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From the Desk of
Miko Apela Jack Austin Jr.

National Mentoring Month - January 2022

Happy New Year! I hope you enjoyed spending time and creating wonderful memories with your family and friends during the holiday season.

It's the beginning of a new year and with it comes new opportunities to give back and instill hope in others, especially our youth.

January is National Mentoring Month, an opportunity to promote youth mentoring. Research has shown that relationships with caring mentors offer youth valuable encouragement, motivation and support to guide them toward making positive choices, and the Choctaw Nation's Jones Academy is committed to encouraging and supporting Native youth.

The Jones Academy's mission is to empower Native American youth by providing individualized care and development through educational, cultural and spiritual opportunities and help them discover life pathways and cultivate a sense of cultural identity.

Ensuring that our youth are provided with educational, cultural, and spiritual opportunities helps to create mature, balanced, responsible and compassionate adults.

The Choctaw Nation's Youth Advisory Board (YAB) empowers youth to become leaders with a servant attitude toward others. Through its John Maxwell Youth Leadership Values Program, community services initiatives that include mentoring young children, YAB inspires students to use their service-leadership skills through community service projects to promote positive change within our communities.

For more information about Jones Academy, contact (888) 767-2518.

God bless.

Merry Christmas - December 2021

We have made it to December, the last month of the year!

The holidays are upon us, and it's such a wonderful time of the year. It is a time to celebrate with our friends and family.

Often, we make the holiday season stressful, worrying about gifts and preparing the house for guests. However, December is National Stress-Free Family Holidays Month, and I encourage you to enjoy the time you have with your family and friends.

The Choctaw Nation is all about giving, and Santa's helpers are collecting gifts for Jones Academy students for their annual Christmas Party.

We have so much to be thankful for and to celebrate. This is the perfect time of the year to create traditions and memories that will last a lifetime.

Enjoy this holiday season and God bless.

Honoring Those That Serve - November 2021

It's November, and we're closing in on the end of 2021. Veteran's Day is Thursday, November 11, and it's a time for us to honor those who have served in the United States Armed Forces.

The Choctaw Nation is proud to honor its veterans. Each month, at the regular session of the Choctaw Tribal Council, a veteran is recognized from their respective district.

If you have had the opportunity to visit any of our facilities, you will have noticed the veteran parking sites.

The Choctaw Nation Veterans Advocacy Program works to assure that Choctaw veterans receive benefits and services on par with other veterans. They also assist veterans in decreasing barriers or impediments in their attempts to access these services and treat them with respect and dignity by Veteran Affairs service providers.

The program serves Choctaw veterans by assisting with the eligibility and entitlement of veterans and their dependents. The Veterans Advocate will assist with contacting the appropriate VA service provider in their area.

These are just a few of the ways we work to honor our veterans.

According to the 2010 Census, it is estimated that over 150,000 veterans identified as American Indian and Alaska Native alone. The U.S. Department of Defense estimates there are currently over 24,000 active-duty Native service members in the United States Armed Forces.

The Choctaw Nation wants to continue to do its part by honoring the men and women who have sacrificed so we can enjoy our liberties and freedom. If you are a veteran and need assistance, please call (800) 522-6170.

God bless.


Domestic Violence Awareness - October 2021

It's October, and fall is finally here. The leaves are changing, football season has officially begun, and soon we'll be purchasing Halloween candy for our kids and grandkids.

While October is full of a lot of fun, it also brings to light a serious issue - Domestic Violence Awareness.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), American Indian and Alaska Native women experience assault and domestic violence at much higher rates than women of any other ethnicity.

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Victim Services provides a variety of programs for victims of domestic violence, including Project EMPOWER, Victim Assistance Formula Grant, Project SERV, Project HOUSE, Essential Life Skills, and Tribal Set-a-Side.

Project EMPOWER is a tribal government grant that provides advocacy, shortterm rental and utility assistance, limited transportation, home visits, safety planning and healing circles to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking victims.

The Project SERV program provides transitional housing, legal assistance, and other services for six to 24 months. It's an Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) rural sexual assault, domestic and dating violence and stalking program the Nation has adopted.

Project HOUSE facilitates a Coordinated Community Response (CCR), whose goal is to effectively support underserved Native American victims fleeing sexual assault, domestic and dating violence and/or stalking. Eligible program participants are provided with transitional housing assistance, which includes rent and utility financial support. The program also assists with costs related to relocation and transitional housing for six to 24 months.

