tribe's first Early Head Start center for children up to 3 years old. The facility is equipped with state-of-the-art technology and CDA-certified teachers. The staff gave us all a tour and I enjoyed seeing Choctaw culture incorporated throughout the center.

The staff, teachers and parents are investing their time in caring for our youth and are demonstrating a dedication to developing strong, healthy lifestyles for the boys and girls.

There was a field day at Southeastern Oklahoma State University as the gates opened April 16 for Choctaw kids age 9 to 12. The Nike N7 Youth Movement's guest speaker was James Winchester, a Choctaw tribal member and long snapper for the Kansas City Chiefs. It was a full day of fun that included Choctaw social dancing, stickball, and lacrosse.

April also marked the end of the youth stickball league's season and hundreds turned out for the championship tournament at Tvshka Homma. My granddaughter and Assistant Chief Austin's son were both on teams this year. It was great fun. We didn't just cheer for their teams, we cheered for all the kids. The youth league learns many life skills through stickball, as well as knowing they are carrying on a centuries-long Choctaw tradition. I hope this has been a great season for our youth!

The Wealth of Health Options on the Horizon 3/2016

It's great to be able to get out in the community with you, our tribal members, to listen to your thoughts and your ideas on the direction of the tribe. I enjoy visiting and hearing the stories very much. I want to thank everyone for the calls, letters, and for being welcomed into your homes.

I take your ideas very seriously. You have talked to me about providing services and I've been asked to focus on culture, service delivery, and employment. That is why each district has seen growth as new businesses and facilities focusing on the members' needs have been constructed. We are also building three of our largest projects-a regional clinic, new headquarters, and a cultural center all in the same general area in Durant.

The Durant Regional Medical Clinic is being built on a 20-acre campus just north of the Choctaw Nation Child Development Center. The clinic will provide primary care (including WIC, Pediatrics, Geriatrics, Podiatry and Specialty Care), Employee Health, Rehabilitation Services, Outpatient Surgery, Dental Care, Audiology, Eye Care, Pharmacy services, Lab and Radiology services, Behavioral Health, Education, meeting facilities, and a Wellness Center. Administration functions will include WIC, Public Relations, Public Health Nutrition, Healthy Aging, Rapid Results, Education, more meeting facilities, and health services administration offices.

It will be the first tribal Indian Health Service program to have an outpatient ambulatory surgery clinic. It's a blessing for the tribe to be able to build such a state-of-the-art facility that will help tribal members live longer, healthier lives, as well as create new jobs for the area to increase quality of life for families.

The new headquarters complex will consolidate over 30 Choctaw Nation offices scattered across Durant, bringing together approximately 900 employees with the capacity to deliver better care, share culture, and increase accommodation for tribal members. It is being constructed next to the regional medical clinic with the first floor dedicated to tribal services and easily accessible parking in front for members.

The office complex is being designed to reflect Choctaw culture and will incorporate cultural artwork, a pond and walking track. The groundwork has begun at the site and it is expected to be complete within the next two years.

On the west side of Highway 69/75, our dreams of a new cultural center will soon take shape. The progress throughout the Nation is due to the combined vision of our members and the growing number of talented staff who all have the Nation's future in their hearts. Yakoke.

Our Future: Moving Ahead to Success 2/2016

When I think of a sustainable tribe I think of our  tribal members and I think about resources. It takes both for the tribe to be successful. One of the people I rely upon is my Mom who celebrated her 78th birthday on Jan. 17, and on the same day, Angie and I celebrated our 29th anniversary. We are blessed to have had Mom's help through the years, and I hope we can help in the growth and success of our children and grandchildren.

Other people who have sustained our tribe are our Veterans. The Choctaw Nation hosted a meeting with representatives from the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and several Choctaw veterans on Jan. 21. The men and women traveled from as far as Spiro in the northeastern corner of the Choctaw Nation to Durant to be included in the first consultation on a new Native American Veterans Memorial at NMAI in Washington, D.C.

The best part of the meeting was seeing our veterans come together and listening to their thoughts. I enjoyed hearing the wonderful stories of our ancestors and how far they have progressed. The veterans have always been the "tvshka," the warriors, protectors of our way of life.

They sustain us. They represent years of sacrifice to provide a better life for us. As one of the veterans, Jim Fry, said, "We did it for the good of all."

Our veterans make the unending opportunities we have available possible. The Choctaw Nation has recently opened several new facilities-a campus in McAlester with a community center, food distribution center, head start, and wellness center. A ribbon cutting was also held for a food distribution center in Broken Bow. A new travel plaza opened in Antlers, and we had a groundbreaking for another in Heavener. Business is expanding with new Chili's restaurants in Poteau and Atoka and a grocery store in Clayton. A ceremony in March will mark the beginning of construction on a new headquarters building near the site of the Durant Regional Medical Clinic.

A new Voters Registration program is part of the Choctaw Nation's election reform in having an election process that is transparent, accountable, and fair. It's important to vote. It is our responsibility. It fulfills our culture and helps shape our future. More information on the Voter Registration department will be shared through the coming months and their staff is available to answer any questions regarding voter registration and tribal elections.

Negotiations are in progress with the state of Oklahoma on a hunting and fishing license compact. Tribal representatives have been working with state officials to ensure the best possible agreement is reached.

Two programs in developing stages are the Reintegration Program and Job for the Day.

The mission for the Reintegration Program is to assist adult tribal members who have been convicted of felony crimes to become productive citizens by offering the appropriate services. Our goal is aimed at removing barriers to our tribal members who are reintegrating back into the communities in which they have lived. Since its inception, we have assisted 78 clients with over 200 different referral options. Five have gained employment as a result of direct assistance.

The Job for the Day is a temporary work program that places tribal members in a fulltime work environment in the Choctaw Nation workforce for up to six weeks. While on the program, participants build relationships with employees and learn new work traits, allowing them to gain experience while coordinators work with them to apply for permanent jobs using the Choctaw Careers website.

An Elder's Legacy of Goodwill Remembered  1/2016

It's a new year and we are very blessed to have our family and the simple things such as food in our stomach and a roof over our heads. Angie and I spent a lot of time with our family through Christmas and it amazes me how fast David and our grandchildren are growing. It always makes me smile to know that they are all healthy and doing well!

It's always great fun to attend the Jones Academy Christmas party and dinner. This year, the kids represent about 25 different tribes from 15 states and they become family once they are together at Jones. We talk about the joy of Christmas, their plans for the future, and enjoy watching their excitement. There is an alumni event held every year in October at Jones during which all are invited to return. Some who attend were even students from the time in the '50s when it was an all-male academy.

Thinking of Jones Academy also reminds me of Brother Bertram Bobb. He had a profound effect on many people and touched our lives in many ways. He always said prayer is a privilege, the words of a very wise man.

We lost Brother Bobb in December. A great man and great leader, Brother Bobb served as an inspiration for myself and many others because he was such a faithful, humble servant to the Lord and our tribal people.

Brother Bobb never spoke much but everybody knew by his actions he was deeprooted in his faith and his commitment to helping others. I am thankful I was able to know him most of my life. I will miss him greatly and will miss his smile and his loving spirit that he always had.

Brother Bobb was largely involved in gaining recognition for the Code Talkers and advancing legislation awarding them Congressional gold medals. He was related to two of the World War I Choctaw Code Talkers, James Edwards and Mitchell Bobb, and he was always ready to go to Washington, D.C., and walk the halls of Congress to share their story.

Family was precious to Brother Bobb. He set examples we all need to follow by remaining strong in the Lord, appreciating the simple things life has to offer, and sharing our heritage with our children and grandchildren so they can pass it on to their children and grandchildren.

More blessed to give 12/2015

It's a season of giving thanks for all the blessings we receive and to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a part of our culture to celebrate our faith and to spend time with family.

I have so many things to be thankful for, especially the times I have to enjoy being with my family and friends, and with great groups of Choctaws who gathered at community centers for Thanksgiving celebrations last month. Whenever we have a chance to get together is a chance to make memories.

