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Celebrating Independence Day - July 2021

Summer is in full swing in the Choctaw Nation. In-person events are starting up again, and it is so wonderful to see everyone begin to live life again.

Independence Day, better known to most as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday that commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence of the United States on July 4th, 1776. This year, America celebrates 245 years of independence from Great Britain.

Whether you are at the lake, in the stands watching a game, or at home grilling a meal, it's a great time to spend with family and friends. On July 2, we will celebrate Independence Day with our annual Boom in the Valley Fireworks Spectacular in Tvshka Homma. This event features fireworks display beginning at dusk. This is always a special event, and I hope to see you all there.

While celebrating with fireworks, parades and cookouts are all fun ways for people to get together and celebrate, we should never forget the true meaning of the holiday. Independence Day is more than sparklers and red, white and blue. It represents an unmatched determination of effort to earn and keep freedom that continues to this day. Our service members and veterans all took a vow to protect our country and keep us safe. While you celebrate this year, I encourage you to remember the sacrifices made to give us the freedoms we enjoy every day.

We at the Choctaw Nation believe in taking care of our people and helping our communities. We have held several job fairs in the past few months in hopes that individuals in our community get the opportunity to find a career that is right for them.

July 25th is National Hire a Veteran Day. Every day, military personnel leave the service in search of civilian employment. National Hire a Veteran Day reminds employers to consider veterans to fill their open positions.

The Choctaw Nation is committed to our Choctaw veterans. The Veterans Advocacy program advocates for Choctaw veterans to receive benefits and services on par with other veterans, so they don't encounter barriers or impediments in their attempts to access services, and they are treated with respect and dignity by Veterans Affairs service providers. The Veterans Advocacy program will also serve Choctaw veterans by assisting with the eligibility and entitlements of veterans and their dependents and contacting appropriate VA service providers in their area. If you would like to know more about our Veteran's Advocacy program visit www.choctawnation.com or call Roger Hamill at 580-642-7934.

If you are a veteran and looking for employment opportunities with the Choctaw Nation, visit www.careers.choctawnation.com or text 22100 with the keyword 'CHOCTAW' for an instant application.

Have a safe and happy 4th of July everyone, God bless.

Celebrating Fathers - June 2021

On the third Sunday in June, Americans take time to honor fathers and their role in the family and community. Father's Day is a celebration of fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. It is a special time for us to honor the most important men in our lives-the men who raised us, who inspired us, and taught us important life lessons.

Choctaw fathers are traditionally described as strong protectors. Many generations ago, in Choctaw society, they provided for their families by hunting, making tools and crafting weapons to defend their communities.

They were also teachers who passed on valuable lessons to younger generations.

As I reflect on what a father stands for, I can't help but think about my own father, the sacrifices he made and the wisdom he instilled in me. I look forward to getting to spend time with him this Father's Day. It is such a blessing to have the opportunity to continue making memories with my father. Over the years, I have learned so many valuable lessons from him. Without my father, I wouldn't be the man I am today. He instilled in me the Chahta values of working hard and caring for others. I am passing those same lessons on to my children, who will hopefully continue the legacy of our ancestors for generations to come.

One thing this pandemic has taught me is to cherish what time you have with your loved ones. Our time together on this earth is short and precious. Now that we have access to vaccinations, we have the opportunity to celebrate holidays together safely. If you haven't gotten your vaccine yet, I encourage you to do so. Staying healthy and safe in the coming year will allow us more time to spend with our loved ones and continue to make special memories together.

For some, Father's Day isn't a time for celebration. It can be a time of grief if they have experienced the loss of their fathers. If you have lost a father, I hope that you can find comfort and peace with the memories you have.

I encourage the men in our community to strive to be the best fathers and role models our children need and deserve. If you need help on your journey to becoming a better father, the Choctaw Nation is here to help.

We provide several services that can assist our men in bettering themselves for their families. The Nation provides vocational training assistance and other educational programs to help our members complete their education. Our housing department assists tribal members with their efforts to meet their housing needs adequately. The Guiding Adolescent Parents project and the Fatherhood Initiative provide comprehensive and integrated services to improve family health, education, social, and safety outcomes for expecting and parenting teens and their babies by providing medically accurate and comprehensive service including linkages to critical resource, ongoing support for health and education, and positive parenting and relationship skills instruction using an evidenced based nationally validated model.