The Victim Assistance Formula Grant program provides comprehensive, culturally competent, direct services to victims of crime and their families. Services include: case management, needs assessment, development of individualized service plans, counseling, assessment of eligibility for other programs, safety planning, referrals and ongoing follow-up to ensure the victims' needs are met.

Another program the Choctaw Nation provides is Essential Life Skills, which provides parenting and budgeting skills, interviewing techniques, resume and leadership skills to crime victims of all ages. The Essential Life Skills program also provides monthly life group sessions.

The final program on the list is VOCA Set-Aside, a supplement to existing victim services and other support programs. It provides educational services and utility assistance to crime victims who want to attend a short-term educational institution.

Our employees work very hard to assist our people daily to overcome difficult situations. If you know of any employees that work in any of the areas listed, let them know how much you appreciate their servant's heart to serve our people.

Most importantly, if you or someone you know is in a domestic violence situation and is in need of assistance, please call (800) 522-6179 or visit choctawnation. com/domestic-violence.

God bless.

Self Care is Essential - September 2021

It's amazing how fast time passes. Three quarters of the year have flown by, the kids are back in school and the fall season will be upon us soon. Parents will begin helping their children with homework, ball games at school will begin, along with the many fall holidays.

As we all continue to experience life with a pandemic, we understand that it has had an impact on all of us, emotionally, mentally and physically. It is important that we take care of ourselves for one another, our families, and our communities.

I wanted to highlight the importance of taking care of ourselves as September is Self-Care Awareness Month. Often, we tend to go about our daily lives without stopping to set aside some time for ourselves. Protecting our physical and mental wellbeing has to be a priority in our life. You don't have to feel guilty about taking some time for yourself. It can be simple as getting some sleep, spending time outside, or mindful meditation. Taking an active role in self-care tends to lessen the feelings of despair and hopelessness.

September is also Suicide Prevention Month. Choctaw Nation recognizes the importance of suicide prevention.

In 2016, Chief Batton signed a proclamation declaring September as Suicide Prevention Month. The proclamation urged all employees and tribal members to work towards reducing the stigma for mental health-seeking behaviors, speak out about suicide prevention, and make others aware of the signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Native Americans between the ages of 10 and 34 in 2019.

The Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority (CNHSA) encourages associates to understand that one suicide is too many. CNSHA embraces the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration concept of 'Zero Suicide' and is trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation.

If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, please don't hesitate to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. Your life matters. You are not alone, and help is available.

God bless.

Back to School - August 2021

It's that time of year again. Summer is winding down, and back-to-school shopping for clothes and school supplies is in full swing. In fact, if you live in Oklahoma, Texas, or Arkansas, you can take advantage of the tax-free days, August 6-8, 2021.

But what I love the most about this time of the year is the Choctaw Nation's commitment to education. The Nation offers a variety of programs to assist tribal members, regardless of where they are on their educational journey.

The Partnership of Summer School Education (POSSE) program is geared towards students in pre-K through second grade. Its main goal is to close the gap by reteaching content that students have previously failed in a culturally enriched, safe and positive atmosphere. I'm proud to share that the POSSE program had 6,100 students across 70 schools this summer.

Our high school students from grades 9-12 can participate in the High School Student Services (HSSS) Program. The HSSS goal is to assist students with academic information to promote education and/ or a career path beyond high school. For the 2020-2021 school year, the HSS had a 98 percent graduation rate of in-area, participating high school seniors, and added 246 new high school tribal members to the program!

The Nation's Higher Education Program (HEP), which began in 1984, is a scholarship and grant program designed to provide tuition assistance to enrolled Choctaw tribal members attending an accredited college, technical school or university. The program has seen an increase in enrollment since the onset of the pandemic. I'm proud to say that HEP has served more than 1,500 tribal members for this funding period.

The Career Development Program, which was established in 2007, assists more than 3,500 students each year. Its goal is to enhance the lives of Choctaw tribal members by providing education and training opportunities, that lead to industry-recognized certifications or licenses and self-sustaining employment.

The Choctaw Nation values our youth and their education. As the back-to-school season begins, I pray that all of our students have a fun, safe, and rewarding school year. If you have any questions about any of our services related to education, please contact (800) 522-6170. God bless.

Celebrating Independence Day - July 2021

Summer is in full swing in the Choctaw Nation. In-person events are starting up again, and it is so wonderful to see everyone begin to live life again.

Independence Day, better known to most as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday that commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence of the United States on July 4th, 1776. This year, America celebrates 245 years of independence from Great Britain.

