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You're Not Alone  - September2020

I hope you are all doing well and staying healthy. It is hard to believe that we are already nine months into 2020. This year has been challenging for many, as COVID-19 has affected all of us in some way. Necessary public health precautions such as social distancing and self-isolation can intensify feelings of loneliness. Fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming for many people. Coping with grief, stress and anxiety is essential to our overall well-being and mental health.

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death worldwide. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. was in a suicide crisis. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, more than 48,000 people died by suicide in 2018. In the same year, more than 1.4 million people in America attempted suicide. The current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), receives millions of cars per year. Recent reports have started to show an increase in calls as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Estimates show a 300% increase in call volume during mid-2020.

Taking care of our mental health is essential. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment. It's not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are treatable, and most people with an anxiety disorder can be helped with professional care.

If you are noticing changes to your mental health, or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please seek help. You are not alone, and your life is essential. Asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of, and talking about our mental health is so important. Talk to your loved ones, ask a medical professional or call a hotline. Take the steps necessary to be the healthiest you. I encourage all of you to check out the story on page 11 of this month's issue of the Biskinik. It goes deeper into this subject, and what resources are available to you.

Remember, if you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You are not alone, and help is available

Annual Labor Day Festival Canceled - August 2020 

I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy during these uncertain times. My heart goes out to everyone who is sick and those that have lost loved ones from COVID-19.

This virus is still a serious situation, and we must continue to take the necessary precautions to slow the spread. Numbers have continued to surge across the country and right here in Oklahoma. We at the Choctaw Nation have continued to monitor the situation closely, as the health and safety of our tribal members, associates and visitors are still important to us. During this time, we have had to make difficult but necessary decisions to protect public health and safety.

We recently decided to cancel our annual Labor Day Festival. This would have been the 73rd annual festival. Our tribe is deeply connected to this festival, as it has always been a time for us to gather and celebrate our faith, family and culture. Our festival has changed drastically over the years. What started as a small gathering of Chahta families grew into a massive celebration with thousands of visitors and big-name entertainment. We all look forward to attending the festival every year and connecting. However, this year safety takes precedence over fun.

The decision to cancel wasn't made lightly. We felt that protecting each other from this virus was more important than gathering in person. No matter where we are or how we celebrate our heritage, the Chahta Spirit is within us. Chief will still give his State of the Nation address virtually this year. Even in times like this, we have so much to celebrate. We are a nation of strong and resilient individuals. I encourage you to remember that our ancestors passed their strength down to us. We will get through this together.

Chahta Culture Lives on for Future Generations - July 2020

Over the past few months, we've discussed the importance of faith and family during these uncertain times. This month, I would like to focus on our Choctaw culture and some of our resources that preserve our heritage.

Culture is an essential part of the Choctaw way of life, and we want to keep our traditions alive for our generations to come. The Choctaw Nation takes great pride in preserving and celebrating our many unique traditions for future generations. We want to continue passing these traditions on to our youth and sharing the Chahta spirit.

We have year-round language classes that are taught online through our Choctaw School of Language. Our teachers, many of whom are first-language speakers, take pride in keeping our language alive. It is a wonderful experience to see our language taught in classrooms across Oklahoma and to students from so many different backgrounds. It is up to all of us to pass our language on to future generations, and our language department is doing a great job of keeping our language alive.

As we get closer to the opening of our Choctaw Nation Cultural Center in Durant this fall, I cannot wait for our story to be shared through its state-of-the-art exhibits. Our Cultural Services department has worked so hard to develop these exhibits. This beautiful facility will help us preserve our heritage and share our history with the world.

While we still practice social distancing, the Hina Hanta Project website is a great way to learn about Choctaw culture. Visit hinahanta.choctawnation.com to view curated Choctaw artifacts and art pieces. This is a great resource to use while we wait for the Cultural Center to open and for COVID-19 to slow down.

Another way to get in touch with your Chahta roots is to try out a traditional meal. Recipes for traditional foods like banaha, tanchi labona and wild onions have been passed down through Choctaw families for generations. There are several traditional Choctaw recipes available on our website, choctawnation.com/history-culture/heritage-traditions/food.

