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Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

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    Bakersfield Gathering 2015
    A group of Choctaws from all over the U.S. have fun performing the Snake Dance while wearing traditional clothing. They had come together during last year’s California cultural gathering.

    20th annual California Choctaw cultural gathering to be held May 2-3 in Bakersfield, CA.

    The Okla Chahta Clan of California will be holding their 20th annual California Choctaw Culture Gathering event May 2-3, 2015.

    Choctaws from all over the country will come together at Bakersfield College in Bakersfield, Calif. to enjoy an assortment of traditional and contemporary events.

    Make-and-take classes will be held for basket-making, pottery, and beading, so everyone can learn and get involved with traditional art. Interactive games, like the corn game, chunky, rabbit stick toss, and blow dart shooting will offer fun for children and adults.

    Food will play a large role in the celebration. Tanchi labona and grape dumplings will be served. There will be a free Saturday dinner, and a free pancake breakfast on Sunday while church is held by Olin Williams.

    Young ladies of ages six to 23 years old will compete for Okla Chahta Clan Princess titles.

    Youth and adult stickball will be played by those interested in joining, and traditional social dances will be performed.

    To keep up-to-date on the plans for this event, follow the Okla Chahta group on twitter at @oklachahtaca, visit, call (661)-319-6308, or email

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    Language Jim and Teri Indoors
    Executive Director of Education School Programs Jim Parrish and Assistant Director of the language school Teresa Billy in the lobby of the new school building in Durant.

    State of the Choctaw Language School

    By Brandon Frye
    Choctaw Nation
    Through the work and dedication of many Choctaws over the years, our language has remained a legacy that is still thriving. The Choctaw language’s ongoing story has a rich history, with characters ranging from chiefs to community members playing a role. And looking forward, there are a number of exciting developments for the Choctaw language and the school dedicated to teaching it: “Chahta Anumpa Aiikhvna,” or the School of Choctaw Language.

    Where we were

    For Choctaws, the language is a way of “tracking back to who we are. And if you don’t know who you are, you don’t know where you are going,” according to Jim Parrish, Executive Director of Education School Programs and Director of the Choctaw Language School.

    Ian Thompson, Director of the Historic Preservation Department, traces the identity of Choctaw people back through 500 generations of Choctaw ancestors who developed a unique community, spirituality, and language through interacting with the landscape of our homeland.

    “This way of existing and of looking at the world is built into the structure and the words of the Choctaw language,” Thompson said. “Today even after years of colonization, the Choctaw language is still at the center of all things Choctaw; it connects us with our indigenous roots, relationships, and spirituality.”

    In the 19th century, the Choctaw language gained an advocate with Christian missionary Cyrus Byington who produced the original Choctaw Language Dictionary with the help of Choctaws in Mississippi, and later also with Choctaws in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). With his dictionary—as well as his Choctaw translations for Christian hymns, parts of the Old Testament, and the entire New Testamen—the helped the Choctaws form their words into a written language. Up until then the language had not been written.

    More recently, in 1997, the Choctaw language gained many more advocates when then Chief Gregory Pyle decided to create a language department and preserve the language, which led to the development of the School of the Choctaw Language.

    “Chief Pyle told me one of the first programs he wanted to have would preserve the language,” said Joy Culbreath, life-long educator and current Director of Education Special Projects for the Nation. “At that point, I began to figure out, think, and see what we wanted to do.”

    Culbreath collected a team of educators and Choctaw language speakers and pushed forward to teaching Choctaw over the internet and in person, to children, to students in high schools, and to community members in and out of the bounds of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO).

    Since then, initiative has spread to Choctaw leaders, citizens, elders, educators, and curious students of all ages, all wanting to embrace their culture and learn their language.

    Where we are

    Chief Gary Batton has picked up the torch which Pyle, Culbreath, and others had earlier lit. “Chief Batton is carrying on all of these dreams and all of our work with the language. It shows that he is definitely on board for all we are doing with the language department,” Culbreath said.

    “Our language is what distinguishes us and makes us unique from the rest of the world,” Chief Batton said. “It encompasses who we are as Chahta people as it reminds us of our rich culture and past.”

    Now, there are 18 Choctaw instructors at the School of Choctaw Language who are teaching students at many points of development in their studies, from children to adults, beginners and up.

    These first and second language speakers share their knowledge to all of the Choctaw Nation’s head start locations, teaching our youth Choctaw. They teach students from 38 high schools across southeast Oklahoma, as well as college students. Instructors meet CNO employees where they work for language lessons. And there are 33 active community instructors across the Choctaw Nation.

    With the help of educators with the Nation, the Choctaw language is now considered on the same level as Spanish and French in our public schools and taught as a world language.

    Where we are going

    Today, “we are hoping to have the new Choctaw Dictionary published by the end of the year,” Parrish said.

    The newest edition will be made by Choctaws and for Choctaws. It will also be brought more up-to-date and will more accurately reflect the dialect of Oklahoma Choctaw speakers, according to Teresa Billy, Assistant Director of the Choctaw Language School. Additionally, the new dictionary will be “easier and more user-friendly for the learner,” Billy said. “In 100 years, when we are not here, someone should be able to sit down, look at this dictionary, and learn.”

    After finalization of the new dictionary, avenues for an online audio-dictionary and mobile applications will open up. These interactive learning opportunities would contain the approximately 4,000 Choctaw words, as well as sentences, also available in the new published dictionary.

    There is also a new curriculum textbook on the way. Billy said, in addition to the completed Choctaw I and II textbooks, the Choctaw III curriculum textbook will be finalized and printed before the next school year, Fall 2015. This new book will be used in college and high school classes by students and teachers alike, and will allow for a deeper, more advanced understanding of the language.

    She added, “The content of the Choctaw I book is already on the website. Anybody who wants to download it can download it, chapter-by-chapter.”

    There are more instructors on staff right now than ever before. These instructors are a mixture of Choctaw first-language-speaking elders who have lived the culture and grown up speaking Choctaw, and their diligent students who have learned directly from those elders and put in the work to be able to also teach the language.

    To continually bolster the number of instructors, two years ago the school began a teacher education scholarship called “Chahta Anumpa” (Choctaw language), which takes in college-level education students and—at no cost to the student—prepares them to teach the language. There are currently two student scholars, each preparing to work for the Choctaw Language School once they graduate.

    The Choctaw Language school currently offers a unique Choctaw language learning experience. There are more educators available. The curriculum is polished and published. Anyone interested in reading, writing, and speaking Choctaw has access to Choctaw language experts who lived it—an opportunity that will not always be available. And the school offers many opportunities to get involved with the language.

