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Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

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    McAlester Wellness Center Update
    The McAlester Wellness Center under construction.

    Choctaw Nation progress continues with new facilities, economic ventures

    By Lisa Reed
    Choctaw Nation

    McAlester, Okla. - Construction is well under way on four new Choctaw Nation facilities on Elks Road in McAlester. The campus project includes a new community center, food distribution, head start, and wellness center with completion expected to be this fall.

    “The Choctaw senior citizens in Pittsburg County have outgrown their center and will soon have a larger facility in which to gather for meals and special events,” said Chief Gary Batton. “The McAlester campus provides easier access and more services for tribal members in one centralized location.”

    The community center, head start and food distribution program are replacing older buildings. The food market is the fourth of its kind to be built by the Choctaw Nation in its service area. The construction of a fifth is under way in Broken Bow. The markets offer a more personalized shopping experience for clients who receive approximately 80 food items totaling 85 pounds per person in the household.

    One of 13 head starts operated by the Choctaw Nation, the new McAlester educational center will have the capacity to enroll 33 students from 3 to 5 years of age. The wellness center will provide more opportunities for tribal members and employees to work out, hold exercise classes, and learn about strength and training. Wellness centers are also located in Durant, Hugo, Atoka, Crowder, Idabel and Broken Bow, with construction progressing on an eighth in Wilburton.

    Shovels are turning dirt and walls going up on many other facilities in Choctaw Country. The sounds of construction can also be heard in Durant, Stigler, Bethel, Poteau, Smithville, Antlers and Atoka.

    The expansions include completion of the Durant Casino/Resort’s Grand Theater and a kickoff celebration with Aerosmith on June 27. The second phase includes a new hotel and spa tower opening in July, and the final phase opening in September will include The District – a bowling alley, arcade, laser tag and cinema complex.

    “It’s all exciting in many ways,” said Batton. “The tremendous growth provides more jobs and makes a definite impact on the local economy. There will be approximately 500 new jobs added at the resort and at least 100 more in our other new businesses and service facilities.

    “The Choctaw Nation is in the process of opening Chili’s restaurants in Poteau and Atoka. The restaurants will bring new dining options and approximately 40 new jobs in each area,” he said.

    The Choctaw Nation has scheduled grand openings for a 10-unit independent living community in Stigler for Choctaw elders. An 8-unit community is being built in Smithville. The homes are designed for elderly couples who need an efficient living space. They have a living room, bedroom, laundry area, and a kitchen/dining area equipped with Energy Star appliances. Each community has a storm shelter for the safety of the residents.

    New health facilities are also on the horizon with the grand opening of a 21,000-sq.ft. expansion to the existing clinic in Poteau. The services include pediatrics, optometry, podiatry, behavioral health, mammography, physical therapy, and employee health. The Choctaw Nation is also planning a new clinic in Durant with a groundbreaking ceremony in July.

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    SSG Woods
    Staff Sergaent Matthew Woods stands in uniform with his wife Jamie Woods.

    SSG Woods graduates from Civil Affairs Qualification course

    By Brandon Frye
    Choctaw Nation

    Staff Sergeant Matthew J. Woods was born on April 22, 1984 in Fresno, Calif. He enlisted in the Army as an Infantryman and attended basic and advanced individual training Feb. 19, 2004 at Ft. Benning, Ga. “I have been serving for over 11 years now in the U.S Army. I first served 10 years as a Paratrooper and an Infantryman,” Woods said.

    In January 2014 SSG Woods attended Civil Affairs Assessment Selection where he was successfully selected to attend the Civil Affairs Qualification Course. He graduated the Civil Affairs Qualification Course on April 2, 2015 and became a new member of the Army special operation community. “The training was nearly a year long with both very mental and physical barriers to include language training,” Woods said.

    SSG Woods’ assignments include tours with 3-325th AIR, Ft. Bragg, N.C.; 2-508th PIR, Ft. Bragg, N.C.; 2-16th IN, Ft. Riley, KS; Kansas City Recruiting Battalion, Mo.; 2-34th AR, Ft. Riley, Kan.; and most recently 3rd BN, 1st Special Warfare Training Group, Ft. Bragg, N.C.; SSG Woods’ combat tours include: two tours in Iraq (OIF II-III and OIF V-VI).

    SSG Woods has served in many leadership positions to include Team Leader, Section Leader, Squad Leader, and Army Recruiter.