Our annual Labor Day festival is always a great opportunity for us to celebrate our culture. Due to COVID-19, we will have to celebrate a little differently. This year's festival will be held Sept. 4 through Sept. 6 at Tvshka Homma.

We will be approaching this year's Labor Day Festival with a commitment to celebrating our tribal culture while having an awareness of public health. The event schedule is being narrowed to focus on cultural events and activities. All concerts and festival rides have been canceled. We will also take a virtual approach to the State of the Nation Address. Chief Batton's annual address will be available Sept. 7 across Choctaw Nation's digital channels, including, Facebook, YouTube and website. Even though we are celebrating in a different way, we are still getting to celebrate our culture together. Always celebrate our Chahta people and our rich culture.

Family More Important Than Ever - June 2020

Living out the Chahta spirit of faith, family and culture. That is the vision of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. You've heard us say it many times. We are strong in our faith and proud of our culture. But there is a reason family is in the middle of our vision. It is the glue that keeps everything together. Family is the foundation of everything we do as a nation. Without family, there would be no one to pass down our faith or culture. Even when we migrate from one place to another, we carry on our family traditions with us.

In times like this, family is essential. It is the central axis of all we do. Our families keep us grounded and pick us up when we're down. Social distancing can make feelings of isolation even stronger. Leaning on our families for help and keeping each other company is so important for our mental health. Due to the pandemic, many families have had extra time to spend with each other. Hopefully, you've gotten to slow down and make memories to cherish forever. It was so awesome to get to walk with my family in honor of our ancestors who walked the Trail of Tears. COVID-19 might have prevented us from gathering in a large group to walk in our annual Trail of Tears Walk, but it didn't stop families and individuals from honoring their ancestors. It was so great to see the pictures many of you sent to us on social media for the Virtual Trail of Tears Walk. No matter what is happening around us, we are still Chahta strong.

Family is often defined as all of the descendants of a common ancestor. We, as members of the Choctaw Nation, are connected by the Chahta blood running through our veins.

Our ancestors were strong and determined when they were forced to leave their homelands and were exposed to disease and suffering. However, they never lost sight of the future. They kept their faith and took care of their families. They knew that one day things would be better and that there was hope in the future. Thanks to their perseverance and determination, we are who we are today.

I know during this pandemic it has been difficult to stay positive but I hope you can take comfort in knowing that our ancestors were strong, and have passed on that same strength so we can overcome adversity in times like this. Lean on your family, slow down, enjoy this time together and eventually, things will go back to normal and we will go back to our busy lives.

Keeping Faith in Uncertain Times - May 2020

COVID-19 has changed nearly every aspect of our daily lives almost overnight. In order to protect ourselves, our families and others, we began to practice social distancing guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the Choctaw Nation, we have had to make many difficult decisions to help keep our people safe. The health and safety of our tribal members, associates and patrons are of the utmost importance to us. With that in mind, we decided to temporarily close our casinos for the first time in 32 years. We also made the decision to close the doors of our wellness and community centers as well as our tribal headquarters and other facilities. In addition, we have encouraged work from home policies for our employees where applicable. We rescheduled concerts and made the decision to cancel and postpone many of our annual tribal events. One of those events was our annual Easter Celebration in Tvshka Homma.

Everyone had to celebrate Easter a little differently this year, but that didn't stop us from participating in the holiday. It was so great to see churches live stream services and hold drive-in worship. Many families were able to spend time with each other virtually via video chat. Some communities were able to celebrate Easter in creative ways while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Durant held a drive-by Easter egg hunt downtown. Local fire departments held Easter egg events where they helped the Easter Bunny bring eggs right to people's front yards. Communities like Wilburton held social distancing Easter egg hunts, where individuals place pictures of Easter eggs on their front porches for children to spot on walks. Even though a global pandemic was taking place, it didn't stop our communities from celebrating. The true meaning of Easter isn't gathering in groups, it is honoring the resurrection of Christ and his gift of sacrifice.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16

The story of Easter is one of sacrifice, rebirth, restoration, and a message we can all find comfort in at this time. When all is said and done, there is hope in the wake of the storm. Life always finds a way in the end. Keeping faith during times of uncertainty is helpful. At the moment, we don't know what the future holds. People are sick and dying. Many have lost their jobs or are uncertain about their future. My heart goes out to everyone affected personally by the pandemic. We must have faith, stay strong and take care of each other. We can and will get through this. I would encourage everyone to hold on to God's promises that are true every day, not just the one day on the calendar when we celebrate Easter

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Romans 8:18.

