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Miko Gary Batton

Casino Expansion - September 2021

Halito,

The Choctaw Nation continues to thrive - with the grand opening of the Choctaw Casino & Resort - Durant expansion!

On August 6, the resort expansion opened. The expansion features the 21-story, luxury Sky Tower Hotel; an expanded gaming experience plus elevated amenities; restaurants; lounges and entertainment options; and a world-class collection of Choctaw art.

I'm excited because this expansion means 1,000 new jobs, revenue that funds much-needed services for tribal members, millions in economic growth for Oklahoma, and additional dollars our tribal government invests in education and infrastructure improvements for all Oklahomans.

A lot is happening around the Nation, including students going back to school. The Choctaw Nation has always valued education. We offer a variety of programs to assist tribal members, regardless of where they are on their educational journey.

From the Partnership of Summer School Education (POSSE) program, the High School Services Program (HSSS), to the Higher Education Program (HEP) and career development program, the Choctaw Nation is able to provide these needed educational services to our members, with the dollars gained from expansion projects like the Durant resort expansion.

For more information about our educational services, visit www.choctawnation.com/tribal-services/education.

Yakoke and God bless!

Cino

Cultural Center Opens - August 2021

Halito,

This is an exciting week for the Choctaw Nation! After more than a decade of research and work, the Choctaw Cultural Center will officially open on July 23.

The Cultural Center is such a significant project, because it perpetuates the Choctaw culture. It's a place for the Chahta proud, our allies and partners to share and celebrate our many traditions.

The Cultural Center is also important because it is a place to instill pride in who we are, to learn the stories of our ancestors, and a place to learn how to live out the Chahta spirit.

Our Choctaw culture means everything to me. It is the foundation that our ancestors have built for us, and it is our responsibility to carry on into the future for our youth. Our culture is what makes us unique and defines who we are as Chahta people.

We have so many unique traditions, from our language, to stickball, to our social dances. They all have impacted me and are deeply rooted in our history to live out our cultural values.

I encourage our elders, tribal members and the Chahta proud to visit the Cultural Center and reflect on what Choctaw culture means to you.

Yakoke and God bless!

Cult Center

CNO Launches Initiative to Consider Tribal Membership for Freedmen - July 2021

The Choctaw Nation recently announced the launch of an initiative to consider tribal membership for Choctaw Freedmen. Changing the tribal membership requirements will require a Constitutional amendment, which will require a vote from tribal members. To be successful, we'll have to tell the story of why we believe this is necessary and listen to tribal members' input. This initiative will engage Choctaw Freedmen, the Department of Interior, existing tribal members, our elected officials and membership department officials, and other Choctaw proud in listening sessions to present findings and a recommendation to Choctaw elected officials.

I respectfully request that you take a moment to read this open letter and learn more about how we have arrived at this critical juncture in both tribal and American history.

Our mission is, "To the Choctaw proud, ours is a sovereign nation offering opportunities for growth and prosperity." Our vision is, "Living out the Chahta spirit of faith, family and culture."

Our tradition of oral storytelling brings Choctaw history to life, and has long been one way we educate young Choctaw people.

When I first learned of the US government's plan to withhold promised funding unless we changed our Constitution, I was frustrated. As you might imagine, there is a lot of baggage in the relationship between Native Americans and the US government. As chief, protecting tribal sovereignty is one of the most sacred honors and responsibilities entrusted to me. In this moment, I was focused on a threat to our sovereignty - that's all I heard. The story of Choctaw Freedmen deserves our attention and thoughtful consideration within the framework of tribal self-governance.

I, along with the Tribal Council, have meditated on the words of our mission and vision. We have reflected on the stories our elders have shared with us about the experiences of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. We have unpacked some of the baggage and remember that while today in 2021, part of our tribal sovereignty is being able to determine tribal membership; that right was also tarnished by the federal government 125 years ago.

The Dawes Rolls. Early in the 1830s, nearly 125,000 Native Americans lived on millions of acres of land in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida. Land our ancestors had called home for generations. Among them, thousands of enslaved people were forced to provide manual labor along the way and after arriving in what is now Oklahoma. The Trail of Tears left an indelible scar on Choctaw people and on African American people among us.

