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State of The Nation Urges Members to Stay the Course


- Tvshka Homma, Oklahoma

by Roger Clark

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Chief Gary Batton introduced his family to the audience before giving the annual State of the Nation.  After introducing his family on the stage, Chief Batton introduced his mother, sister and brother.  His brother came from Kansas to be a part of the festivities.
Chief Gary Batton wrapped up a big event on a high note with his 2017 State of the Nation address at this year's Choctaw Nation Labor Day Festival. The State of the Nation is always a concluding highlight of the five-day event at Tvshka Homma, the historical Capitol Grounds of the Choctaw Nation. It opened this year Aug. 31 and closed on Labor Day morning, Sept. 4.

A crowd of thousands gathered at the amphitheater in Tvshka Homma to listen to the State of the Nation address. After introducing family, friends, the Choctaw Nation Judicial Branch, and several honored guests, he offered a remembrance of the late Councilman Ted Dosh.

Chief Batton's presentation was filled with one success story after another. Last year, he cited examples of how 2017 would be a year of amazing growth for the Choctaw Nation. His words proved to be honest, accurate and welcome.

"Everyone wants to know, where does the money come from?" Chief Batton said. He explained that the funds are from "tribal, federal and state" sources. Total income over the past fiscal year was $744,200,000.

"State and federal dollars are shrinking," Batton said. Meanwhile, tribal income is up 58 percent since 2014, showing steady growth and success.

"Where does the money go?" Chief Batton said, noting over $504 million is put into services, over $152 million is invested in growing businesses of the tribe, and over $86 million is put into sustainability.

Employment for our Choctaw people is important, he said, pointing out the Tribal Council's efforts in this area.

"The Job for the Day program has found work for 493 people," Chief Batton said.

The Choctaw Nation will be building 120 new homes across the 10½ counties of southeastern Oklahoma. Rental residences will also be constructed in the coming year. Through another housing program, 470 eligible households will receive funds to rehab their existing homes.

Since 2016, 14 construction projects have been completed across the 10½-county service area of the Choctaw Nation. "Another 28 sites are under construction or in planning stages," Chief Batton stated.

Photos of the various facilities appeared on screens as Chief Batton cited, "The Choctaw Nation Regional Health Clinic in Durant, Community Centers in Bethel/ Battiest, Hugo, Talihina-Broken Bow. Head Starts in Atoka, Bethel/Battiest, Wright City-Antlers, Hugo, Poteau, Talihina."

He also noted Choctaw Nation Day Cares, Head Starts, Food Distribution, Independent Elderly Housing, Wellness Centers, Choctaw Travel Plazas with Casinos, and the expansion of the Choctaw Casino Resort - Grant, which includes a Chili's. Coming to Durant are the Choctaw Cultural Center, the Judicial Center and the new Choctaw Nation Headquarters.

After a sea of hands went up when he asked, "How many of you like to hunt and fish?" Chief Batton said, "Tribal members have been saved $5,029,552 on over 18,000 Hunting and Fishing licenses."

He then announced that the Choctaw Nation has recently helped the State of Oklahoma with the caretaking of nearby Lake Nanih Waiya. The assistance has been so successful that discussions are now underway for the Choctaw Nation to take full responsibility for the lake.

The Choctaw Vehicle Tags program has grown to 34,595 tags issued, resulting in total dollars reimbursed to tribal members of $5,270,783 since 2015.

Also announced during the State of the Nation was the new Choctaw Veterans tag.

"We want to recognize our veterans with this Choctaw Veterans License Plate that will become available Jan. 1, 2018," Chief Batton stated.

The importance of auditing, compliance, and ethics will continue to be a priority.

The Choctaw Nation is also developing a single identification card for members usable for all services. It has safety features for identity protection and becomes available Jan. 1, 2018.

"Faith, Family, Culture" is visible on many items produced by the Choctaw Nation. However, it is proving to be more than a statement, as the Tribal Council has put it into action.

In a nod to the faith of so many Choctaw members and their leadership, Chief Batton said, "While other governments are taking down symbols of Christianity, the Choctaw Nation erected our 'Ten Commandments' monument during our Trail of Tears Walk this past May."

The topic of family was key in Chief Batton's talk. In one of the biggest surprises of the day, he introduced "Lexi." The little girl who had been at the heart of great controversy when her temporary foster parents in California refused to return her, was seated on the front row. She and her family traveled from their western state home to be at the Labor Day ceremony.

"Many of you are aware of the Indian Child Welfare case with Lexi," Chief Batton said. Because of the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Choctaw Children & Family Services, "Lexi was returned to her family, where her little sister was already living and has been legally adopted. I love this picture," he said looking at the family photo splashed across all of the screens.

Members of the Choctaw Code Talkers Association were recognized for their efforts in passing state legislation to have county bridges named after America's first Code Talkers, who served in World War I and WWII.

Touching on culture, Chief Batton then offered insights about the Choctaw delegation that attended the unveiling of "Kindred Spirits" in Cork, Ireland earlier this year. The 20-foot stainless steel sculpture is a "recognition of the gift from our ancestors." The public art marks the ties between the Choctaw and the Irish people, a bond that began after the Choctaw donation to help save those starving during the Irish Famine in the early 1800s.

"Our act of generosity is part of their documented history and is taught in their schools," Chief Batton said. "To continue this spirit we donated proceeds from the Jake Owen concert Friday night in Durant, which amounted to $50,000, and vendors helped with another $20,000, for a total of $70,000 going to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey."

Chief ended his speech with words of hope for the future of the Choctaw Nation.

"In closing, I hope my presentation has given you a snapshot of how we are staying the course," stated Chief Batton. "We are keeping our rich cultural history alive, protecting our sovereignty, providing opportunities, and keeping the tribe strong for our kids and grand kids."

The annual ceremony also included the swearing in of six Tribal Council members.

Returning members who retained their seats were Delton Cox for District 4, Jack Austin Sr. for District 7; Anthony Dillard for District 10 and James Frazier for District 12. New faces sworn in were Jennifer Woods for District 6 and James Dry for District 9.

The entire State of the Nation was live-streamed and can be viewed at www.youtube.com/ChoctawNationOK.
                                                                                     
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The Choctaw Nation Tribal Council for 2017 are (front l-r) Jack Austin Sr., District 7; Ron Perry, District 5; James Frazier, District 12; Perry Thompson, District 8. (middle row l-r) Bob Pate, District 11; Anthony Dillard, District 10; Jennifer Woods, District 6; Thomas Williston, District 1; (top l-r) James Dry, District 9; Delton Cox, District 4; Tony Ward, District 2; and Kenny Bryant, District 3.
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Before the anthem was sang, Chief Gary Batton took a moment to recognize all of the Choctaw men and women who served in the military.
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Chief Gary Batton congratulates John Hoosier for being the oldest Choctaw man present at the State of the Nation Address.  Hoosier is 93 years old.
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Chief Gary Batton congratulates Lilliella Willis for being the oldest Choctaw woman present at the State of the Nation Address.  She is 97 years old.
 
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