Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

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District 1 Councilman stays busy – and loves it

Thomas Williston follows values he learned during 25 years in law enforcement

Thomas Though stating his job is busy, tiring and “like no other,” District 1 Choctaw Nation Councilman Thomas Williston says he hasn’t ever had a bad day in his position as councilman in the two years and 10 months he’s been elected and he can’t imagine doing anything else.

Before being elected into the Choctaw Nation Council in 2010, Williston worked in law enforcement for 25 years at and around Idabel, the town where he grew up and still resides.

“I loved law enforcement,” he said. “It was all I knew and all I wanted to do. I remember the first time I applied for a policeman position, I had long hair. When I was hired I didn’t tell anyone. I cut my hair and put on the police uniform going out for my first shift, which was the night shift. My father’s eyes got big as saucers and he asked where was my gun. I said I didn’t have one. I had to get my first pay check first then I would get one.

“Being in law enforcement himself, my father got up and went to his room and brought out his old duty belt and gun – a ‘western style,’ hand-tooled leather with .38 pistol,” Williston remembered. “It was big but I was proud to have it and I could tell he was even more proud. I went through the police academy with it and I still have it.”

Williston said during his years working in law enforcement, he had many memorable experiences that taught him values he applies to his position as a Choctaw Nation Councilman today. “I’ve brought a lot of what I’ve learned to this job,” he said. “Law enforcement was not only carrying a gun and badge; the biggest part was having compassion for your fellow man, having honesty and integrity.”

He continued, discussing the differences between the rewards in law and serving as a councilman. “Early in my law enforcement career I found that rewards weren’t there, but every so often someone would say ‘thank you’ and that made it all worth while,” Williston said. “It was motivation for me. Quickly I learned the dramatic social differences of people, which lead me to learn different ways of approach and how to relate to a victim or suspect. That made me effective as an investigator, and is an attribute that I rely on as councilman.”

However, he said being a councilman has been different in that aspect. “In this job, the thank yous are quite often, and I like that,” mentioning having an attitude with understanding and compassion is important in order to help people.

“My rewards are unlike anyone else’s rewards. Knowing that I helped somebody through their hard times, helped them with their problems. It rewards me, that I feel like I’ve steered them in the right direction and they took my advice and utilized the programs the Nation has; that’s fulfilling to me,” he stated.

Williston has always stayed busy with his daily work and career life. “For the last 25 years, I’ve kept two jobs, law enforcement and carpenter work,” he said. “I’ve always been busy, constantly, but I love it.”

Since Williston enjoys a busy and sometimes demanding job, serving as a council member is perfect for him. He said it is common for his phone to begin ringing at 7 a.m. and not ceasing until maybe 10 p.m.

“I can get anywhere from 20 to 30 calls a day. I carry two phones. At some times both are quiet then one rings and, by golly, the other one rings too,” he said. “A lot of times I am traveling to or from our program meetings and reception is sometimes non-existent due to the terrain but, I do my best to answer my calls or return them. Everyone has problems, and it’s pleasing to me to know that I may be able to help so they can focus more on their family than what’s got them down at that particular time.”

It’s no doubt Williston possesses the right mind-set for the requirements of a Choctaw Nation Council member. “I get up every morning with a smile, knowing that hopefully I’ll do something good for somebody,” he said. “I knew this was going to be a demanding job, and I was up for it, and I still am.”

Williston said some of his senior citizens at the center, who he loves to laugh, visit and joke with, have told him he needs to slow down. “This job is two, sometimes three, jobs rolled into one; it’s constant,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s a challenge, it’s fun to me. I like staying busy.”

Williston said right after he was sworn in, the Christmas holiday was arriving, bringing with it the Choctaw community center’s Christmas programs and dinners, both for the youth and seniors. He credits the employees at the community center for helping him a lot that first year. “Thank goodness for them,” he said. “I had never organized that before, but with their guidance, it was easy.”

He said he hasn’t been overwhelmed as councilman yet. “I have not come across a situation I couldn’t handle as of yet. With the help of the center staff and with what I’ve learned, I know what program I need to call or I know the contact person or particular person I need to contact to help people.”

When it comes to helping people who come to him with problems, Williston said he relies on understanding. “I’d like to think that I have a good understanding of a lot of people, not only our Choctaw people, but people in general,” he explained, “because that was my job back in the day,” referring to law enforcement.