Whether you are at the lake, in the stands watching a game, or at home grilling a meal, it's a great time to spend with family and friends. On July 2, we will celebrate Independence Day with our annual Boom in the Valley Fireworks Spectacular in Tvshka Homma. This event features fireworks display beginning at dusk. This is always a special event, and I hope to see you all there.

While celebrating with fireworks, parades and cookouts are all fun ways for people to get together and celebrate, we should never forget the true meaning of the holiday. Independence Day is more than sparklers and red, white and blue. It represents an unmatched determination of effort to earn and keep freedom that continues to this day. Our service members and veterans all took a vow to protect our country and keep us safe. While you celebrate this year, I encourage you to remember the sacrifices made to give us the freedoms we enjoy every day.

We at the Choctaw Nation believe in taking care of our people and helping our communities. We have held several job fairs in the past few months in hopes that individuals in our community get the opportunity to find a career that is right for them.

July 25th is National Hire a Veteran Day. Every day, military personnel leave the service in search of civilian employment. National Hire a Veteran Day reminds employers to consider veterans to fill their open positions.

The Choctaw Nation is committed to our Choctaw veterans. The Veterans Advocacy program advocates for Choctaw veterans to receive benefits and services on par with other veterans, so they don't encounter barriers or impediments in their attempts to access services, and they are treated with respect and dignity by Veterans Affairs service providers. The Veterans Advocacy program will also serve Choctaw veterans by assisting with the eligibility and entitlements of veterans and their dependents and contacting appropriate VA service providers in their area. If you would like to know more about our Veteran's Advocacy program visit or call Roger Hamill at 580-642-7934.

If you are a veteran and looking for employment opportunities with the Choctaw Nation, visit or text 22100 with the keyword 'CHOCTAW' for an instant application.

Have a safe and happy 4th of July everyone, God bless.

Celebrating Fathers - June 2021

On the third Sunday in June, Americans take time to honor fathers and their role in the family and community. Father's Day is a celebration of fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. It is a special time for us to honor the most important men in our lives-the men who raised us, who inspired us, and taught us important life lessons.

Choctaw fathers are traditionally described as strong protectors. Many generations ago, in Choctaw society, they provided for their families by hunting, making tools and crafting weapons to defend their communities.

They were also teachers who passed on valuable lessons to younger generations.

As I reflect on what a father stands for, I can't help but think about my own father, the sacrifices he made and the wisdom he instilled in me. I look forward to getting to spend time with him this Father's Day. It is such a blessing to have the opportunity to continue making memories with my father. Over the years, I have learned so many valuable lessons from him. Without my father, I wouldn't be the man I am today. He instilled in me the Chahta values of working hard and caring for others. I am passing those same lessons on to my children, who will hopefully continue the legacy of our ancestors for generations to come.

One thing this pandemic has taught me is to cherish what time you have with your loved ones. Our time together on this earth is short and precious. Now that we have access to vaccinations, we have the opportunity to celebrate holidays together safely. If you haven't gotten your vaccine yet, I encourage you to do so. Staying healthy and safe in the coming year will allow us more time to spend with our loved ones and continue to make special memories together.

For some, Father's Day isn't a time for celebration. It can be a time of grief if they have experienced the loss of their fathers. If you have lost a father, I hope that you can find comfort and peace with the memories you have.

I encourage the men in our community to strive to be the best fathers and role models our children need and deserve. If you need help on your journey to becoming a better father, the Choctaw Nation is here to help.

We provide several services that can assist our men in bettering themselves for their families. The Nation provides vocational training assistance and other educational programs to help our members complete their education. Our housing department assists tribal members with their efforts to meet their housing needs adequately. The Guiding Adolescent Parents project and the Fatherhood Initiative provide comprehensive and integrated services to improve family health, education, social, and safety outcomes for expecting and parenting teens and their babies by providing medically accurate and comprehensive service including linkages to critical resource, ongoing support for health and education, and positive parenting and relationship skills instruction using an evidenced based nationally validated model.

We offer many other programs and services designed to help our tribal members live successful, healthy and productive lives. Together, we are continuing the Chahta Spirit of our ancestors for our children and the generations to come. For more information and to find other tribal services, visit

Preparing for Severe Weather Season - May 2021

In Oklahoma, we know that severe weather can happen at any time, especially in the spring and summer months. From April through June, lightning, large hail and damaging winds are all dangerous possibilities. It's important to have a plan in place for keeping your loved ones and friends safe. Living in what's known as Tornado Alley, preparedness is key for severe weather when it strikes.

