A year in review: Choctaw Nation celebrates successes of 2021
January 1, 2022
As 2021 comes to an end, we reflect on a year filled with new experiences, changes and growth.
For nearly two full years, the world has had to adjust to “the new normal.” The Choctaw Nation has also had to learn how to navigate in a world changed by COVID-19.
Through everything, the Choctaw Nation has prided itself on its resilience. As Chief Gary Batton stated at the beginning of 2021, “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.”
Here are a few successes and highlights from 2021.
The Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority (CNHSA) began Phase 2 of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. This phase centered on CDIB holders aged 60 or older, their household members, teachers and non-CNHSA health care workers. The goal was to vaccinate as many elders and frontline public servants as possible, based on their risk of contracting COVID-19. The Choctaw Nation also teamed up with the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) to administer COVID-19 vaccines to the public by appointment. On Jan. 6, the first public vaccination event was held at the Choctaw Event Center. By the end of the day over 800 people, including frontline healthcare workers, first responders and people aged 65 and older, had been inoculated.
On Jan. 13, the Choctaw Nation Election Board, released the public notice of the general election calendar. This kicked off preparation for the upcoming Tribal Council Election for districts 4, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 12.
The Choctaw Nation announced the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). This program assisted Choctaw Nation tribal households who rent and were unable to pay their monthly rent payment and/or utilities (electric, water, gas, sewer, trash removal) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. ERAP assisted eligible households with rental and utility arrearages, current rental payments and current utility payments. This program was limited to one tribal member per household and did not apply to households with a mortgage or tribal members who owned their homes. Lease-to-own situations were reviewed, and eligibility was determined on a case-by-case basis.
In honor of those lost in 2020, Chief Gary Batton recognized Feb. 18, 2021, as a National Day of Remembrance.
One of the worst winter storms in recent history struck the southern U.S. in February 2021. Frigid temperatures and winter weather battered the state of Oklahoma and the surrounding region, leaving many people in dire situations and struggling for basic needs. This storm caused many disruptions to power, water and travel across the state. Due to the frigid temperatures, water main breaks across the state left many without potable water, while others were left without water at all. Despite the difficulties, The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma showed the Chahta Spirit in providing necessities to tribal members and surrounding communities.
The Choctaw Nation’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) filled trucks with nearly 40 pallets of drinking water on Feb. 18. It delivered the water to communities across southeastern Oklahoma with little to no water pressure following water main line breaks. In a collaborative effort between Choctaw Global, local cities of Caney, Stringtown and Antlers, as well as the U.S. Army, the Choctaw Nation’s OEM delivered over 6,800 gallons of drinking water across the Choctaw Nation. This water was delivered using “water buffaloes” and “Camels,” water transport tanks from the U.S. Army.
Choctaw Global LLC manufactures these water transport tanks. From February 13 – 25, OEM received more than 547 calls to the CNO Disaster Hotline. The assistance provided ranged from hotel rooms, frozen/broken water pipe assistance, food assistance, diapers, and even medication delivery for elders stuck at home due to the snow and ice. During the storm, CNO social workers spent time checking on elders and delivering groceries and supplies.
Outreach Services team members helped relocate elders to hotels after finding them with flooding due to broken water lines or without heat. Other Outreach Service associates worked to find propane for shivering tribal members.
Travel Plaza, Country Market and casino teams worked hard to accommodate the needs of clients and customers by staying open and finding a way to meet staffing and supply chain challenges, despite dangerous driving conditions, extreme cold and power outages in various locations throughout the CNO service area.
Choctaw Nation announced on Feb. 25 that the Tribe had a $2,519,532,303 economic impact on the State of Oklahoma in 2019.
During the COVID-19 pandemic blood donations increased, with drives particularly requesting convalescent plasma from patients who had and recovered from the virus. Such plasma is used directly in the treatment of patients with COVID-19. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) was recognized by the Oklahoma Blood Institute on Tuesday, March 9, for outstanding service to communities across southeast Oklahoma.
The Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority (CNHSA) opened vaccination appointment times for non-tribal members. Starting March 8, 2021, educators of any level or type of institution were able to schedule their appointment. Beginning March 15, 2021, appointments were opened to the public, providing patients met the vaccine manufacturers’ minimum age requirements.
President Biden signed the U.S. government’s second coronavirus relief package, the American Rescue Plan Act, into law on March 11. Chief Gary Batton announced on March 15 in his bi-weekly blog that the Choctaw Nation was still in the planning phase and had not received information on how the U.S. government would allocate funds to tribes.
Assistant Chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Jack Austin Jr., was named the March Texoma Hero on March 26 to recognize his service in the United States military.