In 1887, the US government, led by Senator Henry Laurens Dawes of Massachusetts, passed the Dawes Act to take the land of Native American people, break up our tribal governments and assimilate us. Like many other times in Native history, the US government did not honor its treaties.

According to Dawes Act language, Native Americans could apply to receive their due allotment of land. White people also applied for the Dawes Rolls to get "free" land, at times using bribes to federal agents to be selected. History shows us that over 250,000 people applied for tribal membership and land, and a little over 100,000 were approved. Over half of the applicants were "rejected, stricken, and judged to be doubtful." The approved received an allotment of land. Some Native Americans did not trust the US government and did not apply in an attempt to protect their families from additional harm. For 10 years after Dawes left the Senate, he worked to dissolve tribal governments and managed to take 90 million acres of treaty land. In 1928, just 23 years after the Dawes Rolls closed, President Calvin Coolidge's administration studied the effects of the Dawes Act and found that the Dawes Act had been used illegally to deprive Native Americans of their land rights. And yet no changes were made.

Today our tribal membership is based on the Dawes Rolls - a poisonous legacy from 125 years ago that took root and caused a myriad of membership issues for tribal nations, including Freedmen.

The CDIB Card & Blood Quantum Law. The US government's Bureau of Indian Affairs issues a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood, commonly known as a CDIB card. According to the US government, "it provides a blood degree by tribe." These degrees are based on the Dawes Rolls. I respectfully ask you to take a moment and reflect on that. This is a federal construct that has fueled division and racism. To receive a CDIB card, a person must trace their "blood" ancestry to the Dawes Rolls. At this time, the US government also does not recognize Freedmen in its CDIB enrollment process. This systemized measuring a person's "degree of Indian-ness" is fundamentally flawed, has heavily influenced modern-day tribal membership and should change.

This moment in Choctaw Nation history calls for courage and bravery. It is a moment to live out the Chahta spirit of faith, family and culture. We know that by calling for these reforms, we are peeling away layers of scar and are exposing a deeply painful wound for tribes across the US. And we know it is the right thing to do.

Today we call upon the US government to also consider its moral and legal obligations and review the CDIB process for Freedmen. CDIB enrollment for Freedmen would mean automatic access to critical programs like tribal health care, housing programs and more.

Today we call upon the Choctaw proud to open dialogue on the issue of Choctaw Freedmen. Ours is a sovereign nation offering opportunities for growth and prosperity. Our stories, Native American, African American, are inextricably linked with European Americans, and with one another. Let us not be bound by an artificial construct of those who sought to take our lands, culture and dignity hundreds of years ago. Let our sovereign nation reclaim what was taken 125 years ago - the ability to determine tribal membership.

Today we reach out to the Choctaw Freedmen. We see you. We hear you. We look forward to meaningful conversation regarding our shared past.

McGirt Misconceptions - June 2021

The United States Supreme Court's landmark decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma has made national headlines and sparked great concern and interest among local and tribal citizens, media outlets and law enforcement agencies. Because of the impact this decision has had on southeastern Oklahoma, I want to make sure that we dispel some misconceptions you may have heard:

What is the McGirt Ruling

• The Supreme Court's ruling in McGirt is specifically about the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and clearly establishes that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's treaty territory is a reservation.

• The McGirt decision affirms that sovereign Indian nations with treaty rights and land-based treaty territories, reservations, existed long before Oklahoma became a state in 1907.

• The decision upholds the Major Crimes Act of 1885.

• On April 1, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals' ruled in the Sizemore decision that the Choctaw Nation's 1866 reservation boundaries were never changed, and our reservation remains intact today. As a result, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals' decision in Sizemore will apply the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling regarding criminal jurisdiction in McGirt v. Oklahoma to the Choctaw Nation reservation.

Who will prosecute crimes that occur within Choctaw Nation

• No person within the Choctaw Nation, whether they're a tribal member or not, is above the law.

• If either the victim or suspect is Native, then the jurisdiction for the prosecution of the crime falls to the Federal Court and/or Tribal Court.

Federal Sentencing

• Under the Federal Violent Crimes Act, a list of several violent crimes committed on Reservation lands is under the sole jurisdiction of the FBI to investigate and the U.S. Attorney's Office to prosecute.

• The U.S. Attorney's office can also prosecute all other felonies, misdemeanors, and even adopt State Law to prosecute if there is no specific Federal Statute for a particular crime.