The National Weather Service has a few tips to help prepare for severe weather.

Be weather-ready. Severe weather can change in an instant. Check your local forecast regularly to see if you are at risk for tornadoes in your area. Listen to your local news or a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio to stay informed about thunderstorm and tornado watches and warnings in your area.

Sign up for notifications. Knowing how your community sends weather warnings is essential, especially if outdoor sirens aren't available. Many in rural areas cannot depend on local news, however, thanks to the technology of smartphones, residents can be alerted of severe storms capable of producing damaging wind, hail and tornadoes. Choctaw Nation's Emergency Management sends notifications when severe weather is expected on their Facebook page. These notifications proved to be very helpful during the recent severe winter weather we experienced. Follow them on Facebook at

Create a communication plan. It is always good to have a family communication plan that includes an emergency meeting place and related information that could help protect your family. If you live in a mobile home or a home without a basement, identify a nearby safe building that you can get to quickly, such as a church or a family member's home. However, you will not always have time to find a safer structure. In this case, it is recommended to pick a safe room in your home, such as a basement, storm shelter or an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows.

Make sure all members of your family know where to go when a tornado warning is issued. Don't forget your pets if time allows. Also, encourage your family, loved ones and neighbors to prepare for the possibility of tornadoes. Visit for more tips on how to stay safe in severe weather.

If you are preparing your home by having a safe room reinforced, you can find plans for reinforcement for interior rooms to provide better protection on the Federal Emergency Management agency's website.

The Choctaw Nation Housing Authority also offers a storm shelter program that provides a grant for storm shelters to Choctaw tribal members who live in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas, which are states with a high risk of tornados. Applicants must be 45 years old or older to receive the full grant amount of $2,500. Applicants under 45, who meet all other requirements, will receive a grant for $1,250. To qualify for the $4,200 grant for an above-ground shelter, the applicant must have a documented ambulatory disability. For a complete list of requirements, visit tribal-services/housing/storm-shelters. You can now apply for this program on the Chahta Achvffa Member Portal. For more information or assistance with completing the application, please contact the Housing Authority at (800) 235-3087 ext. 6306.

My article may seem a little different but with spring storm season upon us, I wanted to provide awareness to help us all be better prepared. After all, our family, friends, and communities are worthy of protecting no matter the season. God bless each of you.

Celebrating Easter - April 2021

Last Easter was the first major holiday affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and this Easter will once again be different. While social distancing and other restrictions are far from over, we are starting to see hope in a more normal future and being able to celebrate holidays together again.

After navigating a global pandemic for a full year, we have learned how to adapt and persevere through this challenging time. We have had to learn how to deal with loss and how to spend holidays without loved ones. As we celebrate Easter, we must still make the health and safety of our friends and families a top priority.

Following each holiday during the pandemic, our country has experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases. However, in lessons learned over the past year along with the vaccine rollout, we are seeing a decline in active COVID cases. By continuing to be aware of and practicing the latest safety precautions we can continue that trend.

Despite COVID's impact on the world, Easter remains a wonderful time of the year, a time to reflect on the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus' death and resurrection is one of sacrifice, love, restoration and hope. Many sacrifices have been made during this last year, and continue to be made, yet if we focus on the promises of God, we understand that we have hope in uncertain times.

This Easter some may choose to gather in their celebration but even with the decline of active COVID cases I encourage everyone to be diligent with the most current safety precautions.

Many churches and communities this year are again hosting virtual services and celebrations, and the Choctaw Nation is hosting a virtual Easter Celebration as well. If you would like to be a part of the virtual event, please visit the official Choctaw Nation Facebook page on April 4 to view details about the special event.

I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Easter and I hope that you are able to spend it with family or friends safely this year. God bless.

Livestock Show Canceled - March 2021

I hope you all are staying warm, healthy and safe in the New Year. The health and safety of our tribal members and communities have been of the utmost importance to us during the global pandemic. We've had to make tough decisions throughout the past year, the most recent being to cancel our annual livestock show. This wasn't a hastily made decision. We had to weigh out the pros and cons of hosting the event this year, and the health and safety of our communities took precedence.