March 27, the Durant clinic opened its doors to the public. According to Infection Control Nurse Natasha Hill, a total of 1,570 shots were provided.
On April 1, 2021, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals issued a ruling in Sizemore v. Oklahoma, declaring that the Choctaw Nation reservation was never disestablished. 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.
The Choctaw Nation Tribal Council held a Special Session on April 20, 2021 and voted to amend its Public Health and Safety Code regarding medical marijuana. The amendment passed by an 11-1 vote. Following the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruling in the Sizemore case, applying the McGirt decision to the Choctaw Nation reservation, state-issued medical marijuana cards or business licenses were not recognized by the Choctaw Nation laws. In a discussion of the amendment Tribal Council indicated that their intent is to research this issue further and propose better rules and regulations concerning medical marijuana for Native Americans within the Choctaw Nation reservation that minimize misuse of medical marijuana.
The Choctaw Nation School of Language conducted a vital survey beginning in May of tribal members who are fluent first speakers of the Choctaw language. The survey remained open through the end of June.
The Oklahoma Hall of Fame hosted a reception on May 5, 2021 to honor its 2020 inductees, including Chief Gary Batton.
As of May 18 the Choctaw Nation Health Care Services Authority had administered 35,207 total COVID-19 vaccinations.
Elections are held at alternating two-year periods for the four-year terms of Chief and Tribal Council. Filing opened April 19 for candidates for Tribal Council in Districts 4, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 12. In the June 2021 issue of the Biskinik, the Choctaw Nation Election Board released the 2021 Choctaw Election Guide. This guide announced that all candidates for the elective offices of council districts 6, 9 and 12 were qualified, unopposed, and would not appear on the ballot. Elections would be held for council districts 4, 7 and 10. Within the guide was election information, dates, times and candidate bios.
In June, through the Community Development Fund, the Choctaw Nation awarded the city of Broken Bow $12,300, Idabel $6,400, Garvin $4,400, McCurtain County $13,500, the city of Wilburton $9,700, Talihina $15,000, Latimer County $13,600, the city of Hugo $29,300, Boswell $11,900, Choctaw County $24,700, the city of Antlers $19,800, Clayton $30,900, Pushmataha County $26,800, the city of McAlester $13,500 and Pittsburg County $5,400.
On June 2, Choctaw Casino & Resort – Grant excitedly introduced their newly remodeled entertainment venue Stage 271, formerly known as the Grant Event Center.
On July 1, the Choctaw Nation announced the launch of an initiative to consider tribal membership for Choctaw Freedmen. Changing the tribal membership requirements would require a Constitutional amendment, which will require a vote from tribal members.
The 2021 Tribal Council Election was held on July 10.
The Choctaw Nation Election Board announced on July 15 the official results of the 2021 General Election. The District 4 winner was Jess Henry, with 617 votes (53.37%). The District 10 winner wasAnthony Dillard, with 554 votes (90.67%).In District 7, no candidate received more than 50% of the total votes cast. The two candidates that received the most votes were Adrian Johnico (36.67%) and Joey Tom (40.07%). It was announced that this race would proceed with a Runoff Election between the two candidates. Other districts that were up for election but drew no opposition were District 9 Council Member James Dry, District 6 Council Member Jennifer Woods, and District 12 Council Member James Frazier.
On July 16, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held for the new Choctaw Nation Central Laundry Facility in Hugo, Oklahoma. Choctaw Nation Central Laundry provides an easier, more efficient way to manage with increased laundry services. It services all laundry from the three casino and resort properties in Durant, Pocola and Grant.
On July 23, the Choctaw Cultural Center opened its doors to the public with a grand opening ceremony. Featuring rich interactive and immersive exhibitions and engaging programs and activities, the Choctaw Cultural Center showcases the Nation’s treasured history and culture and serves as a place to gather, learn and preserve the Choctaw spirit and way of life.
In August, Jones Academy celebrated its 130-year anniversary. Jones Academy was founded in 1891 by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, one of the first tribes to build its own school. The facility was named after Mississippi-born Choctaw Chief Wilson N. Jones. Jones had traveled with his own family over the Trail of Tears and was a strong advocate for his tribe’s people to become educated.
Situated on 540 acres near Hartshorne in southeastern Oklahoma’s Ouachita Mountains range, Jones Academy began as a school for boys (serving girls after the closure of Wheelock Academy). A $10 million state-of-the-art elementary academic facility was constructed on the campus in 2008, and in 2012 it became a BIE (Bureau of Indian Education) elementary school under the authority of the Tribe. The elementary school educates students in grades 1-6, while older students attend Hartshorne public school.