    SSG Woods’ military education includes Warrior Leader Course, Basic NCO Course, Advance NCO Course, Airborne School, Air Assault School, and Army Recruiter Course, Civil Affairs Qualification Course.

    SSG Woods’ awards and decorations include ARCOM (x5) AAM (x3) Good Conduct Medal (x3), National Defense Service Medal, ICM-CS, GWOT-EM, GWOT-SM, NCOPD (x2), Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Ribbon, Combat Infantry Badge, Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, Army Recruiter Badge (Gold). He also holds BS/BA from Post University in Waterbury, Conn.

    SSG Woods is married to the former Jamie Fox of St. James, Mo. The two are expecting their first child in October.

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    Iti Fabvssa - Early Choctaw Games
    Corn kernels used in the early Choctaw Corn Game.

    Early Choctaw Games

    In the past, Iti Fabvssa explored activities Choctaw people used to pass the time, whether for entertainment or for competitive sport, including stickball (July 2010) and chunkey (November 2013).

    However, there are other games that Choctaws have played. Below are just a few examples of games that were played, and still can be played today!

    Hidden Bullet

    One Choctaw pastime was Hidden Bullet, Naki Loma in Choctaw.

    Naki Loma is a game of guessing and wits, where a small object is hidden and individuals compete in rounds to find it. A cover such as a hat, moccasin, handkerchief, or sock is used to hide an object like a bullet, stone, or nut. The game is played with two or more players who are divided equally into two teams. Each team sits in a row and faces a member of the opposing team. The hider, chosen before the game begins, would lay out the covers (the amount chosen beforehand by the teams, typically four to seven covers were used) and then proceeds to hide the object under one of them. Hiding the object requires immense skill in order to conceal which cover it is under.

    The opposing team is allowed to watch as the hider goes from cover to cover in an attempt to conceal the object under one. After the object is hidden the player opposite the hider is allowed to guess where the object may be hidden. The guesser is given three chances to find the object.

    If they believe they know where the object is, then they can remove the cover. If they are correct the guesser’s team gets four points. If they are wrong, the hider’s team gets four points.

    There is also the option of lifting the cover in order to eliminate it. Up to two covers can be eliminated before the guesser must remove a cover (or make an official guess), but this yields fewer points. If correct on this attempt, removing the cover will score two points for the guesser’s team. If the guesser lifted the cover with the object or removed the incorrect cover, then the hider’s team would get two points. This ends the round.

    If the guesser deduces correctly, they become the hider in the new round. If the guesser deduces incorrectly, then the teammate next to them in line becomes the new guesser for the new round. This means one individual on one team could be the hider for the entire game.

    This continues until the players on one team are eliminated. The team with the most points wins the match.

    Corn Game

    Another game played by Choctaw People was the Corn Game, or Tvnchi Bvska in Choctaw. This game is played when two or more players attempt to score the most points by throwing corn kernels, similar to the game of dice. Corn kernels are either charred or painted black on one side, and the number of kernels varies. Older accounts of the game report seven or eight kernels were used.

    To score points, the players toss the kernels with their hand onto the ground, like throwing dice. The players receive points based on the number of nonblack kernels shown face up.

    The only exception to this rule is when all the kernels cast face up are black then players receive points for all of the kernels when this occurs. In the past, accounts report the game was also played with pieces of river cane, instead of corn kernels.

    Culin, Stewart. Games of the North American Indians. Courier Corporation, 1975.

    Swanton, John. Source Material for the Social and Ceremonial life of the Choctaw Indians. University of Alabama Press., 2001.

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    King Cemetery
    King Cemetery, in Haskell County, is shown after improvements made by the Choctaw Nation Historic Preservation Department.

    Respect, preservation go hand-in-hand during cemetery clean-up

    By Zach Maxwell
    Choctaw Nation
    (Editor’s note: Out of respect for the beliefs of some Choctaws concerning the deceased, the names of the deceased have been removed from this article and photos of individual graves were not used.)

    Haskell County, Okla. - Like many cultures, Choctaws maintain a sacred connection with their departed ancestors.

    According to legend, ancient Choctaws carried baskets full of bones of their ancestors. This gave way to mound building, where these bones were kept, and the “bone-pickers.”

    As Europeans intermingled with the Choctaws, these customs changed over time. In recent years, hybridized burial practices included small shelters built over graves. Some of these can still be found in isolated spots around the Choctaw Nation.