    You can also learn Choctaw by spending time and interacting with fluent Choctaw speakers, or by visiting to view and study Choctaw lessons. Chahta chia ho? (Are you Choctaw?). Chahta chia hokmvt Chahta Anumpa ish anumpuhola chike! (If you are Choctaw, then you need to speak Choctaw!). We here at the School of Choctaw Language await and welcome all persons eager to learn Choctaw.

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    Preferred Supplier Program Choctaw Business
    (Left to right) Sherlynn Kennedy, Brigette Viehe, Mike Viehe, Boyd Miller, and Billy Hamilton check out the easily recognized logo on a Servpro vehicle. Hamilton and Kennedy with Business Development, and Miller with Preferred Supplier Program, had just met with Mr. and Mrs. Viehe about their business.

    Preferred Supplier Program continues to promote Choctaw Business

    By Brandon Frye
    Choctaw Nation

    Durant, Okla. - The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) Preferred Supplier Program (PSP) continues to serve the Choctaw people by bringing Native-owned businesses into contact with more and better commercial opportunities.

    The goal of the PSP is to direct the business and trade of the Nation and other organizations to established Native and minority businesses. It is an effort to support local buying and growth development, expansion, and increased use of business enterprises owned by Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma tribal members, other Native Americans, and other federally recognized minorities.

    “We strive to continually develop and provide the most beneficial programs to our Choctaw-owned business members while seeking best value and performance for purchases by the Choctaw Nation through our supplier program,” Miller said. “We promote accountability to our members, sustainability, growth, diversity, and the creation of jobs throughout the Choctaw Nation.”

    For Choctaw business owners, making use of the PSP means gaining a preferred supplier status, and being certified in this way comes with a number of perks.

    When a job needs to be done, when a service needs to be performed, when a product needs to be sold, PSP puts Choctaw businesses to use. Miller and the PSP maintain a registry of qualified businesses for this very purpose, so tribal businesses can be shared and made available when work needs to be done.

    A complete online directory will be available to not only organizations looking to pay for work, but also the public looking for services and products at an individual level.

    The program also gathers a directory of qualified businesses or vendors and gives them equal opportunity to submit bids for big jobs like construction, an opportunity which might not be available without having the support of the Nation through PSP.
    Preferred Supplier Program Coffee

    To make this bidding process even more accessible, an online bid board is in the works, which will make it easier for registered members of PSP to compete for bigger jobs and sales. This will allow vendors with a preferred supplier status more visibility with current and future CNO business opportunities as well.

    Since the Choctaw Nation PSP got its start last year, it has already registered more than 200 businesses fitting into 39 different categories. It has aided and advocated for these Choctaw businesses.

    Like the Hamilton family and their Achukma Pecan Oil, whose product, after receiving support from PSP, now sits on Choctaw Travel Plaza shelves waiting to be purchased. Boyd Miller brought the right people from within the Choctaw Nation—people from the Marketing Department and Business Development—in to help Achukma Pecan Oil get their business prepared and product ready to be sold at Choctaw Nation locations.

    PSP works with growing business, but also established big businesses, like Bill McClure’s This business, a coffee vendor already supplying goods to the Creek, Cherokee, and Chickasaw Nations, is partnering with PSP and the Choctaw Nation to offer new jobs and training to Choctaw people.

    Even businesses outside of the boundaries of the Choctaw Nation have this aid and advocacy available to them. Like Brigette and Mike Viehe, who own and operate a Servpro clean-up business out of Texas. They are looking to expand their service area, to help residents within the Choctaw Nation when fire or water emergencies strike. Miller and the PSP are currently in the process of helping make that possible.

    For Choctaws looking to support fellow Choctaws by buying their products or making use of their services, it is as simple as visiting, clicking on the Preferred Suppliers Listing link, and selecting from the list of certified vendors.

    For Choctaw business people and entrepreneurs, becoming a certified vendor with PSP is as simple as creating your company profile and registering on the website, providing the appropriate documents, as well as a capabilities statement. Should you have any questions or need help in the development and registering of your business please contact Boyd Miller, Program Manager, at (580) 924-8280, ext. 2889.

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    Groundbreaking Antlers/Bethel
    Shovels turn for a new Travel Plaza and Casino Too in Antlers on March 6. This is the first Choctaw Nation Travel Plaza in Pushmataha County.

    Choctaw Nation Breaks New Ground

    By Brandon Frye & Ronni Pierce
    Choctaw Nation

    The awakening of spring marked the breaking of ground for three new Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) ventures.

    In February a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new community center and pre-school in the Bethel/Battiest area. The site of the new community center and pre-school is more centrally located between Bethel and Battiest, approximately 1 3/4 miles east of Battiest on Main County Road. The 7,956-square-foot location will give citizens from both areas better access to community gatherings. Construction on both is expected to be completed September 2015.

    The pre-school will accommodate up to 25 students in a school-readiness program for 3-to 4-year-olds. It will have an indoor safe room, the classroom will be equipped with newer technology such as a smart board, and it will have a larger dining area that can be utilized for parent/staff meetings.

    “These people need this, it is something that has been needed for a long time,” said Tony Messenger, District 2 Tribal Council member.

    Speaking of the community center, Messenger added, “I hope everyone uses it and recognizes it for what it is, it’s for the gathering of our Choctaw people and for our communities.”

    And in March, CNO representatives and city officials met in Antlers to break ground on the new 10,254-square-foot Travel Plaza and Casino Too. The new 24-hour facility is the first CNO travel plaza to feature a Choctaw Country Welcome Center dedicated to showcasing tourism information, Choctaw culture, and Choctaw-made items for sale.

    “It’s about complementing this community and bringing the people services that help them,” noted Chief Gary Batton. The business will employ approximately 40 people from the area. And according to Antlers Mayor Mike Burrage, “We are thankful for the Choctaw Nation and the economic impact the Nation is bringing.”

    The facility is expected to be completed in early Summer 2015.

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    2015 Trail of Tears Walk

    The Trail of Tears Commemorative Walk will be held at Tvshka Homma on Saturday, May 16.

    The purpose of this annual event is to honor and recognize the Choctaws who were forced to march from their ancient homelands to Indian Territory nearly two centuries ago. Many died along the Trail and we gather to honor them, as well as the survivors who became the foundation for today’s Choctaw Nation.