• On January 13, 2020, Choctaw Nation Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Cory C. Ortega was appointed to serve as a Special Assistant United States Attorney (SAUSA) for the Eastern District of Oklahoma to serve under U.S. Attorney Brian J. Kuester. The goal of the SAUSA appointment is to increase the likelihood that every criminal offense occurring within the Choctaw Nation is prosecuted in tribal court, federal court, or both.

The Choctaw Nation has a shared commitment to maintaining public safety and longterm economic prosperity for the Nation and Oklahoma. We have 69 cross-deputization agreements among federal, state, and local officials in place to ensure that emergency response will continue to be handled the same way, and those committing criminal acts, whether they're tribal members or not, can be arrested by law enforcement to maintain law and order. Police protection and emergency response will continue to be provided for all.

Sovereignty Following the Sizemore Ruling - May 2021

On April 1, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in the Sizemore decision that the Choctaw Nation's 1866 reservation boundaries were never changed, and our reservation remains intact today.

This decision was long-awaited after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling in the McGirt v. Oklahoma case, which was decided in July 2020. McGirt initially only applied to the Creek Nation's criminal jurisdiction, but we have been prepared for the ruling to be extended to the Choctaw Nation as well.

As you may know, the McGirt ruling determined that Congress never disestablished the Creek reservation when Oklahoma became a state in 1907 and that Jimcy McGirt, a felon convicted by the state, should actually have been prosecuted in federal court. This argument is based on the 1885 Major Crimes Act, a federal law dictates that major crimes involving Native Americans in Indian Country be prosecuted in federal or tribal court.

In anticipation of the Sizemore decision, the Choctaw Nation prepared more than 125 cases to be filed in the District Court of the Choctaw Nation as soon as the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in the Sizemore case. In a historic move, the Choctaw Nation filed 125 cases the same day to prevent any criminals from being released from custody.

We have been preparing for the shift in criminal case jurisdiction for well over two years. I am grateful for the work of our Public Safety Department, Tribal Prosecutor's Office, our Judicial branch, court clerks and the Sovereignty for Strong Communities Commission to protect public safety and to offer individuals a fair and efficient trial.

In anticipation of the change in jurisdiction, the Choctaw Nation Tribal Prosecutor's Office has met with all District Attorney Offices within the Choctaw Nation reservation boundaries.

To date, the Choctaw Nation has reviewed more than 500 cases involving self-identified Native American defendants from the State of Oklahoma, with a focus on incarcerated defendants. Those cases have been provided to the Choctaw Nation Department of Public Safety (DPS) for investigation.

This coordination has allowed the Choctaw Nation to identify the cases impacted, gather information to charge individuals in the District Court of the Choctaw Nation, and will help maintain public safety.

The Choctaw Nation is and always has been a reservation since the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek between the Choctaws and the U.S. Government.

We, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, strive to be good neighbors. Our goal is not only to take care of our people, but our communities as well. It's about working together to protect the health and safety of every person living within the Choctaw Nation. That will never change.

There will be many updates and news to share with you regarding this ruling. To stay up to date on all things related to our tribal sovereignty, visit www. choctawnation.com/sovereignty.

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American Rescue Plan Signed Into Law - April 2021

President Biden signed the U.S. government's second coronavirus relief package, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, into law on March 11. While some U.S. citizens might have already received direct payments from the U.S. Treasury, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and other tribal governments will have to wait.

We know the relief bill includes $20 billion for tribal governments, but we don't know how the U.S. government will allocate those funds. My hope is that tribal citizen enrollment data will be more of a determining factor than outdated funding formulas that resulted in funding inequities in how CARES Act relief was allotted. These inequities were highlighted by an informative Harvard University study.

The U.S. Treasury Department has up to 60 days to make that determination and distribute funding to tribes, and we expect them to take the full 60 days. While we wait, the cross-functional committee that led our CARES Act efforts is fully engaged in planning and discussions about the potential of ARP funding.

Not long ago, we held a planning meeting with Tribal Council and identified key categories the Nation could fund with ARP monies. We intend to extend and re-open application periods for successful programs provided by CARES that benefit our most vulnerable tribal members (like addressing food and housing security) and initiatives that support public health. I encourage tribal members who have already received reloadable food cards to keep those cards. We also plan to renew programs that align with our mission of providing opportunities for growth and prosperity like education, child assistance, and small business support.