    Nowadays, our collective cultures have grown together, making Choctaw Country funeral customs virtually indistinguishable.

    But Choctaws still feel that special connection to the departed, which is a major purpose behind a cemetery restoration program operated by Choctaw Nation Historic Preservation.

    Gary Batton, Chief of the Choctaw Nation, recently approved an expansion of this program to include more crews. More than 180 cemeteries have been cleared of brush and fenced—but dozens more are waiting their turn.

    “These are an important part of our history,” Batton said. “It’s about preservation of our culture and that history. Hopefully, people will start coming back and showing that respect for our loved ones who have gone away.”

    Skyler Robinson has been Cemetery Restoration Coordinator for nearly a decade. His office has looked over courthouse records and received calls from tribal members near and far about Choctaw cemeteries.

    Many are on private land, much of it kept in ranching, making the small cemetery plots subject to damage from livestock.

    “When we find them, you don’t even know it’s there,” Robinson said. “They are overgrown with trees and vines, or the livestock have knocked the headstones down.”

    It’s a natural process: At Carney Cemetery near McAlester, the grave of a woman who died in 1915 at age 80 sits aside a cluster of cedars just inches from her tombstone, knocking it off kilter.

    Robinson’s crews don’t see much intentional damage, aside from the occasional tell-tale mound of dirt caused by long-ago grave robbers. Nature takes more of a toll in the rugged back-country of the Choctaw Nation.

    This is where many Choctaws lived and died before larger cemeteries were organized around towns and churches. Families have scattered, leaving small plots of a few dozen graves without anyone to tend to them. Robinson said some burials are singular while other locations, such as Armstrong Academy, contain five acres of graves.

    For example, the Johnico Cemetery in LeFlore County sits in the middle of ranch land and may contain around two dozen graves, many of them Original Enrollees. The Choctaw Nation crew was able to work with the landowner to obtain access, clear trees and brush and erect a modest fence around the site. In many locations, most graves are marked with a slab of local sandstone. When those stones erode or are buried by time and vegetation, it will end all physical traces of that person’s existence and memorialization.

    Like many of the small family cemeteries, there are veterans interred at Carney and Johnico. Among them are two relatives buried side-by-side: An Army corporal and Purple Heart recipient from World War II, and another Army veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

    These are among the new generations of Choctaws who served not only fellow tribal members but the whole country in helping fight tyranny overseas. But there are also the infants who died of flu epidemics, or the elders who carved home places out of the untilled soil after the Trail of Tears. Their stories all contribute to the unique legacy of the Choctaws.

    “We need to identify these locations, so it will be a long-living history for these families,” Batton said. He described this effort to care for the departed as “a very emotional and spiritual feeling.”

    Chief Batton’s goal is to perpetuate these ancestral legacies by preserving the final resting places of so many forgotten Choctaws. It will serve as a prime example for the current generation as well.

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    YAB Group Photo
    Youth Advisory Board students line up for a group photograph before splitting off into groups to work together in team building activities on a stickball field in Durant.

    Youth Advisory Board holds yearly conference

    By Brandon Frye
    Choctaw Nation

    Durant, Okla. - The Youth Advisory Board Annual Leadership Conference offered lessons, growth, and fun for 300 students from across the 10 ½ counties of the Choctaw Nation June 23 and 24 at the Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant.
    YAB Plank Walk

    This conference is the one time a year YAB students from all 15 chapters are given the opportunity to gather and interact with their fellow young leaders. This year’s conference included a mixture of work and play for the students, who got involved with cultural events such as Choctaw dancing, cooperated during trust building exercises, and educated their peers from other YAB chapters.

    In a feat of leadership, each chapter prepared and presented lessons covering topics of their choice. Shonnie Hall, leader for the LeFlore chapter of YAB, said presentations allowed YAB members to talk about what is important to them–covering issues like teen dating violence, bullying, and texting and driving.

    “These activities during the conference help train students in leadership skills, push them forward, and challenge them to do more,” Hall said. “They are trying to be better leaders and help within their communities. They also act as mentors, impacting each other’s lives in positive ways.”

    YAB is a program available to Choctaws and non-Choctaws alike. Students in grades 8-12 are welcome to join. Contact Shonnie Hall at for more information.