    An opening prayer will be held at 10 a.m., then the Choctaw Nation Color Guard will lead the Walk. Chief of the Choctaw Nation Gary Batton will follow with Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr., the Tribal Council and Choctaw royalty along with the hundreds of Choctaws and friends who will make the Walk.

    A program will follow the Walk on the Capitol Grounds at Tvshka Homma to include messages from Chief Batton, Assistant Chief Austin and Council Speaker Delton Cox.

    Activities will include gospel singing in the traditional Choctaw style and Chahta Anumpa language, cultural demonstrations, basket weaving, beading, pottery, and Choctaw social dancers.

    Lunch will be served in the cafeteria and shuttle buses will be available between parking site and the Capitol.

    Download the 2015 Trail of Tears Commemorative Walk Shirt order form here.

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    April is Autism Awareness-Know Your Signs

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.

    A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder.

    Signs and Symptoms

    People with ASD often have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills. They might repeat certain behaviors and might not want change in their daily activities. Many people with ASD also have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things. Signs of ASD begin during early childhood and typically last throughout a person’s life.

    Children or adults with ASD might:

    • not point at objects to show interest (for example, not point at an airplane flying over)
    • not look at objects when another person points at them
    • have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
    • avoid eye contact and want to be alone
    • have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
    • prefer not to be held or cuddled, or might cuddle only when they want to
    • appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds
    • be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them
    • repeat or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language
    • have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
    • not play “pretend” games (for example, not pretend to “feed” a doll)
    • repeat actions over and over again
    • have trouble adapting when a routine changes
    • have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound
    • lose skills they once had (for example, stop saying words they were using)


    Diagnosing ASD can be difficult since there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorders. Doctors look at the child’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis.

    ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable. However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. This delay means that children with ASD might not get the early help they need.

    The Choctaw Nation is leading the way in autism education, support, and awareness in Southeast Oklahoma. Various events will be held during the month of April throughout the 10 ½ counties. These events include free autism screenings, educational trainings, and resource fairs. Through the TELI project and Autism Community CARES initiative, families and community members will have the opportunity to connect with autism professionals as well as local resources. For more information on autism and events scheduled, visit

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  • 03/23/15--06:33: Friendship through Famine
  • A Letter of Gratitude to the Choctaw Nation

    By Amadeus Finlay
    Contributing Writer

    “A mist rose up out of the sea, and you could hear a voice talking near a mile off across the stillness of the earth… when the fog lifted, you could begin to see the tops of the potato stalks lying over as if the life was gone out of them. And that was the beginning of the great trouble and famine that destroyed Ireland.”

    Of all the devastations to befall Ireland, few have been as harrowing as the Great Potato Famine. Striking in the fall of 1845 and lasting for almost six years, an Gorta Mór left over one million Irish dead as a result of starvation, exposure and disease. When the emaciated peasants looked to their colonial masters for support, the British minister for famine relief responded that the events were, “a mechanism for reducing surplus population… the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of [Irish] people.” During the famine years, Britain exported out of Ireland approximately £500,000 of government produced food. The fact that it had been British policy to constrain the Irish to tiny plots of barren land suitable only for growing basic tubers was conveniently forgotten. When famine hit, the Irish would starve. It was an inevitability brought on by nature but predetermined by acts of man.

    Within such a hostile environment, the Irish felt that they had few friends. And yet, 4,000 miles away, the news of the ruin in Ireland had reached the people of the Choctaw Nation. The Choctaw, too, were familiar with how society hemorrhages in the face of tyrannical governance, and in the Irish they saw shadows of their own past. Only fifteen years before, the Choctaw had been the victims of a forced march from their homelands, a wretched exodus that they call the Trail of Tears. But the long march from Mississippi to Oklahoma had made the Choctaw acutely sensitive to the anguish of those desperately in need, and when news arrived of what was happening in Ireland, a group of concerned tribal members promptly rallied together to raise funds for those Irish still clinging on to life.

    “We helped the Irish because that’s who we are and what we are,” explains tribal council speaker, Delton Cox, “we remembered the sorrow to befall our people, and we felt the same for the people in Ireland. $170 might not seem like much, we were poor, yet each of us eagerly gave to help our brothers and sisters.”

    A softly spoken man with a musical Oklahoma twang, Delton is the embodiment of the connection enjoyed by Ireland and the Choctaw. Some of his ancestors were Brysons, a name historically associated with a rugged peninsula on Ireland’s west coast named Donegal. Delton compares his two lines of heritage, drawing on a shared cultural landscape centered on kindness and support.

    “This way of being is important to us,” he continues, “my granddaughter is part of a short film about kindness and compassion, so she is learning to take this on through her life.”

    There is a certain familiarity in Delton’s fondness for his granddaughter. Like the Choctaw, the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is one that is highly treasured by the Irish, and it was from my grandmother that I first learned about the kindness of the Choctaw during the Great Hunger. Born in the spring of 1913, the Ireland that young Evelyn Johnston knew was a place still at the mercy of illness, violence and political unrest. Her own grandparents had lived through the famine, the proximity of the event made even closer by the lingering uncertainty in the world around her.

    With just enough animation, this kindly matriarch impressed upon me her belief that Ireland’s unlikely allies had been sent by the divine. But there was more. Not only had the unprompted charity of the Choctaw resonated deeply with my grandmother, but since her own father had met the great Lakota Sitting Bull during a visit to the United States in the 1880s, Evelyn felt she had just the faintest sense of connection with the native people of North America.

    In turn, Evelyn’s son, my father, ensured that the stories of our connected past were not lost, and until the day he died he passionately advocated that the Choctaw were to be remembered as our friends. But such is the way of Ireland, a misty island crisscrossed by a deeply engrained culture of oral history. Sure, I learned about Medb, Cú Chulainn and Finn, yet of all the exciting stories I heard growing up in rural Ulster, the relationship between Ireland and Oklahoma was the one that captured my imagination.

    Indeed, it seems that the relationship enjoyed by the Choctaw and Irish has captured the imagination of more than just my family. In 1990, a delegation of Choctaw officials participated in an annual walk in County Mayo to commemorate the Doolough Tragedy, a starvation march that occurred during the Hunger, while in 1992, a group of Irish anthropologists retraced the Trail of Tears in a gesture of reciprocal solidarity. Most notably of all, the Choctaw dubbed Ireland’s then-president, Mary Robinson, an honorary chief.