Right now, we only have projections to work with as we await the full details of the funding amount Choctaw Nation will receive and the federal rules and regulations that come with it. I encourage you to stay tuned to Choctaw Nation's website at www.choctawnation.com/covidrelief and our social media channels for the latest news and updates on relief funding.

Remembering Those We've Lost in 2020 - March 2021

Now that 2021 has begun, I have had a chance to reflect on the past year. Last year was challenging in many ways. One thing that has been weighing heavy on my heart is how many of our Choctaw tribal members we've lost.

My heart and prayers go out to each and every one of you who has experienced loss and grief this past year. Losing a loved one is always painful, and sometimes that pain seems to be more than we can bear. We at the Choctaw Nation want to do our best to help you during this time. I want to let everyone know there are many resources available to help in times of grief. I have felt the impact of grief this year as well. I have lost numerous friends whose memory I will treasure forever. Many of those were our tribal elders and culture keepers.

These were people who I looked up to and admired. I'm honored to have had the opportunity to get to know them, build friendships and learn from their wisdom over the years. When we lose our elders, we lose another connection to our culture and our history. Of course, we didn't just lose tribal elders; we lost tribal members of all ages. In their own way, each person contributed to our cultural heritage, our traditions and our story.

In honor of those lost in 2020, I have decided to set aside February 18, 2021, as a National Day of Remembrance across the Choctaw Nation. I call on the Choctaw people to solemnly commemorate and pay respect to all those who have passed on.

Until we get this virus under control, we must protect each other. We can do this by washing our hands, wearing masks, getting vaccinated and practicing social distancing. I know that spending time with family and socializing is a big part of our culture. However, we must take steps to protect each other now, so we can spend time with those we love in the future.

I know this is a difficult time in our lives, but we must keep our faith in our Creator and our people. We are descendants of strong and resilient Tvshka Chahta, who passed down that resilience to us. Our ancestors endured many hardships and came out of each one even stronger than they were before. We will make it through this new hardship together thanks to our faith and Chahta spirit. It is up to us to ensure our culture and stories last for generations to come.

For more information on resources on coping with grief, and a special tribute to those we lost in 2020, visit www.choctawnation.com/honoring-those-lost.

A Big Yakoke to CNO Employee Volunteers - February 2021

We are fast approaching the one-year mark for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The health, education and welfare of the Choctaw people are the primary focus of the Choctaw Nation. The needs of our tribal members and our communities will always take precedence. Our goal has been to help our tribal members and surrounding communities during the pandemic through our programs and services. I want to take this opportunity to thank each person who helped serve the Choctaw people during this time.

During the pandemic, a large part of our workforce was sent home. However, several programs continued to provide vital services to tribal members. For these operations to continue, there was an urgent need for volunteers to ensure these services were still available. A total of 716 staff members volunteered 5497.8 hours (about 7 and a half months) in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employee volunteers helped keep the shelves stocked at travel plazas and country markets. Others helped at our community centers serve essential meals to tribal elders. Other employees volunteered to help answer phones to assist with the higher volume of calls. Volunteers also helped our clinics and Poteau Prescription Refill Center by cleaning and packing prescription orders for patients and employees. Employees helped at food distribution centers by filling food orders for clients and delivering curbside meals to ensure those in need had plenty of food during the shutdown.

Additionally, 13 staff volunteers assisted over three weeks at McAlester, Poteau and Broken Bow distribution centers. The volunteers provided food delivery to tribal elders by helping package groceries or delivering food to elders waiting in their cars. During the pandemic, Walmart donated thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables to the Choctaw Nation for its tribal members. Over 100 staff members volunteered to distribute the donated food to impacted communities within the Choctaw Nation.

These are just a few examples of the ways our employees helped during this time. I am so thankful for the dedication and selflessness our employees have displayed during these uncertain times. Our employees are the backbone that keep our Nation going.

As the pandemic continues to rage on, Choctaw Nation employees continue to rise above the call of duty. They have continued to step up and volunteer because they genuinely care about our tribal members and communities.

I want to thank our employees for always putting the needs of others before their own. They truly exemplify the Chahta spirit in all they do. If you are a Choctaw Nation employee reading this, I want you to know that you are appreciated. Your dedication has not gone unnoticed. Without your hard work, we would not be the strong nation we are today. Yakoke.