Camp Deadlines Fast Approaching - April 2020

It is hard to believe, but summertime is right around the corner. For schools in Oklahoma, summer break will begin sometime in May. Now is the time to start making those summer plans as a family. If you are looking into summer camps, I would suggest checking out our Choctaw Nation Youth Events and Activities summer camps.

Each year, thousands of Choctaw youth take part in YEA summer camps. These camps are a fun and productive way for our young tribal members to spend their summer break. The program offers a wide variety of athletic, cultural and educational day camps. Many of these day camps are offered in two sessions. South camps are for districts 1, 2, 7, 8, 9 and 10, while north camps are for districts 3, 4, 5, 6, 11 and 12. This helps cut down on group sizes and helps foster a sense of community. Each camp offers a different experience. No matter what your child is into, there is most likely a camp for that.

All camps take place in Tvshka Homma, unless otherwise posted. Golf camp will be hosted at the Arrowhead Golf Course in Canadian, Okla. and basketball camps will be held at various locations throughout the 10½ counties. Transportation is available for all camps, except for basketball. Participants must be a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma or a child of a current Choctaw Nation employee. They must also be between the ages of 8 and 18 on the first day of camp. Children must be a minimum age of 10 to participate in either wildlife or golf camp.

This year's lineup includes golf north and south, stickball north and south, softball north and south, baseball north and south, cultural north and south, wildlife conservation north and south, cheer, football, basketball McAlester High School, basketball Talihina High School, basketball Carl Albert State College, basketball Wilburton High School, basketball Broken Bow High School and basketball Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

For 23 years, our tribe has offered these camps as a free service to our youth. Our Youth Events and Activities team works hard every year to make these camps a possibility. I am so proud of the work they continue to do. Without our employees offering their hard work and time, these summer camps would not be possible. The goal of the Youth Events and Activities team is to continue to improve upon the success of the program each year.

It is so important for our youth to have opportunities like this. Instead of sitting at home, they get to go outdoors, be active and socialize. Experiences like these are essential in developing positive and productive lives. Camps are not only an opportunity to learn, but they are also a safe environment to meet new friends, build life skills and just have fun.

I hope to see more of our young people take part in our summer camps this year. Members must visit our Chahta Achvffa member portal to apply. The deadline to enroll for summer camps is April 15. To find out more about these summer camps, please visit http://www.choctawnation.com/youth-events-and-activities or contact Youth Events and Activities at 800-522-6170 or youthevents@choctawnation.com.

Livestock Shows Teach Important Life Skills - March 2020

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma held its 28th annual livestock shows in Durant and Wilburton on Feb. 1 and 2. Hundreds of tribal members in grades third through twelfth showed up to the two-day event to showcase their pigs, goats, sheep, heifers and steers. Each year, this event continues to grow, and it is so great to see our young people take an interest in showing livestock. Chief, Tribal Council, and I all had the opportunity to speak to so many bright young people who are the future of our agriculture industry.

Showing livestock and associated programs like 4-H and FFA help build life skills and develop character traits that will help young people in the future. I'm not sure how familiar all of you are with livestock shows, but taking care of show animals is a lot of work. These young men and women learn how to select, feed, fit, groom and properly show their animals. They learn how to vaccinate, keep records, add costs and weigh them against future profits. These students take on daily responsibilities that come with showing animals. I don't know if you've seen someone clip, groom and blow dry a cow, but it takes a lot of patience.