    And the beautiful thing is that the friendship continues. Later this year, a monument of gratitude to the Choctaw shall be unveiled in Midleton, County Cork. The sculpture will take the form of an empty bowl cupped by feathers, a poignant embodiment of the Choctaw embracing a starving people. The news was warmly received in Ireland, and it was due to the announcement of the Midleton statue that I first got in contact with the Choctaw Nation. Not only did Chief Gary Batton promptly respond to my enquiry with considerable grace, but in the continuation of the close relationship between our people, I was extended the offer to write this article.

    So what to say in closing? Well, my thoughts are simple, and as I write in my adopted country of the United States, thousands of miles from the whitewashed cottage of my childhood, I fondly reflect that the friendship between the Choctaw and the Irish continues to blossom. Few, if any connections have lasted so long, and certainly none have known as much mutual respect, compassion and laughter as that enjoyed by Ireland and the Choctaw.

    Look how far we have come. Now, let’s see how far we can go.

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    Owner and operator of Kim’s Diner, Kimberly Jones, stands with her partner Justin Strange who had stopped by the diner to help during the lunch rush. Since the grand opening of the restaurant on Mar. 1, Jones has been preparing food, waiting tables, conversing with customers, and leading employees every day but Sunday.

    Kim accomplishes her diner dream

    By Brandon Frye
    Choctaw Nation

    Denison, Tx - After working for other people most of her life, Choctaw Kimberly Jones recently achieved a personal dream by opening her very own restaurant, Kim’s Diner, just outside of Denison, Texas.

    She has worked in the restaurant industry for 20 years, serving hungry and thirsty customers as a waitress and bartender for local restaurants as well as big franchises. Now, Jones is using everything she has learned to make home-style meals served up with a smile. It has all happened quickly, Jones said. In January, she was made aware of an appealing empty building east of Denison on Highway 69. Lightly stained wood is present throughout the location, the walls are painted a soft cream, and there is plenty of room to move around. She found the location on a Wednesday, and Kim’s Diner had a soft opening the following weekend. Finding success there, she decided to have the grand opening for her restaurant on March 1.

    “We prepare and serve country cooking, home cooking. Most everything that comes out of our kitchen is made from scratch,” Jones said. “It is going to be like your mom and pop diner. Yesterday’s special was meatloaf, today is goulash.”

    The menu is something Jones is still perfecting, but she said its development comes from working in the restaurant industry in the area, and knowing what sold and what didn’t sell.

    One of the most popular things on the menu at Kim’s Diner is her cheeseburger. “I’ve come up with an excellent cheeseburger that just sells,” she said. “It is a special meat that I worked and worked on, and then there is also a special bun that you won’t find anywhere else around this area.”

    Locals stop in to eat and chat with Jones and her wait staff during lunch, the busiest time for the diner. But she also makes it easy for workers on a tight schedule to quickly drive up and grab a home-cooked meal for lunch.

    “One thing to overcome is the fear of failure when starting your own business,” Jones said. “You have to change your outlook, because you are responsible for all of it now. It’s very challenging, but it’s also very exciting. I have all of the knowledge it takes to make this work.”

    Kim’s grandmother and grandfather Linda and Aaron Bully were full blood Choctaws, as well as her mother who is an active member of the Durant Choctaw Community Center. She said her grandmother made a frybread she has yet to have seen matched, and could make a meal out of whatever was available.

    “As a Native American, there are so many things that I’ve bounced back from. You know, a lot of Native Americans can,” Jones said. “The Choctaw Nation helped me and guided me. I am currently in school and about to graduate. They helped me with school, gave me a clothing allowance, things like that.”

    Jones said this is all a dream coming true, despite some obstacles in life which had hindered her. “I overcame them all. Here I am today, and I never dreamed that would happen,” she said.

    To visit Kim and her Diner, come through downtown Denison and take Highway 69 east toward Bells, after 2.2 miles, look for the sign on the right. The address is 2419 US Highway 69, Denison, Texas 75021.

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    KD Moody POSSE
    K D Moody teachers a group of students during a summer school session in Durant. The POSSE summer school program is expanding this summer, with classes like this one in every district.

    Oklahoma State University to supply student teachers for POSSE summer school program

    By Brandon Frye
    Choctaw Nation

    Durant, Okla. - The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Partnership of Summer School Education (POSSE) program teamed up with Oklahoma State University (OSU) to offer a better learning experience for students this upcoming summer.

    The joint venture is being called “Educate and Collaborate.” Education experts from OSU and the Choctaw Nation crafted the program to provide classroom settings in Choctaw Country for OSU education majors.

    POSSE is designed to provide summer intervention in reading and math for both Choctaw and non-Choctaw students in kindergarten through third grade who are attending public school within Choctaw Country. This summer POSSE is expanding to provide a summer learning site in each of the 10 ½ counties. The selection of eligible students is based on the end-of-year math and reading assessment benchmark scores, or teacher recommendation.

    The practical benefit of this for young students attending summer school this year is there will be more available classrooms across the Choctaw Nation, as well as more teachers ready to guide their learning.

    “We are getting to work with people who are experts in the field,” Larry Scott, Director of POSSE said. “We are talking about a major university’s education department. The resources they have will benefit the children of the Choctaw Nation.”

    The relationship between the Choctaw Nation and OSU began roughly two years ago when officials from the university–including the Dean of the College of Education, Pamela “Sissi” Carroll–were introduced to leaders of the Choctaw Nation during a lunch meeting in Durant. “Listening to Mrs. Joy Culbreath, Mrs. Stacy Shepherd, Mrs. Paula Harp, Mr. Jim Parrish, Mr. Larry Scott, Neal Hawkins, and Lori Wells at that meeting, I began to understand how deeply the Choctaw Nation is committed to education, especially the education of its children,” Carroll said. “In my role at the College of Education, and as a former teacher of middle and high school students, I was drawn to the wonderful opportunities for teaching, research, and service that a partnership with the Choctaw Nation offers the faculty and students of the College of Education.”

    In addition to providing more teachers for our students, a partnership with a major research university like OSU opens up possibilities to better understand and research the success of programs like POSSE.

    For example, according to research by the Education Department of the Choctaw Nation, students who attended the 2014 summer school demonstrated significant improvement in reading and math. The results from a parent survey also indicated that over 90 percent of parents surveyed were very satisfied with the summer school program. A partnership with a research university could help better uncover the specifics of statistics like these.

    Scott said cooperative projects like “Educate and Collaborate,” bring student teachers into our schools for a summer, and could also help bring more teacher applicants to work an entire career in the schools within the Choctaw Nation.