For more highlights from our programs and services, check out our 2020 Year in Review at www.choctawnation.com/year-in-review.

Seeing the Blessings in a Difficult Year - January 2021

I hope you all had a safe holiday season and a happy New Year. Last year was one for the books. No one could have prepared us for what 2020 brought us. When I first took the oath of office in 2014, I said that there is nothing that will hold us back if we stand together. I still believe that today. Our ancestors knew how important it was to stick together, and that's what helped them survive the Trail of Tears and prosper in their new home. There's no doubt this year has been challenging. We've battled for our sovereignty over our gaming rights, we've mourned the loss of our family and friends due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But every time we've faced a difficult situation, we've worked together to do what's right for Choctaws and our communities. I'm so proud of the relationships we've built and continued over this past year. Though times were rough, God has still blessed us.

I'm proud to say that we experienced no gaps in services to our tribal members throughout the global pandemic. The Choctaw Nation was able to continue operations without laying off or furloughing associates. Choctaw Nation frontline employees worked hard to ensure essential services and that the Nation could still operate during the shutdown. Our travel plazas, country markets, community centers, food distribution centers, clinics and the Poteau Prescription Refill Center all remained open with associate volunteers' support. A total of 716 staff members volunteered 5,498 hours during the pandemic response. We are truly blessed to have such caring and loving people working for the Choctaw Nation. I am so proud and thankful to our associates for showing the true meaning of the Chahta spirit this past year.

Our goal was to help as many Choctaws as possible with our CARES Act funding during the pandemic. All CARES programs closed Nov. 30. Choctaw Nation received 141,785 total applications for $70 million in funds. Of that funding, 29% went to food programs, 24% for student assistance, 20% for student technology, 13% for employment income support, 8% for childcare support, and the remainder went to small business and housing support.

We also accomplished another mission to keep providing essential food services. Our Food Distribution Program staff created a drive-thru curbside service for the safety of clients, staff and volunteers. Volunteers also provided food delivery services to tribal elders by helping package groceries or delivering food to elders waiting in their cars. Through these services, a total of 2395 households were served per month; 7854 family members were served per month; and the total food value per month was $296,649. Also, the Summer Food Service Program distributed 71,000 meals. Our Senior Nutrition Program provided Native American elders aged 55 and older a weekly meal, except for Talihina, which serves five meals per week. Getting food to our members wasn't our only concern in 2020, however. We wanted to help those living in our surrounding communities as well. We partnered with Walmart to provide thousands of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to CDIB cardholders throughout southeastern Oklahoma.

Throughout the year, the Choctaw Nation won several prestigious awards. The Choctaw Nation Recycling Center was awarded Level I, Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher Award, the highest-level recognition a community can receive under the Oklahoma Clean Community Program. The Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority Talihina Hospital was awarded a five-star rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. This award placed the hospital in the top 8% of the nation's major health care programs, based on a patient satisfaction survey called the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems given to all patients during the 2019 calendar year. CNHSA also received two Outstanding Service Awards during the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) Heroes in Health Awards Gala recently. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma's Division of Strategic Development received four awards from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC). Our yearlong U.S. Census campaign was awarded the top prize for community relations by the Public Relations Society of America, Dallas Chapter. These are just a few examples of recognition that the Choctaw Nation and our programs received this year. I am so proud of the hard work and determination our associates put in year after year.

I was only able to mention a few of the great things we were able to achieve in 2020, but there are many more. You can find more highlights of the past year on page one of this month's issue of the Biskinik.   

Seeing the Blessing During Tough Times - December 2020

This year has been challenging for many. It has been a time of uncertainty and worry. We all have been directly affected by COVID-19 in one way or another. Many have been sick, lost loved ones or experienced financial hardships due to the pandemic. There is no doubt that 2020 has been a difficult journey. However, through it all, God has blessed us along the way.

In June, we announced that we would be distributing $200.8 million in CARES Act funding to our tribal members through support programs.

