Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

The Great Seal of the Choctaw Nation

Disasters affect tribe and tribal members

From the desk of Chief Gregory E. Pyle

May 2011

The entire nation has been riveted to the broadcasts of the heart-wrenching images of the devastation left behind from the April tornadoes that have repeatedly swept from Oklahoma and Texas to the east coast. Just a few miles from the headquarters in Durant, in the hometown of some of our employees, one if the first super-storms of Spring spawned a multi-vortex system of tornadoes that ripped apart the school in Tushka, completely destroyed 149 homes and damaged about 90 other homes.

Tushka is the Choctaw word for “warrior,” and I want to pass along to the rest of the world that the fighting spirit in this small town is strong! Minutes after the doors to the storm shelters were opened, residents began the search and rescue for friends and relatives. Because of the advance forecasts and warning systems, the Choctaw Nation and other agencies were prepared with teams quickly in place to provide assistance. Two precious lives were lost, but when viewing the miles of disaster the churning tornado had appeared to chew up and spit back out, it seems a miracle that more people were not killed.

The tribe set up a cooking area adjacent to the incident command center to provide 1,200 hot meals each day, as well as donating bottled water, toiletries, food items, cleanup and emergency assistance. Partnering with the local churches, volunteers, American Red Cross, and other agencies, many residents were reached within hours to get help.

As I walked through the areas hit by the storm, I was able to talk with residents who not only survived the storm, but were still able to smile and talk about their future plans in the rebuilding of their homes - building back on the same site, in Tushka, their home. Their stories of the night of the storm were inspiring, with their values of God and family uppermost in the recounting of events. Each person I talked to was thankful their family was safe, was thankful to God, and was busy cleaning up their property with a true Choctaw “warrior” spirit that not even a tornado can chase away.

The sad situation in Tuscaloosa (Choctaw word for “black warrior”) also affects the Choctaw Nation. We have tribal members all over the world, including Alabama, and we are anxiously awaiting word if any Choctaws were lost in this storm. Just down the road from Tuscaloosa is Moundville, a historic site of our ancestors probably used for politics and ceremonies between the 11th and 16th centuries that includes 32 amazing earthen mounds, and now has a museum open for the public. We have been notified that the tornado was visible from Moundville but did not damage them.

The prayers of my family, the Council, the employees and myself go out for all those who have been victims of storms and other disasters this year.