I would like to say Yakoke! to all of the employees who helped by cooking, serving, and cleaning up during the Thanksgiving meals. These gatherings are full of fellowship, fun, and catching up with those we haven't seen in a while.

When Choctaws get together they like to sing. I love hearing the Choctaw hymns any time of the year. I remember my Grandpa speaking the language and am now learning it more. Some of the best times I've had this year have been with Choctaw families at reunions or celebrations. It's a time of singing, eating, and just enjoying the time together.

Another thing to be grateful for are our healthcare professionals. Hospitals don't close during Thanksgiving or Christmas or any other holiday. Their doors remain open and the doctors, nurses, CNAs, and support staff are there for us year-round, as well as the public safety departments and fi refi ghters. We have peace of mind knowing this. Yakoke! for your dedication and the ways you try to make the holidays better for everyone.

Also, Yakoke! to our employees who keep the travel plazas, casinos, and restaurants open for visitors. There are travelers and many others who look forward to spending time with people who have become their friends and are often like family. We all appreciate you very much.

Jesus teaches us to do good to all people when we have the opportunity. Christmas is a special time of year when we are blessed with many opportunities to reach out to a neighbor in need. There are toy drives and food drives. The Choctaw Nation employees have once again made sure hundreds of families have food, children have toys to open, and elders receive a gift.

The greatest blessing of all is the opportunity to give. Many of these families who find themselves in need because of circumstances beyond their control, will remember the kindness and pay it forward. They will in turn help someone else.

It's the most glorious time of the year! May God bless you and your families this Christmas and through the next year!

Veterans Day, we honor those who serve 11/2015

We hold a ceremony every year to honor our Choctaw Veterans and we are thankful every day for the sacrifices given by the brave men and women who have protected our Nation and continue to protect our freedom.

Veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the War on Terrorism travel to the Tvshka Homma Capitol grounds to participate in the ceremony held on Veterans Day. It's an opportunity for us to show our honor and respect with a handshake, pat on the back, or a big hug. The Veterans receive a new jacket as a gift of appreciation and they wear it proudly.

I am always moved when the Color Guard posts the colors of the United States and the Choctaw Nation. It is especially significant to see the salutes of the Choctaw Veterans with the Capitol standing tall behind them.

The statue guarding the Capitol was named Tvshka Homma or Red Warrior, a tribute to centuries of Choctaw warriors. The trees shade monuments honoring Veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice, losing their life in action during war times. Their names are etched on the granite monuments, and we can see our reflections as we read the them-a reminder that these men died for us. One of the ways we can honor those who have died for our country is to remember and serve those who are alive.

The soldiers who are stationed now in active war zones receive a care package from the Nation every three months. Our Veterans Advocacy department also assists Veterans with VA claim applications.

Veterans aren't always fighting in a foreign war. There are many who are stationed in the states and our National Guardsmen provide disaster relief support and protection. They all deserve our appreciation. We hope they all know they are in our thoughts and prayers.

It's important to learn about the Veterans in your family and listen to their stories. The Choctaw Code Talkers were instrumental to ending World War I. They loved their homeland and were brave, creative men who used the wonderful Choctaw language to change the outcome of the war.

We need to share our Veterans' stories with our children and teach them about how thankful we should be for the service of our soldiers.

There are many ways we can honor our Veterans. One of the most simple and heartfelt is to say "Yakoke," thank you for your service.

The family is the heart of the Choctaw Nation 10/2015

Family is very important to me. The cooler weather has given me the opportunity to spend quality time with my grandchildren over the past few weekends. We have shot baskets and gone fi shing. Choctaw Country in the fall is beautiful and it is a blessing to be able to make such good memories.

My wife, Angie, and I are adoptive parents. We were elated to welcome our daughter and son to our hearts and our home. If we had not adopted our children, we would not be enjoying our two grandchildren! I thank God every day for them.

I have often said our granddaughter is the boss of the family! She has our hearts wrapped around her finger.

Our grandson is athletic and, at thirteen, is already taller than me. He keeps us active and busy.

There are many families such as ours who are united through programs like the Choctaw Nation's Children and Family Services. There are many more children needing a place to call home than there are families to provide that home.

Choctaw children need to be raised in a Choctaw home.

Choctaw foster families do more than just provide a home and necessities. They share the Choctaw heritage and teach the children stability and values. They give them love.

The children can be in the foster homes for a few days, a few months or a few years. I have watched foster parents show strength and compassion as they are called with requests to accept a newborn, a toddler, or sometimes an older child. The unconditional love is evident as they change one child's life, then another, and another even though they know the child will most likely be there for just a short time. The foster families work with the children's families so that they can have a better chance of returning home. More than 100 Choctaw children were returned to their homes last year after temporary intervention.

There have been many compassionate families who began as foster parents and later adopted a child. In cases where the children have entered foster care and it is not possible for them to return to their parents or their own extended family, the child's foster family can have the first choice in adopting.

There are many couples like Angie and me who are unable to have children and want to make a diff erence, not only by adding to their lives but also by nurturing the life of a child. If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, please call (800) 522-6170, extension 2331.

Yakoke, thank you, to all of the amazing and dedicated Choctaw families who reach out to hold these children in your arms.

Summer 2015 - A season to remember in the Choctaw Nation 8/2015

Summer is nearing an end and it's been an actionpacked three months with several Choctaw Nation activities for the kids.

Youth camps began soon after school was out and continued through most of the summer. Approximately 1,800 kids attended the summer camps hosted by our Cultural Services department-even though we were having record rain and flooding. They focused on teaching Choctaw culture and improving skills in basketball, softball, baseball, football, golf and stickball. Yakoke to the staff who devoted many long hours to preparing for the camps and working with the youth!

The Choctaw Nation sponsored 100 boys and girls who were either part of the Youth Outreach program or the youth stickball league to travel to Mississippi in July to play in an exhibition game during the World Series of Stickball. It was their first and they returned home as champions! It was an awesome group of kids and they represented the Oklahoma Choctaws very well.

History was also made in Durant in July-President Obama traveled to the Choctaw Nation to announce the tribe is one of only 28 communities across the United States to be selected for the Digital Opportunity Grant. The grant will bring low-cost, high-speed broadband Internet services for continuing education and learning opportunities. The Choctaw Nation is currently the only Tribal Nation selected. President Obama made the announcement during his visit July 15 at Durant High School. I was very honored to be included in a discussion with President Obama and youth from the Choctaw, Cherokee, Muscogee-Creek and Chickasaw Nations prior to his speech. The young men and women were an amazing group who showed exceptional perception.

Our children are the future of our tribe, and as such, we are fostering a desire to accomplish academic and lifelong goals. The coming school year holds many opportunities including the Success Through Academic Recognition (STAR) program or Choctaw students.

This fall begins the STAR program's ninth year of providing incentives to our students. There are currently 17,000 enrolled in STAR in 47 states and in Canada, Thailand, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, and Japan. Results of a recent survey of STAR high school seniors show 80 percent are planning to pursue higher education after graduation. That is very good news! The STAR students are rewarded for making straight A's, A's and B's, and having perfect attendance. The program motivates the students and they are learning good habits that will stay with them.

The Choctaw Nation's Higher Education Program can assist Choctaw students who have graduated and are working toward a degree. High school students who are taking college courses can also receive a book allowance to help while they are focusing on both.

It's important for our children and grandchildren to plan a future that includes continuing their education beyond high school. The deadline to apply for higher education assistance is October 1 for this fall and March 1 for the spring semester. And, it's online!

Choctaw College Connect will be Saturday, November 7, this year at the Choctaw Event Center in Durant. Choctaw students will be able to visit with college and university representatives from across the United States. Students may go online to www.choctawcollegeconnect.com to register for this information-packed day.

Education is a way to open doors to better opportunities and improve quality of life. It can turn dreams into reality.

Lifting up the Nation 7/2015 

Thank you for the confidence you have placed in me by selecting me to serve another four years as your Chief. The Choctaw Nation is poised for even greater success than we have already achieved, and I am prepared to do my part to provide opportunities for all Choctaws.