Tribal members were able to apply for programs like COVID-19 Tribal Member Child Care Support, Food Security, Technology Assistance, Student Assistance, ACT Online Prep, Elder Food Security, Disability Food Security, Elder Rental Assistance and Choctaw Small Business Relief. Eligible tribal members who experienced a loss of income or financial hardship due to COVID-19 were able to apply for a one-time $1,000 payment to help with bills. Through these programs, we were able to help our tribal members during these trying times.

Aside from the services we were able to provide during the pandemic, I also believe we've learned some valuable lessons during this challenge. Many people realized the importance of slowing down and appreciating the blessings in their lives. We saw families spending more time together during lockdowns. We also saw communities coming together to help friends, neighbors and small business owners who were struggling. It really warms my heart to think about the ways God has moved in us during these past several months.

Christmas is right around the corner. It will be different for all of us, and I hope you and your family take the proper precautions to be safe and healthy. Christmas might look and feel different this year, but one thing will always stay the same. Jesus is still the true reason for the season. I truly believe that we were able to help each other this year through God's blessings and love.

I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas. In the new year, I hope that we experience healing, not only in our nation but also in our country and world. May God bless you with good health and healing. Yakoke

The Impact of Sovereignty - November 2020

In my blog post on Sept. 28, I told you we were kicking off a long, slow research process designed to unearth everything we need to know about sovereignty: the costs, our capabilities, impacts on local governments, and what's already being done by tribes in other states.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt also established a sovereignty commission for the state and is beginning to receive research results. One study we know about is a report on the potential impacts of tribal sovereignty on state finances. As Oklahomans, you'll want to know the impact is significant.

I'm now reviewing a first draft of a list of pros and cons of some of the major questions out there. As you're aware, we've been looking at Indian Child Welfare, taxation, regulation, law enforcement, and other aspects. I'm already seeing a clear pattern emerge: everything has possible downstream consequences that have to be considered, and everything is complex.

Next on our radar, we're looking at changes to our Traffic Code, and incorporating a Weights and Measures Code. All sovereign governments have this code to define the legal measure of weights and measures within their territories- modern commerce depends on it.

The first effects of increased sovereignty we'll feel are in the fields of law enforcement, justice and Indian Child Welfare. We've hired six of seven new social workers, and we are interviewing candidates to fill four new Tribal Prosecutor positions and two new Public Defender positions. Action has already moved to the courtroom, where our Choctaw Nation attorneys have been asserting our reservation status in state criminal cases. We've had two lower court judges find that our reservation continues to exist. As soon as the higher court rules on this issue, we'll begin prosecuting many of the dismissed state court cases in our tribal courts. Our Judicial Center was built with this in mind, and we'll be ready to handle the increase in cases.

On Oct. 14, United States Attorney Brian Kuester and First Assistant Attorney Chris Wilson briefed Tribal Council on views and activities of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. We'll be working closely with that court going forward and have already been establishing closer ties. Kuester and Wilson explained to Council the ways in which the Court is responding to the changes now underway. Seven Assistant United States Attorneys have been assigned to Oklahoma for the next six months, and an additional seven are supporting the Court's needs via telework. Caseloads are rising dramatically from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation-they now have 677 cases waiting. Their typical annual case load is only about 120.

We've now contacted or visited all the county jails with a view to possibly sending tribal prisoners their way. We're not certain we want to build jails of our own if there's plenty of capacity in nearby county jails. It's a question for future discussion.

Tribal Council passed several codes in its October session required for the functioning of any modern, sovereign government. These have the effect of strengthening our tribal sovereignty and our justice system. Council enacted codes dedicated to tribal prosecution, jury selection, criminal law and a public defender's office.

To ensure due process in judicial system proceedings, Council approved legislation defining how juries for trials will be formed. Potential jurors include tribal members, spouses of tribal members, employees of the Choctaw Nation and/or permanent residents within the territorial boundaries of the Nation. Exclusions from jury service include legal professions, law enforcement officers, elected officials and convicted felons.

Providing an opportunity for all defendants to have legal counsel, a bill establishing a Choctaw Nation Public Defender's Office received unanimous support from Tribal Council.

Something that's becoming increasingly evident is that sovereignty has to be built on a solid foundation. It's not just about having a flag. There's a lot of elbow grease that goes into establishing it, and that's what will be required to maintain it. We're in that phase of our work now-to put the nuts and bolts in place. Keep us in your prayers and please ask for God's guidance in our effort. I go into more detail on this subject on my blog, which you can read by visiting www.choctawnation.com/chief-blog-full. For information and updates on the issue of sovereignty, visit www.choctawnation.com/sovereignty

Chief Gary Batton Delivers Virtual 2020 State of the Nation Address - October 2020  

Halito,

In the time since our last Labor Day Festival, the world-for now-has certainly become a much different place, as you can clearly see.