Our agricultural department has done so much over the past couple of years to take this event to the next level. This year, they streamlined the registration process by going fully digital - participants registered by going to the Choctaw Nation's website. Everything was located in one place, making the entry process more user-friendly.

If you are interested in participating in our livestock show next year, there are a few requirements. Participants must be a member of 4-H or FFA; must be a student between third and twelfth grade; and must be no older 19 on the day of the show. There are no boundary guidelines for the livestock show, and participants do not have to live or go to school in the 10½ counties.

We would love to see even more student participation in our livestock show next year. If you have any questions about this event or our agriculture department, please visit choctawnation.com or call 580-924-8280. I hope to see you at next year's show.

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Hunting and Fishing Compact Extended - February 2020

On Dec. 30, 2019, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Department of Wildlife Conservation signed an extension to the Hunting and Fishing Compact through Dec. 31, 2020.

I'm so glad we were able to come to an agreement on this important compact that benefits both our tribal members and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Back in August, we began discussions for the renewal of this compact with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife. Our proposal guaranteed sales and revenue for the vital department. Most don't know that the Department of Wildlife Conservation is funded by the sales of hunting and fishing licenses and matching federal funds. This department and its roughly 350 employees are responsible for managing Oklahoma's fish and wildlife resources and habitats. We were able to partner with Oklahoma Department of Wildlife for another year, and that contributes to both parties' interest in protecting our state's natural resources while encouraging more people to enjoy the great outdoors. I look forward to keeping this partnership for years to come.

The extension agreement means that we will continue to offer this service as usual in 2020. I've noticed a few comments voicing concern and confusion on social media. I want to give you all a little bit of information to help ease these concerns and explain the process of applying for a Choctaw Hunting and Fishing License.

These licenses do auto-renew meaning you do not have to complete a new application unless your address has changed. The Department of Wildlife Conservation began processing auto-renewals and new tribal member applications Jan. 2, 2020. For those who are interested in receiving a 2020 hunting and fishing license, but did not have one in 2019, I encourage you to apply. Tribal members can do so by going online to the Chahta Achvffa member portal to fill out the application. Applicants may also request an application from the Choctaw Nation Tribal State Licenses Department at 800-522-6170. Members under the age of 16 must have a parent or guardian apply for them. If you already have a lifetime license through the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife, I encourage you to apply for a tribal license. This license affords you a land access permit to the Three Rivers and Honobia Creek wildlife areas that does not come with the lifetime license.

Once the application is received, the Choctaw Nation will confirm the membership and information needed to qualify for the licenses under the compact. The Choctaw Nation will then send approved applications to the State. The State will issue the licenses.

The 2020 hunting and fishing license will be available on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife website, license.gooutdoorsoklahoma.com, to be printed or downloaded as needed. For added convenience, there is now an app, Go Outdoors Oklahoma, for your Android or Apple device.

Hunting and fishing will be open to compact hunters in all 77 counties in Oklahoma. That does not include tribal land. Tribal members age 16 and over will receive the following privileges: an annual hunting and fishing combination license; a trapping license; a bobcat, raccoon, river otter, gray and red fox license, i.e., furbearer license; state waterfowl stamp; up to four turkey licenses; up to six deer licenses, exclusive of bonus licenses; waived access fee to Three Rivers and Honobia Creek wildlife management areas; and a land access permit. Tribal members under the age of 15 will receive a hunting and fishing combination license, one deer license and one turkey license

The Spirit of Giving Continues All Year - January 2020

Happy New Year! I hope that you and your family had a wonderful Christmas. My family was blessed to spend a great Christmas holiday together. I am always thankful for the true meaning behind Christmas and always blessed to be able to spend time with those I love.

It always touches my heart during the Christmas season to see our tribal members and associates spread goodwill and provide opportunities for others who are in need. The Choctaw people have always helped others. It is part of our nature. Most do not want a thank you or to even be recognized for their efforts, but I want to take time to express our sincere gratitude for all the hard work, generosity and love that is put into the extra projects our members and associates take on during the holidays. When Chahtas come together, we make great things happen.