Throughout history, Choctaws have always made the most of opportunities that come our way. When President Obama selected the Choctaw Nation as the first tribe designated as a Promise Zone, he took the first step in moving our Nation-to-Nation relationship to a Nationto-Nation partnership. The Promise Zone designation is one of the latest opportunities for the Choctaw Nation. President Obama's visit on July 15 was the first time a sitting U.S. president has been in Durant as a guest of the Choctaw Nation. I was glad to see a president recognize his government-to-government responsibilities and come here on Choctaw soil.

So far, under our Promise Zone designation, the Choctaw Nation has prepared and supported dozens of applications that have resulted in more than $51 million in federal tax credits and grants being awarded to recipients in the Choctaw Nation Promise Zone by federal agencies, including Department of Justice, Department of Education, USDA, HUD, Treasury, and others. We recently received a $5 million federal grant to reduce teen pregnancy, meaning more young people can finish school and get better jobs.

President Obama discussed the ConnectHome initiative to provide Internet to disadvantaged tribal members. The pilot program is launching in 27 cities and we are the only tribal nation! It will initially reach over 275, 000 low-income households-and nearly 200,000 children-with the support they need to access the Internet at home.

ConnectHome is just one of the partnerships recently started. We broke ground this month on a new clinic in Durant that will provide about 200 jobs in the area.

Choctaw Nation has expanded its summer learning programs that help all students catch up in public schools. Choctaw Nation has widened early learning opportunities in its region with the award by Health and Human Services of a multi-year Early Head Start-Childcare Partnership Grant with Promise Zone prefer ence. In 2014, with Choctaw Nation's assistance, 13 schools and communities in southeastern Oklahoma received Community Facilities Grants from USDA Rural Development with Promise Zone preference for school gardens, fitness equipment, and facility upgrades.

There are a lot of needs out there. We need to create capacity just to grow. We need to develop businesses inside and outside of the Choctaw Nation to sustain our government and member services-to create social programs to help give tribal members a leg up when they need it and help them succeed in life. Expansion is needed in several programs including our summer school programs, the reintegration program, housing, health, and education.

This can be accomplished if we all work together to become a healthier, more self sufficient nation. As we grow we can increase tribal members' sense of connectedness. We are family, we are Choctaw.

Choctaw way of helping 6/2015

Storms and flooding during the month of May required quick action and the Choctaw Nation's Emergency Management team was ready. It is the Choctaw way to reach out to ensure the safety of our tribal members, to help our neighbors, and assist the efforts of other disaster teams. The response team reacted swiftly and professionally, coordinating with staff, volunteers, and city and county officials to help provide the most-needed resources.

More than a dozen tornadoes were reported in southeastern Oklahoma as well as high winds, hail, and torrential rain and flooding in a three-week span. Homes were damaged or destroyed in several counties and I am very proud of the group of men and women who donated their time to help.

Trucks were loaded with bottled water to deliver while the water supply in the Choctaw and McCurtain County areas was shut down or under a boil ban. The water was available at Choctaw Community Centers in Hugo, Broken Bow, Bethel, and Wright City. Some volunteers filled their pickups with cases of water and delivered to residents who were unable to drive to a center.

Huge trees were uprooted, twisted or split, falling across homes. Our employees removed the trees and spread tarps to prevent more damage from the relentless rain. Two Choctaw Nation Health Services teams were sent to provide tetanus shots to responders and affected residents in Atoka County where approximately 35 homes sustained major damage.

Just reaching the hardest-hit areas took two and sometimes three times longer because of trees or water covering the roads. Routes were closed because the roads literally became part of the nearby lake or river.

The Choctaw Nation hospital in Talihina had to close a small portion of the facility because of the flooding. It would have taken longer to reopen if it hadn't been for the 40 volunteers who helped fill sandbags to divert water. There were approximately 3,500 sandbags filled that day!

I've heard several of our elderly tribal members say they were thankful for their storm shelter. This spring in Oklahoma was a good time to have one! Since June last year, the Choctaw Nation has provided storm shelters for tribal members age 55 and over in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas. I'm thankful they had a safe haven from the storms. And, I'm thankful there are so many people with the heart to respond immediately to people in need. Chahta sia hoke!

The year's at the spring 5/2015

Spring is one of my favorite times of the year because it has so much to offer. It's a time of renewal, traditions, and achievement. There seems to be a perpetual excitement in the air as one adventure comes to a close and another begins.

The youth stickball league completed its second season with a full day of tournament play on April 25. Congratulations to the 2015 Youth Stickball League Champions-the Nashoba Homma junior team and Tvnvp Issuba senior team! All of the teams played great games.

The league started last year with 150 kids. There were over 350 boys and girls signed up to play this year, an amazing growth in participation. The day of the championship was a perfect example of Choctaw life and traditions handed down. Families traveled to Tvshka Homma from all of the districts to support the teams. These kids are keeping a traditional game alive and it is fun to see them grow and improve.

It's getting time for our summer culture and sports camps. Last year about 1,800 kids participated, and this summer there are 3,500 registered. The camps begin this month with the cultural enrichment camp and run through the summer with golf, softball, baseball, basketball, football and stickball. At all of the camps, Tribal youth will get an opportunity to learn, grow, and interact with other Choctaw kids.

Spring also brings wild onion dinners with shukha nipi, banaha, tanchi, and of course, grape dumplings. I get hungry just thinking about them! It's a great time for family and fellowship.

The month of May is time for graduations and I want to commend all the high school, college and university graduates for their dedication and hard work.

We've been receiving success stories from around the country and I'm thrilled to acknowledge these amazing young Choctaw men and women-honor students and state scholastic and sports champions. At Southeastern Oklahoma State University there were 98 Choctaw students graduating. That is a great number of Choctaw members. Out of the 800 Native American students at the Oklahoma Indian Honors, 200 were Choctaws. There is at least one Choctaw student named a Gates Millennium Scholar this year-Bailee Smith, a student from Sequoyah, Oklahoma, High School. The prestigious scholarship is awarded to only 1,000 students each year, chosen from over 20,000 applicants. We are so proud of you all! 

A family legacy  4/2015

The Easter Celebration last month at Tvshka Homma brought together hundreds of Choctaw families. It felt like a huge family reunion and even with the cool, rainy weather there were Choctaws outside enjoying the activities.

Six thousand colorful eggs covered the Capitol lawn and were swooped up in minutes during Easter egg hunts for the kids and the elders. I think the older "kids" moved faster!

The youth stickball teams met for their first tournament of the year and a few folks even tossed horseshoes in the mud. The gospel singing was great. I enjoyed being there with my family and talking with friends I haven't seen in a while. I noticed others doing the same, greeting each other with laughs and hugs.

Choctaw people have a history of rallying to help whether it is a community event or assisting someone they have never met. The donation to the Irish during the 1847 Potato Famine is an example of Choctaw people showing empathy with a nation experiencing a tremendous tragedy. The tribe continues to reach out to others through everything from benefit dinners for a fellow Choctaw to donation drives for other countries.

We have the opportunity to enjoy being with family and friends at festivals and community events because of the legacy left us by our ancestors from Mississippi. We are able to help each other in times of need because of the foundation they put in place for us.

We will honor the Choctaws who traveled the Trail of Tears with a commemorative walk May 16 at Tvshka Homma. It is estimated 15 to 33% of the Choctaws who left Mississippi for their new home perished along the way. That was approximately 1,500 to 4,000 people. It was grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, teenagers, babies. I don't like imagining my mother or grandchildren walking thousands of miles in extreme temperatures. The protectiveness I feel for them is I'm sure only a fraction of what the families were feeling during those long days on the long walk.

The Trail of Tears Commemorative Walk will start at 10 a.m. Please join us at our Choctaw Nation Capitol for a special day filled with more fellowship, cultural activities and family fun. Most importantly, it is a chance to join in a tribute to the sacrifices of the Choctaw travelers who first settled in Oklahoma and created our great nation. We are now the third largest Native American tribe in the country. We are strong and have a faith in each other and the future being built for our children.