    Both parties aim to sustain and improve young children’s learning, as well as reinforce the students’ interest in learning.

    “We take very seriously our goal of working with communities to identify and address needs–to be involved at the local level, and learn with the community as we develop approaches to address needs through teaching, research, and service,” Carroll said. “We will learn alongside the teachers of the summer school classes. We anticipate that children who participate in summer school will continue to demonstrate increased growth in mathematics and reading, as they did in 2013-2014.”

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    Next Step Program

    Choctaw Nation’s Next Step Initiative launches April 1, 2015

    This supplemental food voucher program is meant to assist tribal members in reaching the next step of self-sustainment through supplemental food vouchers as well as achieving financial fitness and healthy living.

    Eligibility Requirements:

    • One Choctaw tribal member in household
    • Reside in the Choctaw Nation service area
    • No one in household can be participating in SNAP
    • Must be a working household (unless on Social Security or Disability)
    • Over Income Requirements for Food Distribution

    To sign up for the Next Step Initiative, participants should call a social worker to arrange an interview and bring all required documentation with them to the scheduled interview. Eligibility cannot be determined without all documentation present.

    Offices and Social Workers are located at the following locations:

    • Durant Food Distribution Center
      (580) 924-7773, Michaele Williamson (Social Worker)
    • Antlers Food Distribution Center
      (580) 298-6443, Amanda Heath (Social Worker)
    • McAlester Food Distribution Center
      (918) 420-5716, Nikki Heath (Social Worker)
    • Poteau Food Distribution Center
      (918) 649-0431, Hank Harris (Social Worker)
    • And Coming Soon: Broken Bow Outreach Services Building

    This social worker is not in place at this time. For questions regarding this area, please call (800) 522-6170 ext. 2334.

    Eligible households will be required to complete training set by the initiative guidelines to help them reach the next step. Training includes, but is not limited to, financial and budget training, food demonstrations, holiday spending webinars, and other training or webinars best suited to household needs.

    The Next Step Initiative begins April 1. If you have any questions, please call a Choctaw Nation office in Durant, Antlers, McAlester, or Poteau.

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    Adrian Cuddlestar
    Adrian Layne, Choctaw business owner, shows off a bit of her western style.

    Layne creates children’s apparel

    By Brandon Frye
    Choctaw Nation

    Austin, Texas - Five years ago, after bringing her first child into the world, Choctaw entrepreneur Adrian Layne started making unique custom baby apparel in Texas, an endeavor which would lead to a successful business called Cuddlestar.

    At first, Layne’s creations were practical and driven by an enjoyment of the craft. She made clothes for her own newborn son, Eli. She also expanded her selection to include things like bags and purses.

    “I got my start by doing artist markets in Austin,” Layne said. “I handmade everything on a borrowed sewing machine, my grandmother’s sewing machine.”

    With the stylish fruits of her labors in hand, Layne learned about the various artist markets in the Austin area, then set up shop in a tent. She said these markets were similar to farmers’ markets, parking lots of local businesses sometimes set aside for creative folks to sell their goods.

    “I would spread my stuff out and sell it that way. There might be 20 or 30 local artists selling their stuff in a busy area of the city,” she said.

    The baby apparel took off, according to Layne. Demand grew, and kept growing. Layne’s mother even started pitching in, helping sew for free to meet the demand.

    What was popular then were the same items, with the same style, as what makes Cuddlestar unique today: practical and stylish baby clothes with western and Native influences.

    “A cute, functional cowboy boot for baby is hard to find,” she said. But with her design, “elastic around the ankle keeps them snug while the Velcro on both sides makes them easy to take on and off.”

    She says her moccasins have a similar and equally functional design, and just like the rest of her line of clothing, are made from high quality materials like genuine suede and leather.

    She said it took the right kind of support and inspiration to get where she is, which she received from a number of sources. Her husband, who is a professional musician, enjoys being creative and supports a creative environment. And Layne’s father, who she says is a big part of her inspiration, is a cowboy boot designer, rancher, and according to Layne, a handsome Marlboro Man kind of guy. She said her father is to thank for the western and Native style of Cuddlestar.

    Cuddlestar has grown to require Layne’s original patterns and designs be crafted on new sewing machines, with the help of a number of seamstresses. Layne’s items are also now available online for purchase, and are sold in nearly 100 brick-and-mortar storefronts and boutiques.

    Feeling like she was successfully serving parents looking for western-themed clothing for their children, Layne has now set in motion a new business and line of children’s apparel aimed at parents with a different need.
    Cuddlestar Baby

    This new business is called Cat and Dogma. It is a trendy and earth-friendly response to a pitfall Layne found in today’s popular baby apparel.

    “I found there is a problem with babies who wear cloth diapers, rather than disposable diapers,” Layne said. “Disposable diapers are very thin, and cloth diapers are pieces of cotton fabric you put inside the diaper, so baby’s clothes can end up ill-fitting.”

    Layne designed Cat and Dogma’s line of clothing to have extra space in the bottom, for the eco-minded families who use cloth diapers. She says the clothes will be for every parent and child as an organic and affordable option, but she made a special effort to give parents who use cloth diapers a solution.

    “What is most important to me about the Cats and Dogma brand is what I have done to make it sustainable from farm to store, with organic cotton,” Layne said. “It will also be fun, playful, and comfortable.”

    Do not expect to see “mommy’s little man” or similar sayings on Cat and Dogma clothes. Layne kept this line completely original, with cute designs on fabric made without any bleaches, dyes, or finishes.

    Cat and Dogma will launch with the help of an Indiegogo campaign, which will begin in mid-April and run for 30 days. According to Layne, around six weeks after the campaign with the well-known crowdfunding website, she says around July 1, she can begin shipping her new clothing line.

    One of Layne’s goals with her businesses is to represent who she is with her products and services. Cuddlestar is very western, much like a good portion of her childhood and her relationship to her father. Cat and Dogma shows off Layne as a self-confessed earth-hippie-momma. She said feels like these businesses represent her, and she has a lot of fun with them. You can find Cuddlestar online at and Cat and Dogma at You can also look to get involved with the indiegogo campaign later this month.

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    Hornbuckle Wrestlers
    Three generations of wrestlers: Jack Hornbuckle, grandson Roderick and son Dewayne pose for a photo at the Oklahoma wrestling tournament earlier this year. Photo Provided

    Tough, Tough Choctaws

    By Zach Maxwell
    Choctaw Nation

    Poteau, Okla. - Success is piling up for the Hornbuckle family of Poteau.