He continued, saying some people would rather do without than to ask him for help, even if the needs were a great necessity, but he is familiar with the programs and funds the Choctaw Nation offers to its members, so he is able to help them as much as he can. “I ask them why, why do you need this assistance, what can I do to help?” Williston described.

He said he has been able to help some of his district members find jobs throughout the county and state, saying he’s gotten them in contact with the Vo-Tech, enrolled in nursing classes or involved with whatever job training they may need. “I’ve gotten some of our guys jobs in the city through our programs,” he continued. “I’ve gone to businesses myself and asked if they would work with us to get them jobs; I’ve done that numerous times.”

With every job comes frustrations, and Williston said sometimes people have reluctance to do their part. “I feel like it’s my job to get them motivated, one way or another, and it’s not always easy,” he said. “Not every adolescent or youth will follow the same path, but my duty is to help them not get too far off the path.”

Williston said there are many things that are important to him as a council member, but one of the main things is assisting people with their needs and helping make them independent. “I like to cater to the youth and see that they grow up happy and be there for them when their needs change as they grow and show them the right path. I have seen so many of our youth addicted to drugs in jail, eventually end up in prison and that’s sad not only for our community but for their families.”

Keeping our culture and traditions alive is utmost, too. “I often think of the Trail of Tears and imagine how our ancestors were forced to walk, what conditions were like, the pain and suffering they had to endure, and the loss of loved ones. At times I ask people to imagine what it was like. After all, it is because of them we are where we are now.

“A lot of our people today still carry on some of the traditions of our culture but a lot has been lost. I strongly agree with the Choctaw Nation today reviving a lot of the culture, through our tribal events, reviving our Choctaw way of dance, traditional dress, language classes, stickball games, our foods – mmmmum our foods!,” he smiled big. “I still enjoy our foods like it was when I was growing up and a lot of Choctaw people still carry on the traditional foods especially at church gatherings and at home.

“Choctaw hymns – there can’t be enough said about those,” Williston stressed. “I have always loved them, to listen, to sing along.

We sing some hymns at our senior dinner and everyone enjoys them, too. It has been said that ‘Choctaw Hymn 116 Death Welcome’ was our Choctaw Warrior song, that our Choctaw boys in the World Wars sang it. I believe they possibly did, because in those days, it was common to see hundreds of Choctaws at church gatherings. I saw this as a youngster, and today the big church gatherings are not as big as they used to be.

“Choctaw Hymn 112 is said to have been sung during the Trail of Tears,” he said, though he doesn’t know for sure but believes it is enlightening that it could have.

One of his favorite activities as a councilman is integrating with the seniors, going around before community dinners and making an effort to speak to each one of them, and all visitors with whom he comes into contact. “I try not to meet a stranger,” he said.

“I enjoy laughing with them and making them laugh with jokes and practical jokes. I really like it when I see they are happy.”

With his position as a councilman, Williston was able to experience an act he will never forget, which took placed in Washington, D.C. “Probably one of the most memorable things I’ve done is the laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” he stated. “We were there to represent our fallen Choctaw service men and women, then and now. We were there representing all Choctaw people and hopefully making them proud.”

Assistant Chief Gary Batton laid the wreath with Williston in a small ceremony at the tomb. “That was a big honor for me and one of the most memorable and moving moments of this job.”

He was also able to participate in a game of stickball on the lawn right in front of the United States Capitol building, another fun memory as a councilman.

With his job, Williston said he has the opportunity to work with some great men. “I look at things two different ways,” he explained. “I was around when Idabel, District 1, only had an Indian clinic and we had a commodity truck. That’s all the Choctaw people had in terms of government assistance, in the ’60s and ’70s, just before the Choctaw Nation is what it is today.

“Now, under Chief Pyle’s administration, even before I became a councilman, I could see the Choctaw Nation getting bigger, more programs coming in to help people, and I could see that was good.

“Now that I’m in this position,” continued Williston, “I can basically see things from a different point of view. I can see where Chief [Pyle] comes from, and I agree with the vision that he has: sustainability for the Choctaw Nation.”

Williston said the Choctaw Council, with the leadership of Chief Pyle and Assistant Chief Gary Batton, has one main goal: helping people. “Not everyone is going to see eye to eye, but the bottom line is what is going to benefit the Choctaw people, either right now or in the long run,” he said. “There’s always that vision of benefiting people, and that’s what I like.”

Councilman Thomas Williston, left, and Assistant Chief Gary Batton place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during a ceremony June 21, 2012, at Arlington National Cemetery.

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