Our Recycling Center had a toy drive and donation boxes were placed in all Choctaw Nation community centers. Hundreds of toys were collected and given to children in our communities.

Community dinners and children's parties were held during the month of December in all counties of the Choctaw Nation. Our Tribal Council members and associates worked very hard to ensure that the children had wonderful parties, complete with gifts for all.

Our associates donated gifts and money for 93 Christmas gifts for our Jones Academy students. This is a tradition that the associates have had for several years.

The wellness centers throughout the 10.5 counties had coat/blanket, food and toy drives. Each center chose various tribal programs to share their collected items with that service Choctaws in need.

Our Head Start and childcare centers collected canned food and coats throughout the Choctaw Nation. A total of 70 coats and 3,269 canned food items were collected and donated. Coats even came in from California and Oklahoma City after viewers saw the post on our Facebook page and wanted to help.

The Public Safety Department conducted its annual "Santa Beard Fundraiser". They raised over $3,500 to help buy gifts for over 70 Chahta and Jones Academy children.

The Youth Outreach Program presented youth, ages 16 and under, with around 1,700 Christmas presents. Our Elder Advocacy Program provided 244 gifts to our elders in need in the 10 1/2 counties. Our Community Based Social Work Program gave out 3,328 holiday food vouchers for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our Outreach Services also distributed gifts to 250 Little Chahta.

One of my favorite things is when I see the Chahta Spirit being lived out by our younger members. Miranda Raney, a tribal member from Red Oak, found a way to display the Chahta Spirit on campus at her school, Oklahoma State University. She had an idea about making blankets for the needy, calling her project "All Tied Together". She advertised for volunteers on social media and talked to different classes of students at OSU about her idea. She had a group of around 50 volunteers who came together and made over 180 blankets to donate to those in need. Miranda's example is a great reminder that we can all make a difference and that no idea to help is ever too small.

It's hard to believe that 2020 is here, a new year and the beginning of a new decade. This year, I challenge us all to keep the spirit of Christmas alive and to remember to help others all year long. We are blessed. Let us always remember to be a blessing to others as well. From my family to yours, I wish you a blessed, happy and prosperous new year.

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Nation Celebrates Veterans Day  - December 2019

We celebrated Veterans Day on Nov. 11, during our annual Choctaw Nation Veterans Day Ceremony at Tvshka Homma. Cold temperatures and gloomy weather didn't stop nearly 1,000 visitors from attending the event. I loved getting to visit with and personally thank so many Choctaw veterans for their service. I also loved getting to hear the message of our guest speaker, Brigadier General Jon Harrison of the Oklahoma National Guard. His reading of the Andrea C. Brett poem, "I am a Veteran", was a great reminder that veterans are everywhere. They are our grocers, schoolteachers, bus drivers and leaders and they all have stories that need to be heard.

This year marked the 100th Veterans Day celebrated in America. Originally known as Armistice Day, Veterans Day began in 1919, which was the first anniversary of the end of World War I. In 1926, Congress passed a resolution for the annual observance, and in 1938, it became a national holiday. Veterans Day is observed as a day to pay tribute to U.S. Veterans, past and present. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were roughly 18 million living U.S. Veterans in 2018. The majority of those were 65 years of age or older, and served in the Vietnam or Gulf War. We are running out of time to thank many of our older veterans. The last living World War I Veteran, 110-year-old Frank Buckles, passed away in 2011. Only 389,292 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. If you know a World War II Veteran, I encourage you to visit with them and listen to their stories while you still have the chance. It is up to us to keep their legacy and history alive.

On behalf of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, I would like to thank all the servicemen and women, who served their country with dignity. No matter what branch, division or capacity you served, your service is appreciated, and we understand the sacrifices you made for our country. As the son of a veteran and as a veteran myself, I know what it is like to miss holidays and other life milestones while stationed in faraway lands. If you are currently serving, know that we appreciate your sacrifice. Our freedom isn't guaranteed, and it is protected by our Armed Services. Yakoke from all of us here at the Choctaw Nation.