On Aug. 6, Durant’s resort expansion opened. The expansion features the 21-story, luxury Sky Tower Hotel, an expanded gaming experience, elevated amenities, restaurants, lounges and entertainment options, and a world-class collection of Choctaw art.
The Chahtapreneur awards banquet was held on Aug. 10. Over 600 Choctaw business owners participate in the Choctaw Small Business Development Chahtapreneur program.
On Aug. 11, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Election Board certified Joey Tom as the winner of the District 7 seat of the Choctaw Nation Tribal Council. Tom garnered 52.26% of the vote over Adrian Johnico with 47.74%. The official results showed Tom with 660 votes to Johnico’s 603 of the 1,263 votes cast in the Run-Off Election held Aug. 7.
Aug. 15, the Choctaw Nation announced its plan for the allocation of ARPA funds. Chief Batton unveiled the basics of the plan in a video presentation made available to tribal members. Batton stated that “The plan centers around taking care of our elders and is available to all Choctaw tribal members living anywhere in the U.S. who were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
On Aug. 22, the American Legion Riders kicked off day-one of their annual Legacy Run. The more than 200 motorcycle riders made a pit stop in Tvshka Homma, Oklahoma, to lay a wreath in honor of the Native Americans buried at the Choctaw Nation Veterans Cemetery and the multitude of others who have served in the U.S. military through the years. Chief Gary Batton and Assistant Chief Jack Austin, Jr. were in attendance and took part in the ceremony.
On Aug. 25, the Texas Rangers and Choctaw Casinos & Resorts announced a multi-year naming rights partnership for Globe Life Park in Arlington.
The Choctaw Nation Tribal Council unanimously approved a $1.88 billion comprehensive expense budget for fiscal year 2022 during a special Tribal Council session on August 26. The new fiscal year began on October 1, 2021.
Beginning Sept. 1, all Choctaw members were able to receive allocations for the FRF-ARPA Food Security Program (Elder and Disabled) and FRF-ARPA Economic Impact Recovery Program (Adult and Minor).
Though the Choctaw Nation Labor Day Festival was canceled, the Annual Choctaw Royalty Pageant was held Friday, Sept. 3, at Tvshka Homma, crowning the new 2021 princesses. New Royalty includes Little Miss Milena Amos, Junior Miss Adelyn Brown and Miss Madison Jade Cossey.
Also on Sept. 3, Choctaw Council Members were sworn into their new terms.
On Sept. 6, Chief Gary Batton delivered his virtual Sate of the Nation Address. As of Sept. 10, the Choctaw Nation had received 115,194 applications for the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) programs and 93% were approved at the time of reporting.
The Choctaw culture of tradition and honor was on full display Saturday, Sept. 18. A group of tribal members gathered to honor the Choctaw people who have been affected by the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.
In September, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Choctaw Development Fund awarded the towns of Kenefic $202,850 and Calera $145,000.
On Oct.14, The Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority (CNHSA) announced that it had earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for Accreditation by demonstrating continuous compliance with its organization’s commitment to providing safe and quality patient care.
The Choctaw Nation celebrated its inaugural Flag Day Oct. 16. On Oct. 15, Choctaw tribal members, associates, leaders and friends gathered in front of Choctaw Nation Headquarters to honor the day. A contest was held in honor of the occasion. Participants submitted photos on social media to show Chahta pride. Five winners and one grand prize winner were announced.
On Friday, Oct. 22, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the new state-of-the-art Choctaw Nation Child Care Center. The 41,186-square-foot building holds 19 classrooms, serves 252 children, and brought 106 new jobs to the area. Included in the facility is a large saferoom that also serves as a child sensory room.
On Nov. 11, the Choctaw Nation hosted its first in-person Veterans Day Ceremony since 2019.
During her Nov. 26 concert at Choctaw Casino & Resorts – Durant, Reba McEntire and Chief Batton announced a partnership between Reba and the Nation to bring Reba’s Place to Atoka, Okla., in 2022.
In December, the Choctaw Nation hosted its first Pow Wow since 2019. Opening three days of activities was Choctaw Cultural Day at the new Choctaw Cultural Center on Dec. 3. This event showcased hymnal singing, sessions on Choctaw culture, a stickball exhibition and gourd dancing. On Dec. 4 and 5 at the Choctaw Event Center, the Choctaw Pow Wow hosted a full slate of competitions for traditional Native dancers and drums from as far away as California and Canada. Dozens of local artists, craftsmen and food concessionaires were to help make the Pow Wow an even more immersive experience.