We offer many other programs and services designed to help our tribal members live successful, healthy and productive lives. Together, we are continuing the Chahta Spirit of our ancestors for our children and the generations to come. For more information and to find other tribal services, visit https://www.choctawnation.com/tribal-services.

Preparing for Severe Weather Season - May 2021

In Oklahoma, we know that severe weather can happen at any time, especially in the spring and summer months. From April through June, lightning, large hail and damaging winds are all dangerous possibilities. It's important to have a plan in place for keeping your loved ones and friends safe. Living in what's known as Tornado Alley, preparedness is key for severe weather when it strikes.

The National Weather Service has a few tips to help prepare for severe weather.

Be weather-ready. Severe weather can change in an instant. Check your local forecast regularly to see if you are at risk for tornadoes in your area. Listen to your local news or a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio to stay informed about thunderstorm and tornado watches and warnings in your area.

Sign up for notifications. Knowing how your community sends weather warnings is essential, especially if outdoor sirens aren't available. Many in rural areas cannot depend on local news, however, thanks to the technology of smartphones, residents can be alerted of severe storms capable of producing damaging wind, hail and tornadoes. Choctaw Nation's Emergency Management sends notifications when severe weather is expected on their Facebook page. These notifications proved to be very helpful during the recent severe winter weather we experienced. Follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ChoctawNationofOklahomaEmergencyManagement.

Create a communication plan. It is always good to have a family communication plan that includes an emergency meeting place and related information that could help protect your family. If you live in a mobile home or a home without a basement, identify a nearby safe building that you can get to quickly, such as a church or a family member's home. However, you will not always have time to find a safer structure. In this case, it is recommended to pick a safe room in your home, such as a basement, storm shelter or an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows.

Make sure all members of your family know where to go when a tornado warning is issued. Don't forget your pets if time allows. Also, encourage your family, loved ones and neighbors to prepare for the possibility of tornadoes. Visit https://www.ready.gov/severe-weather for more tips on how to stay safe in severe weather.

If you are preparing your home by having a safe room reinforced, you can find plans for reinforcement for interior rooms to provide better protection on the Federal Emergency Management agency's website.

The Choctaw Nation Housing Authority also offers a storm shelter program that provides a grant for storm shelters to Choctaw tribal members who live in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas, which are states with a high risk of tornados. Applicants must be 45 years old or older to receive the full grant amount of $2,500. Applicants under 45, who meet all other requirements, will receive a grant for $1,250. To qualify for the $4,200 grant for an above-ground shelter, the applicant must have a documented ambulatory disability. For a complete list of requirements, visit https://www.choctawnation.com/ tribal-services/housing/storm-shelters. You can now apply for this program on the Chahta Achvffa Member Portal. For more information or assistance with completing the application, please contact the Housing Authority at (800) 235-3087 ext. 6306.

My article may seem a little different but with spring storm season upon us, I wanted to provide awareness to help us all be better prepared. After all, our family, friends, and communities are worthy of protecting no matter the season. God bless each of you.

Celebrating Easter - April 2021

Last Easter was the first major holiday affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and this Easter will once again be different. While social distancing and other restrictions are far from over, we are starting to see hope in a more normal future and being able to celebrate holidays together again.

After navigating a global pandemic for a full year, we have learned how to adapt and persevere through this challenging time. We have had to learn how to deal with loss and how to spend holidays without loved ones. As we celebrate Easter, we must still make the health and safety of our friends and families a top priority.

Following each holiday during the pandemic, our country has experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases. However, in lessons learned over the past year along with the vaccine rollout, we are seeing a decline in active COVID cases. By continuing to be aware of and practicing the latest safety precautions we can continue that trend.

Despite COVID's impact on the world, Easter remains a wonderful time of the year, a time to reflect on the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus' death and resurrection is one of sacrifice, love, restoration and hope. Many sacrifices have been made during this last year, and continue to be made, yet if we focus on the promises of God, we understand that we have hope in uncertain times.

This Easter some may choose to gather in their celebration but even with the decline of active COVID cases I encourage everyone to be diligent with the most current safety precautions.

Many churches and communities this year are again hosting virtual services and celebrations, and the Choctaw Nation is hosting a virtual Easter Celebration as well. If you would like to be a part of the virtual event, please visit the official Choctaw Nation Facebook page on April 4 to view details about the special event.

I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Easter and I hope that you are able to spend it with family or friends safely this year. God bless.