Hard work pays off for Choctaw youth 3/2015

It is a tremendous privilege to have the opportunity to support our Choctaws as they work to accomplish the goals they set for themselves. A perfect example of this is the support we are able to provide for our Choctaw youth who raise show animals and participate in the livestock shows in Oklahoma. I have attended several livestock premium shows in the last few weeks and I consistently see groups of boys and girls who have successfully undertaken the responsibility of caring for their animals and participating in the livestock shows through organizations like 4-H and FFA.

It always makes me proud to see our kids participating in 4-H and FFA. I participated in both while growing up and know showing an animal is not easy. These youth come from great families whose values are honesty, hard work, and respect. They are very responsible.

Livestock is just one component of the organizations. The youth learn all about agriculture, business management, public speaking and more. They learn life skills and become leaders in their communities. I also believe it helps them to become great parents and they share the values they have learned with their children.

The livestock shows in our area include divisions of hogs, cattle, goats and sheep. From the time the kids get their young animal to raise, they start developing a plan. They adjust their hours to be able to feed, groom and tend to the animals every day. This schedule builds work ethics for a lifetime.

Every year, the Choctaw Nation purchases Choctaw students' animals at premium shows throughout the 10 1/2 counties. The Councilmen, Assistant Chief and I enjoy attending these shows and watching the interaction between the boys and girls and their animals.

The students are given the option to keep the animal and many go on to show at the state level. Most will keep their hog or heifer for breeding purposes and start planning for the next year. It's important to give back in a way that helps these young people meet their personal potential and achieve their dreams. I encourage everyone to attend a premium show and support the youth in your area. Watch them work with their animals. It's a great experience and a lot of fun!
 

Giving back to our elders 2/2015

Our elders are priceless to us as a family and as a tribe. They have been down roads and faced challenges many of us have yet to encounter.

The Choctaw people have handed down stories of the Trail of Tears and overcoming adversity to survive. Each generation has faced new problems and through the wisdom of our elders we learn how to climb every mountain.

I am thankful for the chance to visit with Chahta elders everywhere I go and enjoy hearing about their experiences and their ideas of what would benefit the Nation.

A new programs and services brochure with updated information will be mailed to tribal members this month. Over 100 programs are outlined including many to assist our senior citizens, standing for them as they have stood for us.

One of the most important issues is the health of our elders. The prevalence of diabetes in Native Americans remains high. It's close to home for me because both my brother and sister have diabetes.

The Choctaw Nation Diabetes Wellness Center and clinics provide information on preventing Type 2 and managing Type 1 diabetes and complications related to the disease. Each visit to the Diabetes Wellness Center in Talihina includes foot exams weight and vitals checks, and a general physical exam. Even if you have diabetes in your family, following a healthy diet and increasing exercise can help prevent Type 2. The Diabetes Wellness Center provides a diabetic education program accredited through the American Association of Diabetes Educators along with nutrition screenings.

The Food Distribution Program also shares nutrition information and has a wonderful cook, Carmen Robertson. Her magic transformation of healthy ingredients into great meals is wellknown in the Choctaw Nation. The newer market-style centers are equipped with kitchens and Carmen gives cooking demonstrations in each one every month. The schedule is printed in the Biskinik so the Food Distribution participants can attend.

The Senior Nutrition Program is the foundation for meals, transportation, information and group activities for Native Americans over 55 at our community centers. Attending lunch at one of the community centers on Wednesdays is my favorite part of the week! Thank you all for your warm welcomes. The centers aren't only for gathering for lunch. Active groups of seniors form exercise groups, language classes, arts and crafts classes, and travel to events. I don't know if I could keep up with them!

The Health Services' Going Lean project helps both the seniors and local farmers. It is becoming more common to see tables of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables at the community centers during the summer. The produce can be bought or eligible seniors can receive vouchers through Going Lean to trade for the fresh food.

There are many more services such as Elder Advocacy, the Eyeglasses, Dentures and Hearing Aid Program, Low Income Home Energy Assistance, Community Health Representatives, the Storm Shelter Program, and the Independent Living communities for elders.

Our elders are very important to us and I appreciate the efforts made to show them the care and respect they have earned.

Keeping a focus on doing what's best for Choctaws 1/2015

I look forward to the New Year with hope and enthusiasm! Your twelve-member Tribal Council and the Assistant Chief and I share a vision of continued progress and growth for the Choctaw Nation. We will remain strong and unified on behalf of our Choctaw people to make their lives better. We will also remain focused on the values that are Choctaw.

Choctaw hearts are servant leaders' hearts. We are part of the community - we care about others. That is why Choctaws have been successful in efforts to begin wellness centers, recycling centers, fire departments, school programs and economic ventures that benefit entire towns. In times of crisis, such as a tornado at Tushka or Moore, Okla. or state-wide winter storms, the Choctaw Nation responds to help. Tribal employees have recently won awards from the Red Cross for their work in storm relief.

Our elders have shared the wisdom of many years of experience. The generations that follow will greatly appreciate the stories told by the grandmothers and grandfathers. Through these words, we learn. We love and respect our elders. We love and care for our families. I was humbled to be invited into the homes of tribal elders this Christmas season as we delivered gifts from the Choctaw Nation. It was a wonderful experience to talk to so many people and learn about their lives.

The Choctaw Nation is unique because of our heritage and traditions. It is important to continue sharing our culture. We will be bringing our dance, language and art to Choctaws across the United States in the coming months, just as you have seen in past issues of BISKINIK in cultural community meeting photos that have been featured. Our heritage is highlighted through the stickball league, the school of Choctaw language, the Employee Dance Troupe, the Choctaw Artist Registry, the craft classes and the Heritage Days that the tribe sponsors. There is even a long-bow archery competition that has drawn the interest of youth across the Nation, providing an exceptional opportunity for a revival in this sport!

The past year has been marked with many successes, such as groundbreakings and grand openings, jobs created, services like the storm shelter program and Choctaw car tags. The Council, Assistant Chief and I are all committed to continue investing in our Choctaw people.

Plans for the upcoming year include doing more to honor our elders, reclaiming more land for the Choctaw Nation, improving the health care and Head Start facilities available to our people and increasing the transparency of government through actions such as election reform.

We can balance being in the world we live in today while keeping our values and beliefs as Chahta people. This is the most important thing we can do as we move our Tribal members forward.

I know there are many stories of individuals and families that could encourage the rest of us! We want to hear your story - we want to share your story of success. Please email me or write me! gbatton@choctawnation.com, or share directly on my facebook page Chief Gary Batton.

God Bless you in the coming year and I hope you are always proud to say, Chahta Sia Hoke! I am Choctaw!

Helping hand during the holidays  12/2014

I have thoroughly enjoyed the Thanksgiving celebrations I've been able to attend throughout the Nation. The dinners held for senior citizens in each district give us time for fellowship and good food! I want to thank all of the employees who volunteered to serve the meals and were available to visit with tribal members about our programs.

Being together is important during the holidays. I am thankful every day for my family and treasure the time spent with them. When I think of the holidays, I can almost smell the wonderful things cooking in the kitchen and look forward to our family traditions. As a grandfather, I realize the importance of being together much more than I did as a young boy.

It is our goal to help others have a better Thanksgiving and Christmas when needed. Over 3,000 Thanksgiving food vouchers have been distributed and more will be given for Christmas. In November, we were also able to hand out hams to more than 6,000 employees to have for their family meal.

Several of our staff can't wait to get a Choctaw elder or youth angel and either purchase presents or gift cards to make someone's Christmas brighter. More than 500 angel gifts have been provided through our Outreach Services and Jones Academy. Angie and I have fun filling our cart with items from the wish lists we picked each year.

The Choctaw Nation also buys toys for kids who may not have any other present this year. Toys are gathered for all ages and put in gift bags to be distributed. Close to 2,000 gifts are being prepared this year for Choctaw boys and girls.

