Chahta Foundation awards over $400,000 in scholarships to 63 Choctaw students
By Chris Jennings
September 1, 2023
Over $400,000 in scholarships were awarded to 63 Choctaw students seeking higher education at the 2023 Chahta Foundation Scholarship Banquet held at the Choctaw Cultural Center. The Chahta Foundation is the nonprofit arm of the Choctaw Nation, supporting tribal members with services and programs in education, health and wellness and cultural citizenship.
Since 2011, the Chahta Foundation has helped college-bound Choctaw students realize their education goals through competitive scholarships that help fund their pursuit of higher education. While the foundation may facilitate the scholarships, it’s the community that makes it truly Choctaw.
Seth Fairchild, the Executive Director of Cultural Services, said, “The majority of our scholarships are donor based, meaning that these are Choctaws and non-Choctaws that want to give back to help tribal members.”
Janie Dillard, the Senior Executive Officer of Commerce with the Choctaw Nation, is one of those donors. “I was born and raised in Boswell, Oklahoma, and I’ve always wanted to give back to the students in Boswell,” she said.
Dillard said she’s been blessed her whole life with the opportunities she’s had with the Choctaw Nation. “I’ve always wanted to give back to the students to have the same opportunities and doors opened just like I’ve had with the Choctaw Nation. It’s very important to me to help these kids,” said Dillard.
Scholarship funds are donated to the Chahta Foundation through various fundraisers and individual donations. They are then matched dollar-for-dollar by the Choctaw Nation and go directly to funding student scholarships. During the banquet, Fairchild told a story of how a donor came forward with a large donation just after the council bill was passed, allowing for the match.
“We had just written that council bill, and about two weeks after that, I was in a meeting with a guy who said they were going to give a million dollars, and I thought, oh no. I went to talk Council about it. I said, ‘Guys, I did not know this million dollars was coming’ The first thing they said was, ‘No, this is great. If somebody is going to give to our people, we want to give right alongside that,” Fairchild said.
Fairchild stressed the importance of the efforts of the Chief and Assistant Chief along with the Tribal Council and thanked them for their support, saying that this is what makes it all possible.
The Choctaw Nation has always held education as a high priority. From the very beginning, when the Choctaw people came across the Trail of Tears and set up in this new homeland, one of the first things they did was build schools and churches.
Stacy Sheperd, Executive Officer of Member Services at Choctaw Nation, emphasized that as she spoke to those in attendance. “Our education department at the Choctaw Nation is one of the most highly funded programs of anything here in the Choctaw Nation. Our Chief, Assistant Chief and Tribal Council 100% support education and opportunities for our students,” Shepherd said.
Seeing the scholarship recipients receive this aid and go on to be successful makes the donors and tribal leadership happy, but when they choose to come back and work for the Nation, they really feel proud.
Councilman Anthony Dillard said, “We’ve got to find ways of helping to educate our kids. We’ve got to solidify the future of having somebody here to keep the legacy of the Choctaw Nation going, and education is the best way to do that. Get the scholarships out there to get these kids educated so they can come back to run the tribe for us,” he said.
“This is a highly competitive scholarship situation, and to receive a scholarship shows us that you’re the best of the best, you’re the brightest, and you have great futures. So, we hope that you will take this and use this, and hopefully, someday, you might consider giving back,” said Shepherd.
Jacob Brittingham received the Janie Hampton Dillard scholarship and was one of the recipients who was able to attend the banquet. Brittingham said the scholarship would relieve some financial stress in paying for his first semester, but the community support is what means the most to him.
“It means everything to me because it’s the support of my community in my educational endeavors. Just being recognized today with everybody else, the Choctaw people and the culture and being surrounded by it means everything to me,” said Brittingham.
Brittingham plans to go to George Washington University in Washington, DC and double major in political science, and journalism and mass media to be a journalist.
Brittingham is a perfect example of why those involved with the Chahta Foundation do what they do. He’ll take his scholarship, go to school and then go out into the world representing the Choctaw Nation to every person he meets. His successes in receiving the scholarship set up the young man from the small town of Boswell, Oklahoma, to be a better and stronger person, in turn making the tribe a better and stronger tribe.
For more information on the Chahta Foundation, how to apply for scholarships or how to donate, go to chahtafoundation.com.