Livestock Show Canceled - March 2021

I hope you all are staying warm, healthy and safe in the New Year. The health and safety of our tribal members and communities have been of the utmost importance to us during the global pandemic. We've had to make tough decisions throughout the past year, the most recent being to cancel our annual livestock show. This wasn't a hastily made decision. We had to weigh out the pros and cons of hosting the event this year, and the health and safety of our communities took precedence.

The Choctaw Nation Livestock Show has always been one of my favorite events that we host. I love seeing the hard work and determination our tribal youth put into keeping these animals in tip-top shape and competition ready. 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. Taking care of show animals is a lot of work. These students take on daily responsibilities that come with showing animals. By showing livestock, they 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. Showing livestock takes a lot of time and patience and helps to build life skills that will help young people in the future.

The show began in 1992 as one event held in Hugo. It started as a swine only show and was open to Native American youth living in the Choctaw Nation. The next year the show was held at the McAlester Expo-- and a few years later in Wilburton at the Eastern Oklahoma State College Agricultural facilities. It wasn't long before heifers, steer, goats and lambs were added. The event grew so large that the show was split into a two-day show in Wilburton and Durant. Participants must be a member of 4-H or FFA; must be a student between third and twelfth grade; and must be no older than 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 within the Choctaw Nation's boundaries.

It is always so great to see our young people take an interest in showing livestock. I enjoy watching the families support the youth. Over the years, I've watched younger siblings help groom the animals. I've witnessed parents, teachers and students cheer each other on and encourage each other to succeed. There is a sense of community, which is always great to see.

To the youth who usually participate in this event, this year has been challenging and there have been many disappointments. I want you to know that we recognize and see all of the hard work you put into showing livestock. To the ag teachers, we are so thankful for the many hours you put in and the late nights you work to ensure your students are successful. To the parents, we also recognize the time and money you put in to help your children grow and succeed.

My hope for the future is to host this event next year in a healthy and safe environment. Though COVID-19 has taken us apart, together, we will pererver and continue to support each other through this.

For more information on the Choctaw Nation Livestock Show's history and highlights of some of the best and brightest in the world of livestock shows, check out the story on page 12 of this month's issue of the Biskinik.

CNO Vaccine Plan - February 2021

We are about a month away from the one-year mark for the COVID-19 pandemic. Cases continue to soar across the U.S. and world, but we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel with the development and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

The Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority (CNHSA) began the first phase of its vaccine distribution plan in mid-December 2020. In Phase 1, CNHSA worked with Indian Health Services to begin vaccinating frontline healthcare workers. With over 400 COVID-19 vaccines given to CNHSA employees, the Choctaw Nation moved into Phase 2 on Jan. 4, 2021.

Those eligible for vaccinations in Phase 2 include: CDIB cardholders in our service area age 60 years and over, plus those CDIB cardholders who live in the same household. Teachers and non-CNHSA healthcare workers with a CDIB are also eligible.

Additionally, CDIB cardholders 60 years old or older whom reside outside of our service area but get their health care at CNHSA can be vaccinated in Phase 2.

The above-identified tribal members will be eligible to get the vaccine. In the coming weeks, as production and supplies increase, vaccinations will be made available to more people within the Choctaw Nation. 

Those eligible in Phase 3 include CDIB cardholders in our service area age 40 years and over, plus those CDIB cardholders who live in the same household.

To make an appointment to get vaccinated, tribal members will need to call 800- 349-7026 ext. 6. They will then be prompted to select a clinic. Once a clinic is selected, the call will go directly to the scheduler for an appointment. Vaccines are given by appointment only. For more information, visit www.choctawnation.com/covid-19.

The Choctaw Nation has also partnered with the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) to provide a location for their public COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The first public vaccination event was held on Jan. 6 at the Choctaw Event Center in Durant. During the event, OSDH inoculated 814 Oklahomans. For more information on OSDH's vaccination events, visit https://vaccinate.oklahoma.gov.

Although there is hope for the future, it is still necessary to take this virus seriously. The COVID-19 vaccines are an important tool to help us stop the pandemic and are a safe and simple measure to prevent illness and community outbreaks. However, they are not a treatment for people who are already sick with COVID-19. Encourage your loved ones to get vaccinated. The more people in your community who get vaccinated, the more protection there will be for everyone against COVID-19. By receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, you can help by preventing the spread of the disease and reducing your risk of getting sick, being hospitalized or dying.

I want to personally encourage everyone to continue taking the necessary precautions to keep each other safe. Wear a mask; avoid large gatherings; wash your hands; and follow social distancing guidelines. We will get through this pandemic by working together to do our part to stop the spread.