These are just a few of the ways we give a helping hand at the holidays.

The act of giving is a gift within itself and should not be just a seasonal thing. There are so many ways during the year we are able to reach out - a friendly smile, an unexpected visit with someone we haven't seen in a while, or helping our neighbor clear the leaves from his yard.

It is my hope that you are able to enjoy this time with friends and loved ones.

My family and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a New Year full of faith and family.

Valuable life lessons through FFA  11/2014

One of the greatest experiences and learning opportunities I had as a youth was my time in the FFA, both as a young member and as club president at Clayton. It was much more than just learning to care for animals. As a new member of the program, I was too shy and quiet to be comfortable with all eyes on me in the show ring, and certainly not comfortable to speak out in public! With experience and the mentoring of some great people whom I still admire, FFA helped bring me out of my shell and showed me I could stand and speak with composure in front of a large group of people.

Knowing the metamorphosis that occurred in my life has made me a huge advocate and supporter!

The Spring Livestock Show season begins next month and students are working several hours every day to prepare their animals to be the best.

The Choctaw Nation has held an annual livestock show since 1991. The show has grown so large, there is a need for a northern location in Wilburton and a southern in Durant. An average of 800 animals are shown each year at the Choctaw Nation show. They are also entered in county and state shows during the busy season.

The many aspects of agriculture are an important part of students' lives at Jones Academy. When Wilson N. Jones first opened the school in 1891, the kids would spend the first half of the day working in the crops and with the animals. They would spend the afternoons in classes.

Now, there is an average of 40 students from the fourth through 12th grade involved in Jones Academy's more specialized swine program. It's the largest FFA program on campus.

From the time the pig is born, until the end of show season, each student learns to groom, feed, give shots, and clip their teeth and ears. They work together and become a close-knit family.

They go to the barn after school is over at 3:15 p.m. and work until 5. If any have spare time later in the evening, they will walk back to the barn to spend more time with their animal, brushing and talking-creating a bond. I have attended a lot of livestock shows and it is not an unusual sight to see a young boy or girl napping in the pen with their pig.

The daily responsibility helps the youth develop good work ethics. They learn to work as a team and their selfesteem increases as the year progresses.

Jones Academy Director Brad Spears says they learn to win as a team and they learn to lose as a team.

The better show pigs are retained and put in a breeding herd. The students like being able to show another pig out of their older pig's litter. One of the most popular things to see at Jones Academy is the Wall of Fame from premium sales.

The Choctaw Nation is at the forefront assisting with premium sales in Southeast Oklahoma. The people operating the shows recognize the tribe's support and we are often told if we weren't doing what we were doing, it would hurt the sales on all levels. As a consequence, it would hurt the students. The money from the premium sales assists these kids to go to college or to help them start new projects.

Any Native American student with a CDIB from a federally recognized tribe can enter the Choctaw Nation Livestock Show. This year's event is scheduled for Feb. 7 and 8, with swine, sheep and goats showing on Saturday and cattle on Sunday afternoon. I'm grateful we are able to help provide the students such opportunities. The skills they pick up can be applied in whatever career they choose. The values are transcending.

Say "Halito!"  10/2014

Let's make Choctaw language universal

Halito! I hope most of you knew instantly that I just greeted you in Choctaw. The words, "hello," "hola," and "aloha" are recognized around the world and someday I want "halito" to be just as universal.

The Choctaw language is a vital piece of our culture.

My grandfather spoke fl uent Choctaw. When my mother was young, the society we lived in was a deciding factor in why many Choctaw families stopped teaching their children their native language. They believed they were protecting them.

The times gradually began to improve for Native Americans, and he did teach me a few words and some of the old ways. I'm thankful it is now diff erent for our children and grandchildren. I want them to know much more and hope they take advantage of every opportunity to learn.

The School of Choctaw Language instructors provide lessons from their offices to dozens of Head Starts and high schools in southeastern Oklahoma. I have watched them talk to the students through amazing technology that makes it seem as if they are in the room together. Four Oklahoma colleges off er accredited Choctaw language courses. Community classes are held regularly.

A classroom is not the only way to learn the language. The classes are available on the Internet with an instructor or anyone can log on to www.choctawschool.com and take the lessons at their own pace. There is a vocabulary of words and you can sign up for a Lesson of the Day to be emailed to you. Your monthly Biskinik also contains a lesson!

Events are being held such as the all-night gospel singing in the new chapel during the Labor Day Festival. Choctaw was the only language spoken that night. It was a blessing in so many ways.

I am so proud of the eff orts being made to teach and to learn the language. Even though I don't speak fluently, I am going to keep learning and practicing.

If the only word you know is "halito," say it in greeting. I encourage every Choctaw to continue the legacy of our language. It will keep our people together as a Nation.

Chahta sia hoke! I am Choctaw!

Fellowship in The Old Ways 9/2014

This year's Labor Day Festival was great and I was glad to see so many sharing the time with their family and friends.

I often think of the term "old ways," especially with the events during the weekend, beginning the first night with the princess pageant.

The young ladies said Yakoke to their mothers, their grand-mothers or their aunts for their support or for making their dress or jewelry. It reminded me of the theme chosen for the festival - Honoring the giver of life - our women and all they do.

Choctaw families came together that night to encourage the girls. They continued to come together for the next four days in the old ways.

We had our traditional dances, games, gospel singing and good food.

I saw boys and girls carrying their stickball sticks in bags on their backs as they walked all over the grounds - more this year than ever before. It seemed such a natural thing for them to do.

Exhibition stickball games were played Sunday afternoon with different age groups. The exhibition games gave the youngest a chance to learn and the oldest a chance to run out on a field again to battle.

The stickball tournament games were awesome and hard-fought. Tvshka Homma placed second, losing to MBCI (Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians) in the championship game. I will never forget what happened after the game. Everyone gathered in the middle of the field to pray. The teams, the coaches, families, friends and spectators all came together to pray for the injured players and everyone's safety as they left the field. It was very moving.

Another example of continuing traditions is one of the families in the tent area who has been staying in the same spot for 27 years. They said this was the time their family always comes together for their reunion. That means they have camped there since I began working for the tribe.

It's this fellowship in the "old way" that makes our festival so special. We relive what we did at the Labor Day Festival while we begin planning for next year with the people we care about the most.

Choctaw Pride 8/2014
Unity, the Choctaw way of life

There is one thing I like to see in the Choctaw Nation - family unity.

Life is just busy and the more successful the tribe becomes, the more there is to do. It seems life everywhere has ramped up. There are more than 100 programs for tribal members and I am proud to see more are focusing on youth and young families.

This focus encourages them to be independent and strive to be the best they can be for themselves and their families. Choctaw Nation businesses make it possible to provide programs and provide much-needed jobs that also help young parents do well. They have a financial future potentially greater than their parents or grandparents.

In 1979, only 35 years ago, the Choctaw Nation had seven employees and about 20,000 members. We now have 6,200 employees and 200,000 tribal members.

I remember when we used to go to the old hospital in Talihina, we would go into the "dungeon" for dental work and our prescriptions were handed to us through a little square hole without us ever seeing anyone. The new hospital and clinics are very different because of our success. We are able to provide more specialized care in beautiful facilities that are full of light.

As we enjoy our success, we need to remember our grass roots values and remember where we have been. I speak a lot about going back to basics and listening to our elders. I believe we need to listen to what they are saying to us.

As we hurry about, we have lost that art of listening. I see the struggles between having time for work and a home life. We can build stronger family units when we stay positive and create a balance.

Our families become unified when we have good moral values, the ability to listen and learn, and the respect for our elders and all they know and have seen. As we stop and reflect, we understand.

We are strong because of our culture, our history, our past. We aren't proud because of our successes. We are proud because we are Choctaw.