    The Hornbuckles claim both Choctaw and Cherokee descent, as well as three generations of award-winning wrestlers. The Hornbuckle children, Roderick and Kyra, are both athletes at Poteau High School and participate in stickball as well as Choctaw cultural activities.

    As another season of youth stickball gets under way, Dewayne Hornbuckle is one of the coaches for the new Yvnnvsh Homma (Red Buffaloes) team. Son Roderick, a Poteau junior, plays center defense for the new team. Kyra is on the squad as well.

    Roderick also just completed a third-place finish at the 4A state wrestling tournament, going 3-1 to complete his second straight 30-plus win season at 39-9.

    But it’s in the blood: Dewayne and his father Jack are both wrestling coaches at Poteau, and Jack is still winning world titles in 50-plus competitions in Europe.

    Wrestling fans will recall Jack’s accolades at OSU, where he was part of a wrestling team that won two national titles and made it to Olympic trials.

    “He’s the one with all the credentials,” Dewayne said of his dad. “And he started the wrestling program at Poteau in 1977.” Now, Roderick is following in the footsteps with his award-winning moves on the mat. Not only did he make it to State this year, but he also made the all-conference list and is a three-time wrestling champion at the Jim Thorpe Games.

    “It’s fun, but it takes commitment and determination,” Roderick said. “It takes mental strength, too.”

    Some of the skills help him with tackling in adult-level stickball games; tackling is frowned upon at the youth level. His dad grew up playing the Cherokee “fish game,” a softer, one-pole version of the sport known as a social game throughout most of the Choctaw Nation.

    Roderick is looking forward to taking his wrestling talent to the next level, perhaps at a small school such as Bacone College. He wants to stay close to home. And, he is not confining his native cultural interests to the stickball field. “I’m starting to learn social dance songs,” he said, adding that he has a CD of songs by B.L. Joe that he keeps playing. “I jam out to those in my truck.”

    He is also trying his hand at artwork, inspired by art classes at school. He is sampling beadwork as well as sculpting, in a style his dad describes as “abstract art.”

    Dewayne has taken his children to see artists including Bunkie Echo-Hawk (Pawnee-Yakama) and exposed them to music from native groups such as A Tribe Called Red.

    “This lets them explore as much of these things as we can,” he said. “It’s so kids can have more pride and not be ashamed to learn their native culture and language.”

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    Choctaw Nation Head Starts Early Childhood
    Center Supervisors above from left to right: Marie Cravens (Poteau); Gwen Martin (Idabel); June Dobbins (Bennington); Jennifer Helt (Wilburton); Lindsay Sistrunk (McAlester); Jackie Anna & Kathy Tisho (Broken Bow); Staci Sawyer (Coalgate); Lauren Scott (Durant); Michael Gills (Bethel). Not pictured: Sharon Carter (Antlers); Anita Zurline (Atoka); Natasha Hudson (Hugo); and Rebecca Good (Stigler).

    Choctaw Nation Head Start Centers recognized as Certified Healthy Early Childhood Program

    By Katy Pruitt
    Choctaw Nation

    Durant, Okla. - Choctaw Nation Head Start centers received recognition as a Certified Healthy Early Childhood Program as follows: (1) Excellence: Antlers, Bennington, Broken Bow, Coalgate, Durant, Hugo, Idabel, McAlester, Poteau, Stigler and Wilburton (2) Merit: Atoka, Bethel. The certification program is administered by the Oklahoma Turning Point Council and the State Department of Health, Center for the Advancement of Wellness.

    The three levels of certification (basic, merit, and excellence) are based on the percentage of total criteria met in the following categories: (1) Health Education; (2) Nutrition; (3) Physical Activity; (4) Screen Time; (5) Safe and Healthy Environment; (6) Counseling, Psychological, and Social Services; (7) Community and Family Involvement; (8) Health Promotion for Staff and, (9) Professional Development. To qualify for any level of certification, Head Start programs are held to the highest standard in the Early Childhood Category.

    “The Certified Healthy Early Childhood Program is in its pilot year and recognizes Early Childhood Programs that are working to improve the health of children, families, and staff by providing wellness opportunities and implementing policies that lead to healthier lifestyles. Early Childhood Programs that advocate for health are recognized as leaders in the community!”
    Certified Healthy Oklahoma

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    Wild Onion Dish
    Wild onion pancakes

    Wild Onions: A Choctaw Tradition

    By Lindsey Bilyeu
    Choctaw Nation
    Spring has finally arrived in Choctaw Nation. The weather is getting warmer, the landscape is finally starting to look green again, and wild onions are waiting to be gathered. Soon Choctaw Nation tribal members will begin gathering and preparing these wild onions in preparation for family gatherings, church events, and community functions. Today we know these events as wild onion dinners. In this month’s Iti Fabvssa we will look closely at wild onion dinners, why they are held and their significance to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

    Wild onion dinners are held among the southeastern tribes that are living in Oklahoma today. These tribes, known as the 5 Civilized Tribes, consist of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole. Each tribe will have their own way of carrying out the wild onion dinners. Today in the Choctaw Nation you will frequently see the dinners being used as church fundraisers. Wild onions may also be served at family gatherings, stickball games, and gospel singings.

    The first step in the process of wild onion dinners will be the actual gathering of the wild onions. This is a skill that takes time and practice to master.

    Wild onions are typically gathered in February or March. Gatherers use small shovels to dig the onions out of the ground. When choosing wild onions, the gatherer must pay close attention and be careful not to pick onions that are too large, as they tend to get tough. The wild onions are usually best when they are small, around 4 to 5 inches tall. Once the wild onions have bulbs on the ends they are no longer good. It is also easy to confuse wild onions with different plants that closely resemble them. A gatherer must pay close attention so that they don’t gather a different plant that looks like the wild onions, but can be poisonous. It is also easy to confuse wild onions, which have a flat leaf, with garlic, which has a round leaf. It will take several gallons of the wild onions to feed a large number of people. For example, to feed a group of 20 people you will need about two gallons of wild onions.

    Once the wild onions have been gathered, it is time to prepare them. When performing this second step, it is important that the onions be trimmed and cleaned very well. You must wash the onions until all the dirt is gone, which can sometimes be tricky as the dirt can get inside the layers of the onion. Cleaning and trimming the wild onions is similar to the process used when cleaning green onions.