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  • 06/25/15--08:59: Choctaw pride’s got wheels
  • Car Tag Suzanne Green
    Suzanne Green picks up her Choctaw car tag

    Choctaw Pride’s got Wheels

    By Zach Maxwell
    Choctaw Nation

    Durant, Okla. - In the first four months of the new Choctaw license plate availability, nearly 11,500 of the tags have been sold in Oklahoma! The rebate to tribal members has exceeded $600,000! Choctaws anywhere in Oklahoma are encouraged to sign up for their official tribal tags at any Tag Office within the state. For more details, visit:

    Choctaw member Suzanne Green from Durant picked up her new Choctaw car tag on Tuesday, June 23. The plates feature a perennial symbol of the Choctaw Nation – stickball sticks – and the phrase Chahta Sia Hoke! “I am Choctaw!”
    Car Tag Office

    Durant Tag Office Manager Jennifer Taylor and Tag Agent Bill Orr show some Choctaw license tags. The tags were introduced earlier in 2015 and were designed by a Choctaw Nation tribal member!

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    Left to right: Melissa Lewis (Yvppvlli volunteer - Cherokee), Michelle Johnson-Jennings (Yvppvlli Investigator - Choctaw), and Karina Walters (Yvppvlli Investigator - Choctaw) on a portion of the original Trail of Tears in Arkansas.

    The Yvppvlli Project: ‘A shining moment of opportunity and hope’

    By Zach Maxwell
    Choctaw Nation

    Yvppvlli: to walk slowly and softly, not with a hard tread.

    Each one of us will face a set of challenges as we walk through life. It’s how we approach the walk that will determine if we come out better on the other side.

    Choctaws have a word for this walk, Yvppvlli. A group of doctors and researchers have joined Choctaw tribal leaders in developing a program for healing and wellness that has the concept of “yvppvlli” at its core.

    And the inspiration for this comes from an often mentioned, but easily overlooked source: Choctaw ancestors who endured the forced removal from Mississippi homelands.

    Today, we call it the Trail of Tears. And a group of clinical researchers and Choctaw health officials have joined forces to craft a health and wellness program based on this experience.

    Dr. Karina Walters of the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute at the University of Washington in Seattle and Dr. Michelle Johnson-Jennings, co-director of the Research for Indigenous Community Health, part of the University of Minnesota in Duluth, are both Choctaw tribal members.

    They teamed up to use their collective expertise—as well as their perspectives as Choctaws—in helping to develop a course of action toward Yvppvlli.

    “It’s been extremely fruitful. We were able to focus on Choctaw meaning, as opposed to having to sit back and explain it,” Walters said. “There is a shared understanding as we move forward.

    “For me it was an honor to come back home and help our people,” said Walters, who has interacted with numerous cultures across the world in her field. It is anticipated that one in three Choctaw children will have type 2 diabetes by 2050. Seventy percent of tribal members could be obese by that time, leading to a startling outcome: Parents could outlive their children in large numbers, for the first time in recorded history.

    “(Self-Governance Executive Director Mickey Peercy) said to me, they needed help curbing the diabetes and obesity problem, even though the Choctaw Nation has been responding to it the way all the empirical work says we should be,” Walters said.

    Most research into the medical issues facing native communities is performed by non-native researchers. This time, the National Institute for Health agreed to allow the lead doctors, both Choctaws, to partner with members of their own tribe for a new approach.

    This leads in to their Yvppvlli approach: An indigenized approach to healing, as a supplemental effort in conjunction with the tools and concepts available in western medicine today. A connection between healthy lifestyle concepts and Choctaw culture was evolving.

    “I went and I prayed. And the answer came to me at that moment and it was very apparent,” Walters said. “It’s not about the trauma of the Trail of Tears, but getting connected with the vision of love and life that our ancestors had.”

    The idea emerged to follow the actual course of the 19th century Trail of Tears, as part of a journey toward healing. Johnson-Jennings said this approach links the experience of Choctaw ancestors to their descendants today.

    “This is fulfilling one of those life-long goals, connecting with one another,” Johnson-Jennings said. “Learning how we can heal as a nation has been very exciting. We have amazing strengths and resources, in what our ancestors brought with them. I think the trail is particularly poignant in most people’s minds. It was almost an obsession for me as a child, to read the old documents and narratives from the trail.”

    Health and history merged along the way. Walters said they began researching historical records to find the actual surviving trail, not just the modern highways along the route. Most of the routes are in Arkansas and they found places that were preserved portions of the trail from the era of the forced removals.