For the betterment of the Tribes 7/2014

 I had the opportunity of meeting with Chief Phyllis Anderson and our Mississippi Choctaw brothers and sisters during our trip earlier this month to attend the World Series of Stickball. It was truly an honor to receive a drum and a very traditional basket from them. It was great to continue sharing ideas of history and culture and potential ways to partner for the betterment of both Tribes.

I was so ecstatic to get to play in a stickball game between players age 35 and over on July 3. I felt like I was in high school again, getting ready to play basketball or baseball because I was so full of nervous energy and excitement! I got to play the entire game. We lost, but it was still fun to be part of the Bad Medicine team, to be a part of the trust and camaraderie that goes along with it and to be just "one of the guys" on the field. Leadership can sometimes be about allowing other people to be leaders and to just be supportive. I am already looking forward to next year's game.

My heart did swell with pride as our Tribal Council, Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr. and I were able to lead our team, Tvshka Homma, onto the field later that night for their game against Nanih Waiya. Also leading the team were their families and the boys and girls who played stickball this year in our first-ever youth stickball league. What an awesome event to see how far our team has come and to see our future stickball players. It is great to see pride in our history and culture come back to our people and to see them proud of being Choctaw. It is so good to hear our tribal people say Chahta sia!

Inspiring time spent with Choctaw people during front porch visits 6/2014

Choctaw people inspire me. I have been honored to talk with several recently at their homes and at community events.

In the first days after becoming Chief, I said I wanted to get to a "grassroots level" and "do things like front porch visits" so I could hear directly from Choctaws. Of course, with 200,000 Choctaws across the globe, there are a limited number of front porches I am able to stop by, but I have been blessed to see a lot of people in the past few weeks! I have taken notice of the vast amount of wise advice the elders have shared with me, and have been impressed with the strength of the values ingrained in their very being.

After many talks on the front porches, a number of memories keep returning to front and center of my mind. I spoke with a woman who has been caregiver of her son, a cancer survivor. This Choctaw lady has a positive outlook on life, a smile and generous attitude that we should all emulate! I appreciate Fay Cox for sharing her story with me! Talking with 82-year-old Wrightman Thomas of Antlers, I learned he not only mows his own lawn, he also takes care of 10 other lawns! That is a tremendous work ethic. One elder in Talihina (Carlos McIntosh) had a sign on his porch that stated "Waiting for Chief Batton." Assistant Chief Austin and I thought that was a great invitation and made our way quickly across town one day to see him. What a great sense of humor! We enjoyed our visit immensely and Carlos even allowed us to take a photo with him (and his sign).

Conversing with others who epitomize the tremendous values that our Choctaw ancestors have taught us - integrity, honor, humor and respect - has been a great experience for me during May and June. Going to the home of a local minister and his wife, I listened to their many concerns and was uplifted by the fact that as they spoke about the adversity they had faced, they were still so positive about life they made others feel awesome about who they were as Choctaw people because of those deep-rooted values.

In Broken Bow, we walked down a street filled with Choctaw homes and found some people who were interested in talking about their health, their education, their houses and their future. Listening to people on their porches, in their living rooms, in the community centers and in the small towns scattered across the Choctaw Nation, I am hearing ideas that can be put into action, and more than that, I am hearing the heart of our Nation! It is humbling to see the needs that exist and it is good to be able to set steps in motion to provide assistance.

"Whenever someone is down, it seems the best thing to do is to look up. We can help others look up!" Visiting towns around Choctaw Nation I have met tremendous individuals and families. Most of us would see some of them as having great needs, but these people were more concerned with helping others. This characterizes the servant heart that Choctaws everywhere are known for.

God bless everyone who has welcomed Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr. and me over the past few weeks as we made our way around Choctaw Nation! I have learned so much and feel richly blessed to be a part of your lives.

Yakoke!

Investing in the future of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma 5/2014

It is humbling to have the opportunity to write to you as your Chief. My family and I believe in the heart and soul of the Choctaw Nation. The people ARE the Nation and focusing on faith, family and culture encompasses everything we need to succeed.

Our faith in God is our foundation. One of my favorite Bible verses is Philippians 4:13 - "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me." We pray for the guidance to make the right decisions and trust that as we work together, we will do what is best for Choctaws.

If faith is the foundation, family is the heart. Providing exceptional health care, jobs, career training and education are the best ways to improve the lives of Choctaws and our families. We want bright futures for our children and grandchildren. We want them to be able to obtain good jobs close to home if that is their wish. If their dreams take them to other places, we want them to have the tools to achieve success wherever they are.

It is important to balance family, work and health - and balance also means keeping those values taught us by our ancestors.

Continuing the culture of the Choctaw people that has been set by our ancestors is one of the most important things that our tribe can accomplish. It is essential to preserve our heritage. Without that we have nothing. I have such respect for the wisdom of tribal elders and the knowledge they impart to all of us. Values they teach us that have been the true building blocks of the tribe include faith, family, integrity, honor and respect. I want to say a heartfelt "yakoke" - thank you for the mentorship of the many individuals who have given me the opportunity to listen to them.

Our elders hold the wisdom of generations and it is up to us to
learn what they have to share and ensure it is passed on.

Chief Pyle has been and is still a mentor for me. His experience and the deep caring he has for his family, including his muchextended Choctaw family and
friends, are great infl uences in my life.

By instilling these values in our children and encouraging each other, the Choctaw Nation can create its own future.


Stickball more than a game 4/2014

The formation of the Choctaw Youth Stickball League is generating a lot of excitement this year. Building on the success of the men's team and the popularity of the stickball summer camps, we thought a small group of kids practicing and competing for a few months would be a good way to teach the tradition. It is surpassing our expectations.

On my way home a few weeks ago, I saw some kids playing in the yard and assumed they were out practicing baseball. As I drove closer I saw they were each holding two stickball sticks and tossing the ball back and forth. It's hard to describe how I felt. Even though I practice with my grandson, I hadn't realized how popular stickball is becoming until I saw that small group of boys and girls.

Broken Bow started working with a youth group last year. In February, three more area youth teams were formed and together comprise the Choctaw Youth Stickball League. More than 250 kids have signed up to play. Yakoke to all the coaches and volunteers who give their time to make it happen. It's wonderful to see the turnout at the games. Whole families, including grandparents and great-grandparents are on the sidelines.

Stickball is leveling the field for all youth, all ages, to play. I've heard parents say their son or daughter isn't athletic but thoroughly enjoys playing stickball because there are so many others just learning the game. There are positions for those who are fast and positions for those who aren't. The coaches work with each one to discover the talent.

We are remembering the old stories. We are remembering our past and culture of who we are as Chahta people. I heard one of the coaches saying that we are playing a game our elders used to play and told the kids, "Remember that you are representing yourself, your family, your community and the Choctaw Nation so make sure to play hard, tough and have the heart of a warrior but play fair and respectful the way the game should be played."

The game is more about the heart and soul of our people rather than just a game and I am so glad that our youth are developing these beliefs at such a young age. That type of leadership will sustain our Nation for many years to come.

Redefining 'determination' 3/2014

The Choctaw Nation has an amazing group of elders who provide positive examples to us all. Carole Ayers is one such Choctaw lady who has redefined "determination."

Last year, Carole traveled with her District 9 group to Spiro and joined the 2013 Trail of Tears Walk at Skullyville Cemetery. At that time in May, 10 months ago, Carole needed a walker to support herself. She used the walker along the roads from the cemetery to the Spiro center, moving slowly, making frequent stops to rest on its seat. She was the last to finish, hours behind everyone else, and she says it will be different this year.

Carole believes determination is key to anything a person wants and she has been participating in the CrossFit strength and conditioning program at the Choctaw Nation Wellness Center in Durant. Getting out of a chair used to take tremendous effort for Carole. She can now bend her knees and stand up without hesitation. She has lost weight, her pain has diminished and she no longer needs a walker. Carole's goal is to finish the Walk this year with everyone else. Her willpower is an inspiration.

Many of the Choctaw Community Centers have routine exercise programs or provide transportation for its senior citizens to nearby wellness centers. A familiar face at the McAlester Community Center is Joanna Hogan. Joanna is 93 years "young" and rides a stationary bike 5 miles as part of her routine. Joanna says her longevity and wellbeing are because of exercising and staying fit.

One gentleman who is primarily confined to a wheelchair shows his strength of mind by standing during a portion of his center's regular exercise classes.

There are also several active walking groups and when the weather isn't nice enough to get outdoors, they do aerobics, chair exercises or use exercise equipment to stay in shape. The walking groups compete with each other several times a year, each team wearing its center's colors and enjoying the competition with their friends.

Many health factors are beyond our control. Yakoke to our elders who take charge of their life and commit to a lifestyle that not only improves their health and happiness, it enlightens everyone around them to the definitions of strength and self-sufficiency.

 

Innovative programs foster success for members 2/2014

The Choctaw Nation's proven success and experience in finding positive solutions is evident in such initiatives as our nationally award-winning Career Development program, which has celebrated nearly 5,000 completers in the past 10 years. The innovative program assists tribal members in obtaining job certifications and the skills necessary to attain employment.

One of the brightest new programs at the Nation, Career Development began in 2007 and has already successfully graduated 3,130 participants. This program is led by a highly experienced, enthusiastic team of professionals who are respected for their vision and dedication to empowering individuals. Partnerships with Eastern Oklahoma State College, Kiamichi Technology Center, school districts, and local community leaders have helped the program to thrive.

In November of 2011, this excellence won Career Development the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Assurance Award. Choctaw Career Development is the first and only program in the United States to be fully accredited as a High Performance Career Development program issued by the Center for Credentialing and Education Inc. (CCE), and the Workforce Development Professionals Network (WDNP). Obtaining this accreditation is evidence that this program is meeting and exceeding the global industry standards of excellence.

Career Development connects job seekers with employers and training facilities through local job fairs such as the "Winds of Change," the seventh annual career expo set for the 26th of this month at the Expo Center in McAlester. In addition to the annual career expo, fall career fairs are hosted each year in Poteau, Idabel and Hugo. Workshops are held to prepare individuals to attend the career fairs and meet employers.

I enjoy visiting the www.choctawcareers.com site and reading the success stories as they are posted. Many of Career Development's clients have received training and are now making more than they had thought was possible. Assisting tribal members in obtaining the tools they need to move up the career ladder is vital to breaking the cycle of poverty and becoming economically self-sufficient.

Employee commitment a valuable resource 1/2014

As the New Year begins, I think of how blessed we are as a Nation. The tribe continues to prosper and we give back in many ways. It's most evident to others during the holiday months of November and December, yet the Choctaw Nation is a giving tribe all year long. The tribe and countless individuals step up to the plate to make people's lives a little better.

Each year an employee is recognized for going "Above and Beyond the Call of Duty." I am amazed when I hear the stories of all who are nominated by their peers. This year's ABCD recipient, Gena Fowler, is a career counselor for the Career Development department. She has selflessly contributed to the success of many of her clients and is a devoted friend to co-workers. Acts that may seem small to Gena have made a world of difference to others.

Nothing says it better than this quote from the person who nominated Gena "In the Choctaw Nation, we fight to ensure our members can hold on to their heritage while building successful sustaining careers. This is difficult for many members because they lack the support of family and friends. Gena has stepped up to become that support system."

Congratulations, Gena, and thank you for your dedication.

The Choctaw Nation is fortunate to have such committed employees and one of our primary goals is to expand its businesses to ensure we can continue to provide jobs and opportunities for tribal members. Economic growth produces a reverberating impact throughout our communities and can add hope and security. Our families will have a greater likelihood of staying intact.

The backbone of the Choctaw Nation is the family unit and we need to never forget our culture. We need to balance our growth in the ever-changing world while remaining true to who we are as tribal members. We cannot forget those who have paved the way for us. I like the wisdom of the old saying, "You must look at the past before you can look to the future." The New Year holds promise. My family and I wish you a very happy and healthy 2014

Choctaws have proud history of service 12/2013

We are truly blessed to be able to celebrate our veterans. As I looked out over the audience during our Veterans Day ceremony at Tvshka Homma, I saw men and women of all ages who have fought for our freedom. There were close to 900 Choctaw veterans attending the event with members representing every branch of service. It's always a stirring moment for me when I see the veterans proudly stand to the music of their respective anthem.

The Choctaw Nation has a glorious military past. On Nov. 9, I had the privilege to watch as Tony Burris was inducted posthumously into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame. Army SFC Burris is the only Choctaw to be awarded the Medal of Honor. He gave the ultimate sacrifice in 1951 on Heartbreak Ridge in Korea. Records say Burris' company encountered intense fire, but Burris charged ahead throwing hand grenades and ultimately killing 17 of the enemy before he was mortally wounded.

Another historic event took place on Nov. 20 in Washington, D.C. - the long-awaited presentation of Congressional Gold Medals to World War I and II Code Talkers of the Choctaw Nation and 32 other tribal nations. Choctaw men were the first to speak in their language as a code and the group led the way for others to repeat the strategy in World War II.

As we honor our veterans, it is clear that they are the reason why we are able to hold our celebrations. We have freedom to worship. We have the freedom to gather with our families on holidays. And, we have the freedom to help others.

Choctaw Nation's services are available yearround but as we near the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, we remember that it is a season of giving and there are many who need our help. Outreach staff holds drives every fall and gathers shoes and coats to give to kids throughout the Nation. Food vouchers have been provided to 3,200 families to use for holiday meal items and a special Santa gift program is ensuring over 2,000 children have presents this year. Choctaw Nation employees work tirelessly.

The generosity of people warms my heart as I see the staff hold toy drives on Tuesdays and the way everyone hurries to put their names on Angel gift lists for Choctaw youth and senior citizens who often have no one else to buy them anything.

As I walked through the store shopping for my "Elder Angel," I wondered if he was a veteran. The list was so simple, and humbling.

Yakoke, veterans, for your defense of our freedoms. YOU have given us so much.

New level added to division structure 11/2013

The solid foundation of the Choctaw Nation has allowed us to continue to grow and prosper. As part of this growth, a slight structure change is taking place.

A level of senior executive officers (SEO) has been created and operations streamlined into five divisions to strengthen services through the 150-plus programs and businesses.

The divisions are: Health Services - Teresa Jackson, SEO; Tribal Relations - Judy Allen, SEO; Member Services - Stacy Shepherd, SEO; Administration - Susan Stockton, SEO; and a commercial division which continues to be operated under the leadership of the Choctaw Nation Business Committee.

Chief Pyle appointed a committee to research and provide recommendations for each division. The four who have accepted the position of senior executive officers bring a wealth of experience and understanding to their new roles.

Similar departments are being grouped together and the changes will mostly affect the management structure of the tribe.

This senior level is aligned with the vision of the Choctaw Nation - "to achieve healthy, successful, productive and self-sufficient lifestyles for a proud nation of Choctaws." They have the heart of true servant leaders.

One of the goals is to have quicker delivery of services to our tribal members. As the transition continues, communication will be enhanced between departments. More efficient processes will be put in place. And as a result, Chief Pyle and I will have more time to spend on what matters most - you, our tribal members.

I want to congratulate Teresa, Judy, Stacy and Susan as well as thank them for their dedication to the Choctaw Nation. The heart of the nation is beating stronger than ever!  

 Merging culture with technology 10/2013

Choctaw history and new technology each fascinate me. Using both together, such as teaching our language in the new LEED-certified School of Choctaw Language so students can learn our history and words over the Internet is really inspiring.

 Walking through the school on a recent tour, we were able to join the teacher in one classroom and visit with students 100 miles away thanks to high-tech cameras, computers and live-stream video conferencing! The technology of the classes being offered to more than 30 public schools, five colleges and also globally over the Internet is an amazing thing.

I can remember simply being proud to begin getting wi-fi in our administrative building and hospital and community centers. Now we have our own Choctaw Nation app available on Android, iOS and Windows 8 devices!

