Chief Gary Batton’s focus on ‘Doing what is best for Choctaws’
By Lisa Reed Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
The new Chief of the Choctaw Nation, Gary Batton, repeated the oath of office April 28, swearing to devote his “best efforts toward the preservation of the heritage and tradition of the Choctaw Nation in order that all mankind may better understand, evaluate, and appreciate the history of its glorious past and enjoy its brilliant future.”
Tribal Court Chief Justice David Burrage administered the ceremony on the lawn of the headquarters complex in Durant. Several hundred people were on hand for the historic event, some tribal members travelling from as far as Illinois to watch the inauguration of the Chief of the Choctaw Nation.
“This is such an honoring and humbling experience for me to be up here and to serve as your Chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma,” said Chief Batton. “I want to tell the Council, the judges, Chief Pyle, and everyone how much I appreciate you all. One of the things I stand for is unity. As long as we stand together united, there is nothing that will hold us back.”
Chief Batton’s philosophy of “Doing what is best for Choctaws,” is evident in his plans to continue the Nation’s progress with a focus on God, family, health, jobs and culture. This is in alignment with the tribe’s vision to assist in creating paths toward success for all Choctaws.
“I appreciate the guidance and model set by Chief Pyle in maintaining a good balance between work and family. It is important to balance family, work and health – and balance also means keeping those values taught us by our ancestors.” Chief Gregory E. Pyle announced his retirement last week and has plans to travel and spend more time with his grandchildren.
“I want to go back to our grass roots. I want to make sure to go back to sitting on the front porch with our elders, listening to what they say, what direction we need to go,” Chief Batton said. He plans to develop a Council on Wisdom comprised of Choctaw elders who can continue to give guidance and direction.
One of Chief Batton’s first official acts was to appoint Olin Williams of Bennington as the Employee Chaplain. Williams is a tribal historian for the Choctaw Nation, a minister, and counselor for many fellow staff members.
He also recognized a member of the audience, Nellie Hunter, 75, of Tupelo who will graduate this spring with a degree in organizational leadership. Hunter is a veteran and still serves as a member of the Choctaw Nation Color Guard.
With the promise of highlighting the Choctaw culture to the world, Chief Batton announced several upcoming projects including building a chapel in Tvhska Homma and a culture center in Durant.
Expanding programs begun under Chief Pyle and Batton’s administration are also a big part of the plans for the future. Chief Batton said he has a goal of creating 750 new jobs over the next year. This has an impact on both families and communities. He discussed unique plans to assist with housing repair, food distribution, enlarging ranching operations, and creating jobs to invest in the Choctaw people.
The tribe is building several new wellness centers – four of them to open in the next 45 days. Independent Living Centers for elderly are on the drawing board for several counties as well as a Choctaw health clinic in Durant and expansion of the Poteau health clinic.
Education still remains a priority and more focus will be placed on higher education opportunities, and programs for youth.
“We always believe in giving our kids a ‘head start’ and I am thankful we will get more of that accomplished in this coming year,” Chief Batton said as he announced the construction of new child development centers in McAlester and in the Bethel/Battiest area.
Chief Batton stressed the importance of keeping our dollars in southeastern Oklahoma. Tourism is one way to bring people to Oklahoma, to teach the Choctaw culture and tell of the tribe’s glorious past. Tribal members will also have a chance to buy Choctaw Nation car tags through a program that will be developed to benefit them and still support the state of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
Chief Batton announced the Nation will be building a new tribal headquarters in Durant that is critical for the staff. The new facility will give the employees the tools they need to provide better service for tribal members in one location.
“We are a family, we are a tribe,” he said. “Thank you for your support. It will take all of us to do what is best for Choctaws. God bless America, God bless Oklahoma and God bless the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.”