    Once the onions are cleaned and trimmed, you can move on to the third step which is cooking the onions. The onions will need to be boiled in water until they become tender. To add flavor, you can always add the drippings from bacon or the ever-loved Choctaw favorite, salt pork. Once the onions are tender, you can eat them as is or add them to scrambled eggs. Most often the wild onions are served up with scrambled eggs.

    While the scrambled eggs and wild onions are the star of the wild onion dinners, many other Choctaw traditional foods will be served as well. Many times you will find tanchi labona, salt pork, pinto beans, and fry bread served. The traditional Choctaw dessert, grape dumplings, will be served along with pies, cakes, and cobblers.

    While the wild onion dinners take a great amount of time and preparation from talented Choctaw cooks, they are worth the effort. These dinners have become a part of the life that the Choctaws have established in Oklahoma. They bring together families, friends, and communities. The dinners provide an environment in which our traditional Choctaw songs, dances, stories, and games can be carried out. Wild onion dinners contain elements of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s culture that must be carried on. Through these dinners we have the ability to pass on Choctaw cooking, stories, spirituality, history, and pride to our future generations. So this spring let’s get out and enjoy not only the season, but also help preserve and ensure the survival of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma wild onion dinners.

    A special thanks to Mary Frazier, Vangie Robinson, and the Blaine family for the information that was shared for this article.

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    Financial Planning, Business Planning,and Food Safety for South & East Oklahoma

    The University of Arkansas School of Law Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative has joined with the Farm Credit of East Central Oklahoma, the Wallace Center at Winrock International (Washington DC), Morse Marketing Connections (MMC), and the Choctaw Nation and Muscogee Creek Nations to offer an important set of “bootcamp” workshops in southern and eastern Oklahoma during 2015. You will hear the latest on food safety regulations and GAP certification, crop insurance and risk management tools, and will be given hands on experience in what are called “one page” financial, risk assessment and business plan tools. We will also provide information on new markets in the region and how your operation can participate in food hubs that are growing in number across the country as a way to link small, beginning, mid-sized, remote and new producers and their operations into new markets.

    In-Person Workshop Locations and Dates:
    All workshops will begin at noon with light refreshments and conclude by 5 p.m.

    April 30 Broken Bow, OK Choctaw Nation Community Center May 21 Durant, OK Choctaw Nation Community Center
    June 11 McAlester, OK Choctaw Nation Community Center
    July 9 Poteau, OK Choctaw Nation Community Center
    August 13 Okmulgee Muscogee Creek Nation Community Center

    Each in-person workshop will cover the following information:

    • “One Page” Financials
    • “One Page” Business Planning
    • “One Page” Risk Assessment
    • Food Safety Regulations Update and GAP Overview
    • Risk Management and Crop Insurance Policy Updates
    • Choctaw Nation Update on Promise Zone, Food and Agriculture Plans
    • Muscogee Creek Nation Update on Food and Agriculture Plans
    • Food Hubs & Other New Markets
    • New and Old Legal Issues Facing Producers

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    MOU Signed TELI

    TELI Partners Collaborating on Early Childhood Services

    By Lisa Reed
    Choctaw Nation

    Durant, Okla. - Choctaw Nation Tribal Early Learning Initiative (TELI) members signed a memorandum of understanding during a conference on Friday, April 17, as part of an early childhood “systems of care” effort as part of Autism Awareness Month. This MOU outlines a non-binding plan to provide more opportunities for tribal members in regard to early childhood services. Tribal programs include a home visitation program, Head Start and various tribal child care programs. Rebecca Hawkins is signing the document surrounded by other Choctaw Nation early childhood leadership team members Angela Dancer, B.J. Robinson-Ellison, Barbara Moffitt, Patti Rosenthal, Brandi Smallwood, Lisa Blackmon, Katy Pruitt, and Monona Dill.

    The conference, focusing on Tribal Early Learning Special Needs, featured speakers Lori McCoy, director of special needs at Durant Public Schools, and Amanda Walker, the autism structured learning teacher for Lamar Elementary. Participants attended from throughout southeastern Oklahoma.

    “The Choctaw Nation is one of only four tribes who have received the TELI grant,” said Angela Dancer, Better Beginnings senior director. “We have the infrastructure needed with our child care programs, Head Starts, and the tribal maternal/infant early home visiting program. The directors of each program want to continue to build collaboration and develop a unified application and information system to share.”

    Lisa Blackmon, Dallas regional director for the Administration for Children and Families, said the conference is helping meet the needs of providers with education and materials, empowering them to work with parents and children. “They have all focused their efforts on trying to identify and meet special needs. The Choctaw Nation has taken a successful simple approach of learning what they have available within their own programs and from there working as a network and referral source for those families.”

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  • 04/20/15--06:58: We Never Lose Hope
  • Isabelle

    The Inspirational Message behind Isabelle’s Garden

    By Amadeus Finlay
    Contributing Writer

    The world of cinema has long been the realm of immense budgets and computer generated animation, but in a small corner of southeastern Oklahoma a pair of native filmmakers have successfully challenged the status quo. Debuting to critical acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival, Isabelle’s Garden is a moving, eight-minute film detailing how one young Choctaw girl works through poverty to ensure that her society can benefit from the produce of her vegetable patch.

    “My husband, Jeffrey, and I were inspired to make a film about uplifting stories in our communities,” explains the film’s producer, Lauren Palmer.

    “Far too often do you see negative stories surrounding Indian Country. We wanted to overturn that perception by allowing a young girl to be the catalyst for change and lifting up her people from poverty and supporting the community.”

    The film opens with the familiar sounds of dawn, “weary voices of the crickets and the frogs” as Isabelle describes it, played over a moody summer morning bruised by an irritable tumult of rainclouds. Isabelle wakes up in a lonely house – we see no other people – her dirty feet poking out the end of her bedclothes, the austere surroundings of her bedroom in direct contrast to the abundance reflected in the vegetable patch outside her window.

    The house is dusty and untended, the cobwebbed corners sprinkled with dried garden mud. But nothing is by chance in Palmer’s statement piece; all the imagery is intentional, everything deliberately planned to submerge the audience in the reality of Isabelle’s world. Hers is an existence that is focused on the garden, and the few possessions she owns are singularly designed to help to nurture her plants. And it is here that we find the crux of the film, the basis upon which the allegory is formed. Isabelle, despite living in less than favorable circumstances in which she dreams of a world “where poverty doesn’t exist,” is committed to being a symbol of hope, advocating strong social values in a community that needs them most.