For more information on COVID-19 vaccines, check out the front-page story of this month's issue of the Biskinik. It goes into more detail on the research and safety of these vaccines. I wish you all health and happiness in 2021. May God bless and keep you safe. Yakoke.

Capture Sara

Hunting and Fishing Compact Extended - January 2021

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful and safe Christmas. As I reflect on 2020, I realize that despite many challenges, one thing remained true: we remained resilient. Though the year kept throwing us curveballs, we as Choctaws remained resilient and determined. Like our ancestors before us, we persevered through difficult times, looking toward the future with hope. Remembering our ancestors' approach to challenges, I pray to our Creator for our Choctaw people and all mankind.

A recent announcement for 2021 is that the Choctaw Nation and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation signed an extension to the Hunting and Fishing Compact, effective through December 31, 2021.

This agreement is a win for both the Choctaw Nation and the State of Oklahoma. It provides an opportunity for our tribal members in Oklahoma to enjoy the outdoors through hunting and fishing that are part of our rich cultural traditions.

Choctaw tribal members who held a Choctaw Hunting and Fishing license in 2020 and still meet the compact requirements will have their license automatically renewed for 2021. The State Department of Wildlife Conservation will begin processing these auto-renewals and any new tribal member applications received for 2021.

Choctaw tribal members who are 16 and older and interested in a 2021 state hunting and fishing license, but who did not have a license in 2020, are encouraged to apply via the online member portal, Chahta Achvffa at https://chahtaachvffa.choctawnation.com/.

Choctaw Hunting and Fishing Licenses 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 iOS or Android device. To get the app, go to your device's App Store and search Go Outdoors Oklahoma. For further assistance, please call 800-522-6170 ext. 4030 or email huntingandfishing@choctawnation.com.

Have a Holly, Jolly and Safe Christmas - December 2020

It has been over eight months since a global pandemic was declared. The holiday season is normally a time to gather with family and celebrate, but this Christmas will be different for many of us adjusting to new ways of living. My heart and prayers go out to everyone who has been directly affected by the pandemic.

I hope you all take the necessary precautions to keep yourself and your loved ones safe and healthy. Many of us long to spend time with our aging parents, grandparents, and old friends to get into the holiday spirit. We want to feel some sense of normalcy after being in the pandemic for so long, but this doesn't mean we should let our guard down.

Christmas is a special time, but for the safety of those we love, we need to look at it differently this year. Although we know much more about the spread of COVID-19 since March 2020, we also know that the virus can quickly spread in our homes during traditional holiday activities where we gather for shared meals or rituals. Please remember that if you gather with people you do not live with, the risk of infection increases, and consideration of those most vulnerable is necessary. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have suggested the following ways to celebrate more safely: agree on some ground rules in the weeks leading up to your event; try to quarantine for two weeks before the day; host outdoor activities rather than indoor to minimize the risk. If you cannot host outdoors, avoid crowded, poorly ventilated or fully enclosed indoor spaces. You can increase ventilation by opening windows and doors based on the weather. Try hosting activities with only people from your area and limit the number of attendees as much as possible. It is also suggested to provide updated information to your guests about any COVID-19 safety guidelines and steps you are taking to prevent the spread of the virus. You can also provide or encourage attendees to bring supplies to help you and others stay healthy-for example, extra masks, hand sanitizers, or disinfecting wipes.

Statistics prove that people 65 years and older are at higher risk for getting a severe case of COVID-19, so I encourage other creative ways to celebrate without gathering in-person. Many families are planning on celebrating together virtually through video chat, which is unconventional but a safe way to celebrate. A meal could also be delivered for family and neighbors, especially those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

There is no doubt that this year has tested us, as we all know someone or have lost someone due to this virus. As Choctaws, resilience is in our blood - we will get through this together. I wish you all health and happiness this Christmas season and in the new year. May God bless you and keep you safe.

Virtual Veterans Day - November 2020

Every year, the Choctaw Nation honors its veterans during the annual Veterans Day Ceremony at Tvshka Homma. It is an event that Chief Batton and I truly cherish. This year, due to the pandemic, a difficult decision was made not to celebrate together in person. Instead, to protect the safety and health of our veterans, we will honor our Choctaw veterans for their bravery, service, and sacrifices through a virtual Veteran's Day message online. Our veterans will receive their jackets through the mail as a way of honoring them, though not in person. You can find more information about our virtual Veterans Day on page 11 of this month's Biskinik.