Rather than celebrating together as we always have, to keep everyone as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, a gathering this year is simply not an option.

But the Choctaw people are no strangers to adversity. We have persevered through difficult times before because our faith, family and culture ground us. I am so proud to see how our generosity and courage are also carrying us through this difficult time.

While we are not physically together this year, we are certainly connected in spirit.

I call that the Chahta spirit, and in that spirit, I am honored to present to you the progress of our Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

When I first took the oath of office in 2014, I said as long as we stand together united, there is nothing that will hold us back. Six years later, I still believe that.

Our ancestors knew how important it was to stick together, and that's what helped them survive the Trail of Tears and prosper here in their new home.

There's no doubt this year has been challenging. We've seen our sovereignty attacked by the governor over our gaming rights; we've mourned the loss of our family and friends due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But every time we've faced a difficult situation, we've worked together to do what's right for Choctaws and our communities.

I'm so proud of the relationships we've built and continued over this past year.

Choctaw Nation Associates donated over 18,000 units of blood for the Oklahoma Blood Institute, potentially saving tens of thousands of lives right here in southeastern Oklahoma.

Our Emergency Management team traveled all over the ten-anda-half counties to help local communities with storm recovery, search and rescue missions and emergency preparedness.

And we've worked with city officials all over the Choctaw Nation to strengthen infrastructure and small businesses.

We're also making responsible financial decisions. We have become less dependent on federal dollars. Most of the money the tribe takes in is returned to the Choctaw people through programs and services like healthcare, education, and housing.

Education has always been very important to the Choctaw people. In fact, Choctaws built the first schools in Indian Territory. Sadly, there is a noticeable achievement gap between Native American students and their counterparts. Because we understand how important it is to get a good education, and we want to narrow that achievement gap, we have developed several successful programs to support our students' educational goals.

Choctaw sovereignty is having the ability to choose what is best for our people and our resources. That's why we've worked so hard to protect our gaming compact as well as our hunting and fishing compacts with the State.

Thanks to the hard work of our Tribal Council, the Choctaw Nation also made huge strides toward our Housing goals this year. We built almost 300 LEAP homes and over 200 independent elderly housing units. We also saw great success in our affordable rental program.

Another way we exercise our sovereignty is through our judicial system. Our tribal courts work closely together to make sure Choctaw tribal members are treated with respect, and their voices are heard.

Making sure our culture, language, and traditions are preserved and shared is crucial to the survival of our tribe. On the first Monday of each month, we hold Heritage Day at headquarters, highlighting our culture through food, fellowship, and faith.

We are also working hard to increase the number of Choctaw language speakers through our Anumpa Aiikhvna school.

Using the resources and culture keepers we have within the tribe, the Choctaw Nation has built a state-of-the-art Cultural Center in Durant to highlight our Choctaw history, traditions, and ways of life. I can't wait for everyone to see it. It will truly be an amazing experience.

Just like our ancestors over a century ago, we've found ourselves in unfamiliar territory once again. The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred us to create new and inventive ways to meet the needs of our people.

Throughout the global pandemic, I'm proud to say that we experienced no gaps in services to our tribal members. The Choctaw Nation was able to continue operations without laying off or furloughing associates.

I'm also proud to say that our workforce continues to grow, despite the current economic downturn. Our recruiting and workforce development teams are putting people to work every day in the Choctaw Nation, and with the casino expansion coming soon, we'll open even more positions.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities. Although the entire country is struggling with a recession right now, small business owners all over the Choctaw Nation are showing that resilient "Tvshka Spirit."

In last year's State of the Nation address, I said the strength of our Nation is measured by the strength of our people. We've faced some difficult challenges this year, but each time we've faced a tough situation, we've shown that our Chahta Spirit is even tougher. Our resilience comes from generations of Choctaws before us who persevered in the face of so many obstacles.

I'd like to close with a line from one of my favorite poems: "We are clay people; We are a people of miracles."

Yakoke and God bless!

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