Photos by Choctaw Nation
Chief Gary Batton delivers his State of the Nation address on Labor Day morning. His theme: Stay the Course.
TVSHKA HOMMA – 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, on the original Capitol Grounds of the Choctaw Nation. It opened this year Aug. 31 and closed on Labor Day morning, Sept. 4.
With the theme “Stay the Course,” his speech was interrupted numerous times by applause and cheers from a crowd of more than 5,000. 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 had one success story after another. Last year, he cited examples of how 2017 would be a year of incredible growth for the Choctaw Nation. His words proved to be honest, accurate, and welcome.
“Everyone wants to know, where the money comes 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% since 2014, showing steady growth and success.
“Where does the money go?” Chief Batton said, noting over $504 million are put into services, over $152 million grows the tribe’s businesses, and sustainability receives over $86 million.
Employment for our Choctaw people is necessary, 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. Also constructed in the coming year, are Rental residences. Through another housing program, 470 eligible households will receive funds to rehab their existing homes.
Since 2016, the Choctaw Nation has constructed 14 projects across the 10½-county service area. “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 under way for the Choctaw Nation to take full responsibility for the lake.
The Choctaw ‘Tags Program’ has grown to 34,595 tags issued, resulting in total dollars reimbursed to tribal members of $5,270,783 since 2015. A thunder of applause welcomed the image on the screen of a 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 useable 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 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 ’10 Commandments’ monument during our Trail of Tears Walk this past May.”
The family was essential in Chief Batton’s talk. In one of the biggest surprises of the day, bringing an audible gasp, then applause from the audience, 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 had 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 adopted legally. I love this picture,” he said looking at the family photo splashed across all of the screens.
Recognized were members of the Choctaw Code Talkers Association 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 schools teach that,” 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.”
It was a report card worthy of the President’s Honor Roll.
“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 grandkids.”
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., District 7; Anthony Dillard, District 10; and James Frazier, District 12. New faces sworn in were Jennifer Woods, District 6; and James Dry, District 9.
The Choctaw Labor Day Festival is four days of arts, entertainment, sports, cultural activities, and family fun. Held in the final month of summer, for the southeast quarter of the state it is one of the most anticipated events of the year, drawing an estimated crowd of nearly 100,000 people. The 2017 Choctaw Labor Day Festival brought visitors to Tvshka Homma from across the United States and some foreign countries.
This year’s event surpassed all expectations. RV camping, tent camping, and daily parking were at capacity. Trams and carts were always shuttling visitors to their vehicles and on-site destinations.
Everyone seemed to be talking about the near-perfect weather at this year’s festival. Surrounded by the picturesque Potato Hills, on the grounds of the original Choctaw Nation Council House and the surrounding acreage, the days were sunny and warm, the nights, cool under an almost full moon. John Hobbs, Executive Director of Choctaw Public Safety, was pleased that it was a long weekend virtually without incident.
The Choctaw Nation Princess Pageant opened the festival Thursday evening. New tribal Royalty was selected to reign over the festival and to make appearances in the year ahead. The 2017-2018 Miss Choctaw Nation is BreAnna Jefferson; Junior Miss Choctaw Nation is Jade Cossey, and Little Miss Choctaw Nation is Mya Thomas.
The always-popular carnival, with games, and the latest rides and classic favorites, such as the Ferris wheel, had long lines day and night. Service programs of the Choctaw Nation operated a Mobile Library, Education Tent, Healthy Living Expo, Going Green Tent, a powwow, sports tournaments in softball and basketball, and traditional activities of horse shoes, archery, stickball and much more. Claiming the stickball championship this year was Team MBCI from Mississippi.
Evening concerts again filled the 2,500-seat amphitheater, with more seating than that in folding chairs and on blankets on the surrounding grass. Alabama, For King and Country, Neal McCoy and Aaron Watson were among performers.
Top honors at the 14th annual Choctaw Nation Art Show went to Best of Show winner Paul King for “Chahta Phases.” The ‘People’s Choice,’ went to Debra Irvan, “Three Little Sisters.” Painting awards were, 1st Place, Nancy Rhoades, “Take My Hand,” Graphics, 1st Place, Debra Irvan, “Three Little Sisters.” The Sculpture award was, 1st Place, Lyman Choate, “Good Effort.” Pottery, 1st Place, was Edmond Perkins, “Thumbprint Vessel.” Basketry was, 1st Place, Mary Jo Cook, “SheNiYa’s Kishi,” Cultural, 1st Place, Karen Braudrick, “Bowl with Horn Spoon.” The Jewelry was, 1st Place, Tia Carter, “Choctaw Council House,” and Heritage Award went to, Karen Clarkson, “Morning Prayers.”
For photos and video of the 2017 Choctaw Nation Labor Day Festival, including a live stream of Chief Batton’s State of the Nation address, visit the tribe’s Facebook page, or web site at www.choctawnation.com.
A line of princesses from across the Choctaw Nation join the Grand Entry of annual Choctaw Nation Labor Day Powwow.
Stickball players take the field adjacent to the carnival. Teams from across the region vie for tops honors well into the night.
Graphic artist Debra Irvan displays her People’s Choice Award-winning work “Three Little Sisters” in the 14th annual Choctaw Nation Art Show held in the Choctaw Museum.
The carnival draws young people of all ages from morning to night at the Choctaw Nation Labor Day Festival in Tvshka Homma.
Traditional Christian hymns in the Choctaw language rang loud and clear in the Rev. Bertram Bobb Chapel on Sunday morning.