    She writes words of encouragement on scraps of brown paper, “ahni” (hope) na-yimmi (believe in something) hvpi kvnia kiyo (we will never lose) i-hullo (love), and attaches them to the baskets of vegetables she gives to her neighbors. They are “to lift people’s spirits,” she says, each note as much a cultural marker as a kind gesture.

    The film concludes with Isabelle providing her neighbors with their gifts, commentating throughout on the value of community and the promise of cooperation. It is a simple, yet devastatingly effective use of the visual arts to convey a message relevant to so many. Isabelle is a refreshingly honest character, and in 14-year-old Isabelle Cox, the actress who plays the lead character, both film and reality have an icon in the making.

    Isabelle has an impressive resume. She has attended the Shakespearean Festival at Southeastern Oklahoma State University on several occasions, and recently served as Little Miss Choctaw Nation. But for all her star-struck experiences, Isabelle Cox is more affected by the stories and issues that have the greatest impact on her people.

    “The film is indicative of Native life in many tribes throughout the United States,” explains her father, Nate. “Poverty produces several unfortunate circumstances that Native people struggle with on a daily basis, and this includes accessibility to sufficient food resources.”

    “Isabelle loves representing the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma in any capacity she can, and when she was approached to star in the film, it seemed to be a perfect combination of two of the things closest to her heart.”

    Isabelle’s Garden is a marker upon which future social film projects can only be judged. Free from convoluted storylines or secondary distractions, here is a film with a clear message that can speak to the generations. This acclaim is a sentiment felt by many, yet the impact that it brought came as a surprise to some, not least of which was Lauren Palmers.

    “We did not know how successful the film would be,” she explains, “Our idea from the beginning was to tell a story about poverty that transcended many audiences.”

    She pauses for a moment, reflecting on the content of her masterpiece.

    “These,” she stresses, “these are the stories we need to hear today.”

    Isabelle’s Garden can be viewed in full at here.

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    AC Jack Austin JR ECU Alumni
    Linda Massey presents Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr. with a Distinguished Alumni award from East Central University. Austin earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the university.

    Assistant Jack Austin Jr. is ECU Distinguished Alumnus

    By Brandon Frye
    Choctaw Nation

    Ada, Okla. - Assistant Chief Jack Austin, Jr., received a Distinguished Alumni Award from East Central University (ECU) in Ada on April 17.

    The Distinguished Alumni Award, granted by ECU’s Department of Human Services, recognizes alumni who attain distinctive success in his or her chosen field and perform outstanding service for their community. Service and contributions to the advancement of the university are also considered.

    Awardees must be graduates or former students of the university, and Assistant Chief studied extensively at ECU alongside his wife Philisha Austin. He earned an undergraduate degree in human resources, a master’s degree in education, and earned credit toward being a Licensed Professional Counselor at the university.

    Austin then went on to serve in the military, work in the healthcare system in the Material Management department, and spent time as program director for the Choctaw Nation Recovery Center, before being selected as Assistant Chief.

    Austin said he did not set out to earn titles. “What I set out to do was merely help people, the best I could,” he said. One of Austin’s mentors, Linda Massey, Professor at ECU and Coordinator of Clinical Rehabilitation and the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program, said she has known and respected Austin for years.

    “Jack really is such an inspiration, and such a blessing to his family, his friends, as well as the Choctaw community,” Massey said. “He has been with the Choctaw Nation for 24 years. He has been a youth pastor, a mentor, someone that all people can look up to with his humble heart. He leads by his faith and the love of his people.”

    Speaking of Assistant Chief, President of ECU John Hargrave said, “We are very proud of Jack Austin Jr., and his wife Philisha. Both are East Central University alumni. Everyone who knows Jack stresses what an outstanding man and leader he is. We are pleased to have him as this year’s Distinguished Alumni in Counseling.”

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    As part of the Community Development Initiative, Choctaw Nation partnered with the City of Atoka to help finish the new Atoka Sports Complex. Choctaw Nation provided a parking lot and walking path with lights around the park. A dedication ceremony was held April 21, 2015. “To see a facility like this, Atoka you should be extremely proud. As Chief, I’m proud to be a part of a community that’s progressing like the town of Atoka and to have such a beautiful facility like this,” says Chief Gary Batton. Pictured with Chief Batton are Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr., Atoka Mayor Bob Frederick, and Councilman Anthony Dillard.

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    Female Institute Highway Marker POSED
    Chief Gary Batton, Tribal Council Members, and descendents of the first institute superintendent unveil the highway marker.

    Tvshka Homma Female Institute Highway Marker Unveiled

    By Brandon Frye
    Choctaw Nation

    Tvshka Homma, Okla. - In 1892, near the Choctaw Capitol, the Tvshka Homma Female Institute (alternatively, the Choctaw Female Academy) opened its doors for up to 100 young Choctaw women to develop an education, and after burning down, being turned into a home, and purchased by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO), the site received a historical highway marker on April 15.

    Cooperation between CNO and the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) lead to the placement of the highway marker as part of a statewide program, which started in the 1940’s and has grown to include more than 650 markers.

    According to Kathy Dickson, Director of Museums and Historic Sites for OHS, historical markers let travelers know when they are near a historical site, and inform them of what happened there. She said many times people travel and don’t know what is in the area or the historical importance, and the markers help.

    The Tvshka Homma Female Institute location earned one of these markers for being of historic importance for the Choctaw Nation and the state of Oklahoma.

    Peter Hudson was an original enrollee and the first superintendent for the institute. Three of his grandchildren–John Hooser, Suzanne Heard, and Betty Heard Watson (who were all educators themselves)–attended the unveiling of the highway marker to share their first and second-hand knowledge of the institute.
    Female Institute School

    “After the location burned [in 1925], the land and material were sold. Anna Lewis, she was a teacher, bought this place,” Hooser said. He explained the new owners salvaged material from the institute to build a home for retirement, a home Hooser eventually lived in during his youth.

    “If you look at the old pictures, you’ll find these rocks and bricks were all part of the original structure,” he said. Ownership of the location changed hands a number of times, and the spacious interior and rolling hills of the surrounding land offered home and shelter to each new family.

    In 2014, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma purchased ownership of the historic site, which rests in the middle of established Choctaw land being used for ranching.

    Hooser’s cousin, Suzanne Heard, said, “I’m so thrilled that our great Chief Gary Batton, Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr., and the Tribal Council consented to buy the property here. My mother was born here, and my grandfather was the first superintendent.”

    CNO’s departments of Historic Preservation and Tourism have not yet planned what is in store for the location, though contacts from both expressed a desire to work together.

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