If you are a Choctaw Veteran and are looking for help with services, please contact our Veterans Advocacy Program. This program assists with Veterans Affairs claims, applications and referrals. These advocates are accredited through the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, giving them quick access to much-needed information from the VA. More information on this program can be found at choctawnation.com or by calling 800-522-6170 ext. 2160.

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Choctaw Nation Takes Steps to Help Domestic Violence Survivors   - November 2019

October was National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma takes domestic violence awareness and prevention very seriously, and we are taking steps each day to help our tribal members living with domestic violence.

Domestic violence is an issue that affects all demographics in communities everywhere. According to a study conducted by the Center of Disease Control, on average, 24 people are victims of intimate partner violence per minute in the U.S. About 1 in 5 women and 1 in 12 men reportedly experienced sexual violence by an intimate partner, while about 10% of women and 2% of men reported being stalked by an intimate partner.

As disheartening as this information is, statistics in the Native American community are even more alarming.

According to the National Congress of American Indian's Policy Research Center, more than 4 in 5 Native American and Alaskan Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime. Native women are 1.7 times more likely than white women to have experienced violence in the past year. Native women also face murder rates that are 10 times the national average in some areas of the U.S.

These statistics have driven the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma to seek change. We offer numerous programs and services to help our tribal members remove themselves from domestic violence situations.

Project SERV is a new transitional housing program. It services 8 to 12 individuals for 6 to 24 months. To be eligible for this program, recipients must have experienced intimate partner violence and become homeless as a result of victimization, be a member of a federally recognized tribe or have dependents in the household who are and reside in the 10 ½ counties. This service provides assistance with utilities, childcare, safety planning, case management, personal goal setting, financial literacy, legal assistance and gas vouchers.

Our Family Violence Prevention program is designed to address the specific needs of victims who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking by an intimate partner. Services include safety planning, crisis intervention, emergency/ safe shelter locations, advocacy, prevention education, needs-based referrals, case planning, court advocacy, protective order assistance, education and outreach. To be eligible, individuals must be a current or recent survivor of intimate partner abuse and reside within the 10 ½ counties. These services are available to all survivors, not just Native Americans.

Project EMPOWER is also a great program. Three advocates work with survivors across the 10 ½ counties through the transitional housing program. The program provides rental and utility assistance, gas vouchers, home visits, healing circles, court advocacy, safety planning and goal setting. To be eligible for this program, victims of intimate partner violence must be at least 18, hold a CDIB from a federally recognized tribe, have fled or be fleeing domestic abuse or stalking, be willing to participate in weekly home visits and follow-ups, and the household must only include the victim and dependents.

Finally, the Choctaw Nation Victim Assistance provides culturally sensitive, holistic, victim-centered programming with a focus on providing specialized services for underserved child victims. In addition, the program can provide the same services to other crime victims. Program services include case management, accompaniment to medical exams, transportation, counseling, emergency food, clothing and shelter.

I want anyone reading this to know that no matter what situation you are living in now, you are important enough to be treated with kindness, love and respect. If you are in a domestic abuse situation and do not know how to seek help, contact a Family Violence Prevention Social Worker today at 800-522-6170. If you are living outside the 10 ½ counties and need help, you may also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. Deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired individuals may use their TTY line at 800-787-3224. The Native specific hotline, StrongHearts, also offers culturally appropriate support and advocacy from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. This hotline can be reached at 844-762-8483.

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History of the Choctaw Nation Labor Day Festival - October 2019

Another successful Labor Day Festival is in the books. If you didn't make it to the festival, this issue of the Biskinik will show you some of the highlights of the weekend. It was hot, but so much fun to get to fellowship with so many of you. Chief and I got to see many old friends and meet new ones.

It is always great to see so many of our brothers and sisters from Mississippi who drove nine hours for our festival. They did well on the stickball field and seemed to enjoy themselves. I look forward to seeing them again next year.

Labor Day at Tvshka Homma always makes me reflect on what it means to all of us. I thought I would share some interesting points about Labor Day.

