In the time since our last Labor Day Festival, the world—for now—has certainly become a much different place, as you can clearly see.
Rather than celebrating together as we always have, to keep everyone as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, a gathering this year is simply not an option.
But the Choctaw people are no strangers to adversity. We have persevered through difficult times before because our faith, family and culture ground us. I am so proud to see how our generosity and courage are also carrying us through this difficult time.
While we are not physically together this year, we are certainly connected in spirit.
I call that the Chahta spirit, and in that spirit, I am honored to present to you the progress of our Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
When I first took the oath of office in 2014, I said as long as we stand together united, there is nothing that will hold us back. Six years later, I still believe that.
Our ancestors knew how important it was to stick together, and that’s what helped them survive the Trail of Tears and prosper here in their new home.
There’s no doubt this year has been challenging. We’ve seen our sovereignty attacked by the governor over our gaming rights; we’ve mourned the loss of our family and friends due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But every time we’ve faced a difficult situation, we’ve worked together to do what’s right for Choctaws and our communities.
I’m so proud of the relationships we’ve built and continued over this past year.
Choctaw Nation Associates donated over 18,000 units of blood for the Oklahoma Blood Institute, potentially saving tens of thousands of lives right here in southeastern Oklahoma.
Our Emergency Management team traveled all over the ten-and-a-half counties to help local communities with storm recovery, search and rescue missions and emergency preparedness.
And we’ve worked with city officials all over the Choctaw Nation to strengthen infrastructure and small businesses.
We’re also making responsible financial decisions. We have become less dependent on federal dollars. Most of the money the tribe takes in is returned to the Choctaw people through programs and services like healthcare, education, and housing.
Education has always been very important to the Choctaw people. In fact, Choctaws built the first schools in Indian Territory. Sadly, there is a noticeable achievement gap between Native American students and their counterparts. Because we understand how important it is to get a good education, and we want to narrow that achievement gap, we have developed several successful programs to support our students’ educational goals.
Choctaw sovereignty is having the ability to choose what is best for our people and our resources. That’s why we’ve worked so hard to protect our gaming compact as well as our hunting and fishing compacts with the State.
Thanks to the hard work of our Tribal Council, the Choctaw Nation also made huge strides toward our Housing goals this year. We built almost 300 LEAP homes and over 200 independent elderly housing units. We also saw great success in our affordable rental program.
Another way we exercise our sovereignty is through our judicial system. Our tribal courts work closely together to make sure Choctaw tribal members are treated with respect, and their voices are heard.
Making sure our culture, language, and traditions are preserved and shared is crucial to the survival of our tribe. On the first Monday of each month, we hold Heritage Day at headquarters, highlighting our culture through food, fellowship, and faith.
We are also working hard to increase the number of Choctaw language speakers through our Anumpa Aiikhvna school.
Using the resources and culture keepers we have within the tribe, the Choctaw Nation has built a state-of-the-art Cultural Center in Durant to highlight our Choctaw history, traditions, and ways of life. I can’t wait for everyone to see it. It will truly be an amazing experience.
Just like our ancestors over a century ago, we’ve found ourselves in unfamiliar territory once again. The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred us to create new and inventive ways to meet the needs of our people.
Throughout the global pandemic, I’m proud to say that we experienced no gaps in services to our tribal members. The Choctaw Nation was able to continue operations without laying off or furloughing associates.
I’m also proud to say that our workforce continues to grow, despite the current economic downturn. Our recruiting and workforce development teams are putting people to work every day in the Choctaw Nation, and with the casino expansion coming soon, we’ll open even more positions.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities. Although the entire country is struggling with a recession right now, small business owners all over the Choctaw Nation are showing that resilient “Tvshka Spirit.”
In last year’s State of the Nation address, I said the strength of our Nation is measured by the strength of our people. We’ve faced some difficult challenges this year, but each time we’ve faced a tough situation, we’ve shown that our Chahta Spirit is even tougher. Our resilience comes from generations of Choctaws before us who persevered in the face of so many obstacles.
I’d like to close with a line from one of my favorite poems: “We are clay people; We are a people of miracles.”
Yakoke and God bless,
Chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma