State of the Nation
Since I last posted my thoughts two weeks ago, you may have seen my video message that replaced the State of the Nation speech I would have delivered in person at Tvshka Homma, had we met at Labor Day this year. It's not a virtual speech — I figured out a way to communicate lots of details in a storytelling way. I asked others to help me tell the story of our tribe this year. The story we tell is of our people who have persevered through many trials and tribulations, yet our faith, family, and culture are still alive and well. We call this the Chahta spirit.
This year, you won't receive our annual booklet on the State of the Nation by mail. We're expanding it to give you many more facts, figures and success stories than ever before. We'll make copies available in our community centers and by request, but we'll also post it online. We won't be mailing it this year in order to save the money we would have spent on printing and postage.
Our National Budget
During its regular session this month, Tribal Council approved our national budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts on October 1. Our expense budget will be $1.55 billion dollars; you can find more information about that here. For the next fiscal year, we had to think about two big unknowns: the pandemic and the after-effects of McGirt v. Oklahoma. As you can see by watching the news, experts differ on the length or severity of COVID-19, so we factored that uncertainty into our planning. Also, I believe the McGirt ruling will show that our reservation was never disestablished for the Choctaw Nation at some point within the next few months. I have put together a commission to explore how this ruling will expand our sovereignty while assessing the cost and implications associated with the ruling.
While we're talking about the state of our Nation, I want to tell you how concerned I am by a new problem I've just learned has come about within the past couple of weeks and that is participation in the 2020 census. A successful United States 2020 Census is vital for our tribal finances — it means we will get more federal aid — and we've been knocking ourselves out to make sure it's as successful as we possibly can make it. Sometimes it feels like we're swimming upstream.
Many tribal members, and others, across southeastern Oklahoma are now telling us that Census Bureau field workers are visiting their homes to say they haven't responded to the census. In many cases they did and even received confirmation numbers if they did it online. We've spoken with the Census Bureau and learned if you responded to the census earlier, everything should be fine. You don't need to submit another.
What worries me is people are telling us the Census Bureau field workers are filling out census forms for them and often aren't asking whether they have any tribal affiliation. Some tribal members say they didn't realize this until the new census form was completed and sent. If you want to make sure all bases are covered by submitting another, that's certainly fine — it will simply knock your original census form out of the system, so that only the new one is counted — but if you do, make certain to indicate that you're a member of the Choctaw Nation. Don't let the Census Bureau field worker submit it on your behalf without including those two key words!
There has been a lot of controversy over the 2020 Census. On August 3, the Trump administration ordered it to be halted a month early on September 30. Indian rights groups and others protested this decision, and a federal court will rule on or about September 21 regarding whether the administration may close out the census early, on September 30, or be required to continue counting the population through its earlier scheduled conclusion on October 31.
Please don't let the controversy distract you! The one thing that hasn't changed is that the population count that the 2020 Census establishes for us, either good or bad, will be with us for the next ten years. Please watch my short video explaining why we should care about this.
If you'd like to see how your city or county is faring, take a look at this interactive map developed by the Choctaw Nation's cartographers. You can use the search bar to find where you live. For example, I can see that in my town, Clayton, only 26.8% of residents have filled out the census — we will have to do better! While you've still got time, complete the census at www.2020census.gov or by phone at 844-330-2020.
Yakoke for reading and God bless each and every one of you!