Anyone can download this app to keep up with the latest in Choctaw news and learn about the history of our people! If you want it, it is available by the following:

Android:http://bit.ly/16MncG0

Windows:http://bit.ly/1aRpS5S

 iOS:http://bit.ly/1aRq59g

Our ancestors would be surprised at the multiple ways people use technology to research history and learn about our own family stories.

A personal testimony is when the cultural preservation staff brought ground penetrating radar equipment to help locate the graves of some of my cousins in an old cemetery behind my mom's home. This was a whole new dimension to family research that really got me excited about connecting to my ancestry.

These are just a few examples of the way I have seen that technology has changed the way we communicate our culture and heritage - and these are fairly recent changes. I look forward to seeing what our future holds so we can experience and learn from the new ways, (while teaching the old ways!)

I am thankful for my ancestors! And I appreciate those who invent the tools that allow us to share Choctaw history with the world!

Pride in heritage demonstrated by crowds at cultural events 9/2013

This year's Labor Day Festival was made extra-special with the unveiling of a bust of historian Charley Jones. It is an annual event that a statue is added in a place of honor at the Capitol, and I was thrilled to see former Councilman Jones receive this mark of distinction. Charley Jones shared a tremendous amount of history with Choctaw Nation, and I feel he would have been pleased with the abundant opportunities to be involved in cultural activities during this year's festival.

Tribal heritage was evident everywhere. The new Miss Choctaw Nation (Callie Curnutt's) talent at the Princess Pageant was performing storytelling. Even the stage decorations at the pageant, floor to ceiling panels featuring photos of Wheelock, showed tribal history, added a great effect to the occasion. The other young ladies, with song, dress and sign language, all made it a wonderful cultural event.

After running in the 5K Saturday morning, I made a visit over to the traditional village where people were taste-testing banaha and tanchi labona after the Choctaw dancing. Seeing children mush fingers through clay at the pottery teaching booth reminded me of making my first bowl a few years ago alongside my son. Although it may not be the prettiest piece of Choctaw pottery, that bowl is proudly displayed in my office! This year, the new challenge I took on was to begin making a set of stickball sticks. Taking raw wood and an axe, carefully splitting, shaving and bending, an hour later I began to see the shape form. I was really excited! It made me have an even higher respect (if that is possible) for the much-admired late Sidney White, who is considered one of the greatest stickball stick makers of all-time.

Staying in the stickball mode, it was an honor to join the exhibition play on Sunday afternoon, along with Councilmen Williston and Dillard. Later, watching the awesome stickball team at the third annual tournament rise victorious after a hot battle with the Mississippi team was a great moment for me. Not just because Tvshka Homma were the new champions, but because there were close to 100 team members on the field, and hundreds more Choctaws in the stands, cheering them on. The excited whoops from the new champs and their fans embodies the motto of "growing with pride hope and success."

To me, this growth from just a few people who played stickball as an exhibition a few years ago to a hundred players winning a tournament this year epitomizes the revitalization of interest in the Choctaw culture.

Historian Charley Jones would have been proud of the many Choctaws participating in our great heritage. It was a great year for his statue to be unveiled so he could be a part of this.

Guiding steps help youth on their path to adulthood 8/2013

​The Choctaw Nation develops and promotes programs to give youth the best advantages possible. Two of these programs - Solemates and Support for Pregnant and Parenting Teens (SPPT) - are at the forefront.

Youth Outreach's Solemates initiated its fourth drive on July 26 with a goal of 287 pairs of shoes to buy. Volunteers were available at all of the Nation's travel plazas for 12 hours on the 26th. They will continue to hold fundraisers at different locations and accept donations through this month to make sure children in the Choctaw Nation Youth Outreach program can hold their heads high as they walk to class.

For the last three years, there have been enough donations to extend the generosity to kids in other Choctaw Nation programs and communities. It's a cause that brings us all together. The boys and girls have a new pair of shoes for the school year and they know there are people who cared enough to give.

Outreach staff also helped Soles4Souls provide enough shoes to meet the needs of more than 400 people during the non-profit organization's visit to Broken Bow July 22. The afternoon kicked off Sole4Souls' Barefoot Week as they traveled to different sites.

Youth Outreach will dive straight into a coat drive for the kids after Solemates is concluded. There will be dropoff sites at the hospital in Talihina and at the headquarters building in Durant. They will also be accepting donations during the always-fun OU/Texas tailgate party sponsored by the Nation every year at the west travel plaza in Durant as fans travel south.

Another Outreach program, SPPT, undeniably gives a better start for babies whose parents are still kids themselves. SPPT has just received the news of $3.9 million in funding from the Department of Health and Human Services. The staff will begin developing a six-month planning and training period so they can continue to educate young parents.

Teen caregivers are taken step-by-step through what to expect during pregnancy and the months following delivery. Parents as Teachers Curriculum is provided through home visitations twice a month.

This curriculum is designed to develop strong relationships through parent and child interaction as just one of the components of the project. Parents learn the importance of child development and reaching childhood milestones which promote school readiness. SPPT is excited about bringing a fatherhood coordinator to work specifically with fathers to increase collaborative efforts and communication between both parents. SPPT is building a support network of young families and fulfilling the Nation's vision of a better future.

The SPPT program also teaches aspects of the Choctaw heritage through home visitation services as well as monthly group interaction. This will assist our teen population to embrace enriched traditions as they are developing their own parenting style.

  Expansion of CN seen by doubling size of pediatric unit 7/2013

While in Talihina recently, I stopped by the Choctaw Nation hospital to tour the pediatric care unit that has just reopened after extensive renovations. It was outstanding to see the doctors and other health professionals in the spacious new exam rooms and offices, and even better to see the young patients and parents enjoying the beautiful waiting areas.

When told there was "interactive furni ture" in the pediatric clinic, I wasn't sure what that meant, but soon found that the tables reacted to the touch of a hand by lighting up and changing colors. Just as fun, some of the chairs also reacted to body heat by leaving temporary color imprints from a human touch.

The expansion doubled the size of the clinic, giving it 12 exam rooms, a treatment room and a procedure room. There is a case manager office that will work specifically with pediatric needs.

Parents will be relieved to know that there are two separate waiting areas (well child area and sick child area), so that those seeing the doctor for check-ups and immunizations  are not exposed to the children who are ill.

The physical therapy department at the hospital has also expanded to include a separate room for pediatric patients. This means the therapist has more time with young patients and the children are able to better concentrate on their therapy.

The Choctaw Nation Health Services is familiar territory for me. Serving as the hospital administrator and executive of health care were among the jobs I performed before being appointed Assistant Chief. Improving health care for tribal members is one of the most important goals our leadership has.

My career with the Choctaw Nation has taken me down several paths, and I am thankful for every step. One of the first assignments I had in the tribe was in the purchasing department, so I was able to learn about a lot of different programs and meet many employees through the procurement and delivery process. Later jobs, working as deputy director of housing and then as executive of health services, I was allowed to serve tribal members and their families.

Seeing the growth of the Choctaw Nation and the progress of businesses, services and the interest tribal members have in our tribe, our history and our future make me realize how blessed we all are.

Yakoke.

 Honor our heritage by voting in this summer's election 6/2013

Part of the tremendous heritage of being Choctaw is being able to elect our Council and Chief. Elections for these leaders are every four years with the Council seats being staggered on two-year cycles, with six of them filing for re-election this year. Four of those six were unopposed, with two incumbents drawing opponents, which means there will be ballots issued for Districts 4 and 9 this year. As a fellow Choctaw, I urge each tribal member age 18 and over who is registered in one of these two districts to exercise their right to vote in this year's election!

I have always felt that as an American, it is more than my privilege to be allowed to vote - it is truly a duty. I feel the same way as a Choctaw. Each tribal member should be honored that their voice can be heard through their vote regarding the choice of leadership for this great Indian Nation! Casting a ballot is one of the most exciting rights I have as a Choctaw Tribal Member!

Please join me in making this summer's election a huge turnout of voters on July 13.

Yakoke.

 
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