After Oklahoma's statehood in 1907, there was a rush of immigration into the new state. The population changed quickly, and for many, it seemed almost overnight. Many at that time believed the tribes, and the tribal governments would fade away. But we all know, that didn't happen.

What did happen was the Council House, which was built in 1884, became vacant. By the late 1920s, there were plans to sell the building. For two years, many expected it to be torn down and reassembled in Durant, as a memorial to the Five Civilized Tribes. The Great Depression forced the cancellation of those plans.

In 1933, a movement began to preserve the building in its existing location and establish it as a memorial.

By the end of 1937, this was becoming a reality. The property had been deeded back to the tribe by the state, and a crew of 40 men repaired the building and restored it to its former glory. The men were Native Americans themselves, serving in the Indian Division of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The restoration work was completed in May and the building was dedicated in a grand celebration organized by Chief William A. Durant on June 3-4, 1938. Several hundred Choctaws and Chickasaws attended, and this marked the first of a continuing series of large, yearly celebrations of Choctaw faith, family and culture.

World War II forced a temporary end to the yearly gatherings, which didn't begin again until 1948. Led by Chief Harry J.W. Belvin, the gathering was moved from June to Labor Day. Belvin hoped it would become an annual custom, like the earlier meetings were. He was successful, and you can see the result. We owe these great Choctaw chiefs a debt of gratitude.

What I find interesting is that the Antlers American, in reporting on these efforts, suggested we were a "vanishing race" and felt the Council House would be, "the last remaining evidence of a race of people who lived and reigned over this part of the country." Not only have we not vanished, but because of our ancestors' answered prayers and determination, we are a strong, thriving tribe that is a beacon to others around the world.

I look forward to seeing you again next year at Labor Day. We are a blessed Nation and have so much to celebrate!

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Agriculture is Important - September 2019

Fall is finally approaching, with the first official day of the season on Sept. 23. I hope that it brings with it cooler temperatures. So far, 2019 has been a roller coaster of wild weather. Deadly tornadoes, widespread flooding and record-breaking heat have especially taken their toll on agricultural producers across the country. Many lost entire crops in the floods, ripping away their source of income. I firmly believe that agricultural producers are the lifeblood of our country. The products they produce are what allows us to feed our people.

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma understands the importance of agricultural production, and the hardships producers face. This is where our Land Management department comes into play. They are here to protect, enhance, and improve natural resources for the Choctaw Nation. They provide technical assistance to agricultural producers, farmers, and ranchers, by hosting outreach meetings. These meetings cover topics like soil health and vegetable production. There are two demonstration sites located in Hugo and Lehigh, where they can demonstrate different agricultural practices so the agriculture producer can see results first-hand of how things work. Land Management also offers a Farmers Market Promotion Program. This United States Department of Agriculture funded grant, assists in the marketing and promotion of locally grown foods. In November, the department will implement a TSCAN unit weather station at Jones Academy. This unit will serve as a resource for Jones students for their science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs. It will be an excellent tool for tribal farmers and ranchers, as well. The Land Management team will be able to compile information regarding rainfall amounts, soil moisture and soil temperatures. Having a better understanding of these elements is key to proper management for producers.

Land Management works closely with local, state and federal USDA programs to better serve our tribal members and conserve, protect and improve our tribal lands.

The program also hosts the annual Choctaw Nation Ag Expo at the Event Center in Durant. This year, 650 people attended the event. This was an impressive increase in attendance from last year's 500 patrons. The 2019 event was bigger and better than ever, with added activities and vendors. The Ag Expo is a unique event, bringing together all different walks of life with one common goal. That goal is to create a better tomorrow for our land, families and food supply. The event allows producers to compare products and techniques while gaining information on available programs. It is an opportunity for our community to learn about where our food comes from. Events like this help promote awareness of natural resources and the agricultural industry. They also allow producers the opportunity to grow their network. They can meet other producers to share ideas and collaborate to solve common issues.

Our Land Management team works diligently to help our agricultural producers succeed. If you would like to learn more about the program, please call (580) 924-8280 ext. 4276 for more information.

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