Choctaws, along with other Native American tribes, have a long history of serving their country. According to the 2010 Census, over 150,000 veterans identified as American Indian and Alaska Native alone. The U.S. Department of Defense estimates there are currently over 24,000 active duty Native service members in the U.S. Armed Forces.

During World War I, Native Americas were not recognized as citizens of the United States, yet more than 17,000 Native American men registered with the Selective Service. The largest group of Native service members came from Oklahoma. In World War II, 44,000 Native Americans served their country. During the Korean War, approximately 10,000 Native Americans served in the military. An approximate total of 42,000 Native Americans served in the Vietnam War (90% of them volunteering). After 9/11, almost 19% of Native Americans served in the Armed Forces, compared to 14% of other ethnicities. We are so thankful for our Native brothers and sisters, who have always answered the call to defend their country.

During World War I, a group of Choctaws, now known as the original Code Talkers, used the Choctaw language to form code that the enemy couldn't decipher. The 19 known Choctaw Code Talkers include Albert Billy, Mitchell Bobb, Victor Brown, Ben Carterby, Benjamin Franklin Colbert, George Edwin Davenport, Joseph Harvey Davenport, James (Jimpson) Morrison Edwards, Tobias William Frazier, Benjamin Wilburn Hampton, Noel Johnson, Otis Wilson Leader, Solomon Bond Louis, Pete Maytubby, Jeff Nelson, Joseph Oklahombi, Robert Taylor, Charles Walter Veach and Calvin Wilson. These brave young men helped the U.S. and its allies win the war. Joseph Oklahombi was recently inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame, a long-overdue recognition. To read more about Oklahombi, check out page 11 of this month's issue of the Biskinik.

There have been countless Tvshka Chahta's who have bravely served and sacrificed so much to protect our freedoms throughout the years. On behalf of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, I say, "Yakoke!" to all who have and continue to serve. May God bless all of our warriors, past, present and future.

Domestic Violence Awareness - October 2020

October is set aside to recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Alarming statistics report that approximately 24 people per minute are physically abused by a partner in the U.S., according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Studies show Native women and men in the U.S. experience domestic violence at alarmingly high rates. More than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women and men have experienced violence in their lifetime. According to a study by the National Institute of Justice, more than one in three experienced violence in the past year. The NIJ also says that 84% of Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime. In addition, domestic and intimate partner violence have been linked to many Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women cases.

Domestic violence awareness and prevention is a crucial issue for us at the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. These statistics have driven us to seek change through offering numerous programs and services to help our tribal members remove themselves from domestic violence situations. The programs we offer include Project SERV, Family Violence Prevention, Choctaw Nation Victim Assistance and Project EMPOWER.

Project EMPOWER provides rental and utility assistance, gas vouchers, home visits, healing circles, court advocacy, safety planning and goal setting. Having been recently awarded $825,643 from the Department of Justice, Project EMPOWER will be able to provide services to at least 125 Native American victims per year, bringing them from victims to survivors.

The Family Violence Prevention Program has also been awarded over $1.93 million from the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) this fiscal year. These grant funds are not a tribal specific but can be used to assist victims and families of any nationality or race, who reside within the 10.5 counties of the Choctaw Nation.

The Family Violence Prevention Program provides face-to-face and in-home educational services to our Choctaw families that have experienced intimate partner violence and have involvement by either the state Child Welfare Department or our internal Indian Child Welfare offices.

The COVID-19 virus put a damper on those in-home and face-to-face contacts with clients since March. However, the Choctaw Nation has continued these services by utilizing Zoom, Facetime, Google Duo, and other virtual platforms to stay connected to clients in these programs. Services, including legal advocacy, have continued but are now delivered much differently from before. In-home, face-to-face services resumed in September, but our employees will revert back to virtual options should the need arise for the safety of our workers and tribal members.

The Choctaw Nation Family Violence Prevention Program also has received over $500,000 in FVPSA CARES Act funds to prevent, prepare and respond to the pandemic. These funds are being used to enhance the health and safety measures already in place for associates of the Family Violence Prevention Program and provide information from the CDC to our communities and families.

Yakoke to the dedicated employees who provide the services to our tribal members who have experienced or are currently experiencing Domestic Violence. Their kind, compassionate, and caring hearts for our people truly reflect the Chahta spirit of faith, family and culture.

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 live outside the 10.5 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. The hotline can be reached at 844-762-8483.

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.

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