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From the Desk of
Miko Gary Batton

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 My hope is that tribal citizen enrollment data will be more of a determining factor than outdated funding formulas that resulted in funding inequities in how CARES Act relief was allotted.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

Eventful Summer - September 2020

The Supreme Court's decision in the case of McGirt v. Oklahoma was truly one for the ages. Now we must figure out exactly what it all means. It's often the case that the court will release a decision, and it then takes years to figure out what it means. Sometimes the lower courts must get involved before we gain any clarity.

We will drive a lot of what happens next, or at least that's my hope and intention. We've identified five broad categories of questions we see arising from McGirt: law enforcement, judicial, taxation, regulatory, and Indian child welfare. I've formed a Choctaw Nation McGirt Task Force to begin looking at these five categories. Each of the five categories includes lots of questions. At this point, I'm still of the belief that there is no rush to move towards federal legislation. This decision will impact our tribe and its members from now on. I want to make sure we assess every opportunity to maximize our sovereignty and protect our citizens while being good neighbors.

We now live in a culture where we want and expect answers fast. That's probably not going to happen here. I want to make sure we don't somehow reverse any aspect of tribal sovereignty. Have you seen some of the beautiful quilts and handcrafts on display at Tvshka Homma on Labor Day? This situation is like one of those quilts. It takes different threads and colors to assemble a pattern. Pull just one thread, and you unravel the quilt. We'll have to tread carefully.

I also want to give you an update regarding the CARES funds we have received. These dollars came from the federal government for our use in responding to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. We're pulling together data and hope to have it for you soon. As a reminder, we already have existing programs to assist you with your rent or mortgage payment, put food on the table, continue your education and learn more about how to keep your businesses afloat during these challenging times. We're working as fast as we can to get disbursements out. So, apply today!

We were also recently informed that the federal government will close out the 2020 U.S. Census a month early. It was scheduled to end on Oct. 31 but will now conclude on Sept. 30. The Census Bureau says it will still achieve an accurate count, but I'm not sure that's possible. The 10.5 counties of the Choctaw Nation are considered hard-to-count areas because they are mostly rural. Because the Census Bureau can't tell us the number of Choctaw tribal members who have filled out the Census (we won't be able to find this data until after the Census closes), we're surveying our tribe to see how many people say they have.

As of this week, approximately 33,000 of our tribal members say they've done so. That's out of a total tribal population of over 200,000. Have you filled out your 2020 census yet? Please let your voice be heard by filling out the Census. You can fill it out at 2020census.gov or call 844-330-2020. I encourage everyone to complete their Census as soon as possible, as time is running out!

McGirt Decision - August 2020

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma is important for the Creek Nation and the other members of the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma. This landmark decision made national headlines and has sparked both concern and interest. The reality is sovereign Indian nations with treaty rights and land-based treaty territories-yes, reservations-have existed long before Oklahoma became a state in 1907. The McGirt decision affirms that those reservations still exist today and upholds the Major Crimes Act regarding crimes committed by Native people in Native territory.

What does this mean for the Choctaw Nation and southeastern Oklahoma? First, remember that this decision directly addresses the Creek Nation's reservation and criminal jurisdiction. Nothing has immediately changed for the Choctaw Nation or southeastern Oklahoma.

The McGirt decision does not change individual property ownership, business taxation or any citizen's responsibility to uphold the law. Please visit choctawnation.com/McGirt-vs-Oklahoma for a list of answers to frequently asked questions.

The Choctaw people have been governing our land base and exercising sovereignty since the 1830s. The McGirt decision supports tribal sovereignty. The decision was a refreshing commitment to the actual law, upholding treaty obligations and rights, which have an unfortunate history of being ignored by both the federal government and the State of Oklahoma.

When I think about the future of the Choctaw Nation, we want to explore all avenues to enhance our tribal sovereignty for our tribal members and the communities in which they live. It reminds me of the Scripture, "See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for both yourself and for all." (1 Thessalonians 5:15)

The leaders of the Five Tribes will continue to work to bring clarity to any significant jurisdictional issues raised by this Supreme Court decision. I am proud to be Choctaw and to work with other tribal and state leaders for solutions that pursue what is good for all.

Moving Forward - July 2020

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

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

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

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

Nation Announces Recovery Plan - June 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Sense of Community Essential During Global Pandemic - May 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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