The Choctaw Nation Livestock Show has always been one of my favorite events that we host. I love seeing the hard work and determination our tribal youth put into keeping these animals in tip-top shape and competition ready. Showing livestock and associated programs like 4-H and FFA help build life skills and develop character traits that will help young people in the future. Taking care of show animals is a lot of work. These students take on daily responsibilities that come with showing animals. By showing livestock, they learn how to select, feed, fit, groom and properly show their animals. They learn how to vaccinate, keep records, add costs and weigh them against future profits. Showing livestock takes a lot of time and patience and helps to build life skills that will help young people in the future.

The show began in 1992 as one event held in Hugo. It started as a swine only show and was open to Native American youth living in the Choctaw Nation. The next year the show was held at the McAlester Expo-- and a few years later in Wilburton at the Eastern Oklahoma State College Agricultural facilities. It wasn't long before heifers, steer, goats and lambs were added. The event grew so large that the show was split into a two-day show in Wilburton and Durant. Participants must be a member of 4-H or FFA; must be a student between third and twelfth grade; and must be no older than 19 on the day of the show. There are no boundary guidelines for the livestock show, and participants do not have to live or go to school within the Choctaw Nation's boundaries.

It is always so great to see our young people take an interest in showing livestock. I enjoy watching the families support the youth. Over the years, I've watched younger siblings help groom the animals. I've witnessed parents, teachers and students cheer each other on and encourage each other to succeed. There is a sense of community, which is always great to see.

To the youth who usually participate in this event, this year has been challenging and there have been many disappointments. I want you to know that we recognize and see all of the hard work you put into showing livestock. To the ag teachers, we are so thankful for the many hours you put in and the late nights you work to ensure your students are successful. To the parents, we also recognize the time and money you put in to help your children grow and succeed.

My hope for the future is to host this event next year in a healthy and safe environment. Though COVID-19 has taken us apart, together, we will pererver and continue to support each other through this.

For more information on the Choctaw Nation Livestock Show's history and highlights of some of the best and brightest in the world of livestock shows, check out the story on page 12 of this month's issue of the Biskinik.

CNO Vaccine Plan - February 2021

We are about a month away from the one-year mark for the COVID-19 pandemic. Cases continue to soar across the U.S. and world, but we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel with the development and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

The Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority (CNHSA) began the first phase of its vaccine distribution plan in mid-December 2020. In Phase 1, CNHSA worked with Indian Health Services to begin vaccinating frontline healthcare workers. With over 400 COVID-19 vaccines given to CNHSA employees, the Choctaw Nation moved into Phase 2 on Jan. 4, 2021.

Those eligible for vaccinations in Phase 2 include: CDIB cardholders in our service area age 60 years and over, plus those CDIB cardholders who live in the same household. Teachers and non-CNHSA healthcare workers with a CDIB are also eligible.

Additionally, CDIB cardholders 60 years old or older whom reside outside of our service area but get their health care at CNHSA can be vaccinated in Phase 2.

The above-identified tribal members will be eligible to get the vaccine. In the coming weeks, as production and supplies increase, vaccinations will be made available to more people within the Choctaw Nation. 

Those eligible in Phase 3 include CDIB cardholders in our service area age 40 years and over, plus those CDIB cardholders who live in the same household.

To make an appointment to get vaccinated, tribal members will need to call 800- 349-7026 ext. 6. They will then be prompted to select a clinic. Once a clinic is selected, the call will go directly to the scheduler for an appointment. Vaccines are given by appointment only. For more information, visit

The Choctaw Nation has also partnered with the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) to provide a location for their public COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The first public vaccination event was held on Jan. 6 at the Choctaw Event Center in Durant. During the event, OSDH inoculated 814 Oklahomans. For more information on OSDH's vaccination events, visit

Although there is hope for the future, it is still necessary to take this virus seriously. The COVID-19 vaccines are an important tool to help us stop the pandemic and are a safe and simple measure to prevent illness and community outbreaks. However, they are not a treatment for people who are already sick with COVID-19. Encourage your loved ones to get vaccinated. The more people in your community who get vaccinated, the more protection there will be for everyone against COVID-19. By receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, you can help by preventing the spread of the disease and reducing your risk of getting sick, being hospitalized or dying.

I want to personally encourage everyone to continue taking the necessary precautions to keep each other safe. Wear a mask; avoid large gatherings; wash your hands; and follow social distancing guidelines. We will get through this pandemic by working together to do our part to stop the spread.

For more information on COVID-19 vaccines, check out the front-page story of this month's issue of the Biskinik. It goes into more detail on the research and safety of these vaccines. I wish you all health and happiness in 2021. May God bless and keep you safe. Yakoke.

Capture Sara

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