    In 2012, Yvppvlli took its first pilot walk with 18 volunteers, mostly Choctaw women. Actual clients, from Idabel, Broken Bow, and Hugo communities, went on the first true Yvppvlli journey in May of this year.

    “Our model is health promotions in that our women are trained to be health leaders,” Johnson-Jennings said. The goal is to build a team of health leaders in each of the 12 districts of the Choctaw Nation.

    Tribal leaders urged the research team to start with women. This goes back to several Choctaw concepts, including the “Beloved Woman” social status and the matrilineal kinship system.

    These leaders would be trained to respond to a crisis within the community, such as a suicide, using Choctaw-driven methods as an addendum to clinical efforts.

    They would also have a responsibility within their communities to share the knowledge gained from Yvppvlli. A series of post-walk community presentations are planned, starting in McCurtain and Choctaw counties this summer.

    The groups participate in six to eight weeks of training sessions before the 10-day walk, a mixture of camping, prayer circles, and hiking portions of the trail route from destination points like Arkansas Post and Lake Chicot, Arkansas.

    The group hikes up to 10 miles each day and shares experiences from their own lives and the day’s events each evening. This year, the group found remnant Trail of Tears sites at Village Creek State Park in Arkansas, and ended their journey with a walk from Horatio, Arkansas, to Broken Bow.

    “There’s something about physically being on the trail. Our people laughed, lived and loved on the trail. It’s almost like a vow-making ceremony,” Walters said of the commitment made by participants. “The guiding questions are: What kind of ancestor would my own ancestors want me to be; what kind do I want to be; and what kind of ancestors will future generations be? It’s stepping into our roles as leaders.”

    The goal is to involve 150 women in Yvppvlli—30 per year over the next five years. A similar program could be in place for Choctaw men in the coming years. Anticipated outcomes include a reduction in addictions to drugs, alcohol, tobacco and even certain foods.

    “It’s not about intervention. It’s really about becoming healthier,” said Johnson-Jennings. “It’s wellness in the community. It could be anything, new ideas such as communal gardens.”

    “It starts with a couple of people who want to move forward, then the whole community is involved. We’re creating a support network,” said Walters. “It’s about improving activity levels and resources.”

    “It’s amazing what mobilizing others can do. It’s shifting the culture of trauma and our thoughts and beliefs about wellness,” Johnson-Jennings said.

    As Choctaws tend to do, the experience of Yvppvlli is meant to take a dark time in our tribal history and turn it into a shining moment of opportunity and hope.

    For more information about Yvppvlli and Choctaw Nation Behavioral Health programs, please visit or call (800) 349-7026.

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    Durant Regional Clinic Media Advisory

    Choctaw Nation, IHS to build Regional Medical Clinic in Durant

    Durant, Okla. - The Choctaw Nation and Indian Health Service are entering into an agreement to build a Regional Medical Clinic in Durant. The medical campus will include a 143,000-sq.-ft. clinic, 17,000-sq.-ft. administration building, and an 11,000-sq.-ft. facilities building. Construction is expected to be complete in January 2017.

    A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, July 6. Shuttles will be available at 9 a.m. at the Event Center, 3702 Choctaw Road, to transport everyone to the site.

    Services at the Choctaw Nation Regional Medical Clinic will include outpatient ambulatory surgery, primary care, dental, pediatrics, lab, diabetes care, community health nurses, optometry, radiology services (including MRI, CT, bone density, mammography, ultrasound, fluoroscopy and x-ray), pharmacy, behavioral health, and physical therapy. It will also include numerous specialty care services. Patients must have CDIB to be eligible for services.

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    Chahta Foundation Scholars
    Seth Fairchild (center), assistant director of the Chahta Foundation, congratulates Academic All-Staters Todd Riddle (left), a graduating senior from Roland High School, and Brady Sorrels, a senior from Byng High School, during the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence Academic Awards Banquet, held recently in Tulsa.

    Choctaw Nation scholars take home honors

    Two Academic All-Staters sponsored by the Chahta Foundation]( were honored at the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence Academic Awards Banquet in Tulsa on May 16. Brady Sorrels and Todd Riddle were among 100 outstanding seniors from Oklahoma public schools who were honored during the presentation.

    Each of this year’s All-Staters were recognized at the foundation’s annual Academic Awards Banquet at the Renaissance Tulsa Convention Center. They will receive a $1,000 merit-based scholarship and a medallion.

    Brady Sorrels from Byng is a member of the Oklahoma Indian Honor Society and the National Honor Society. He is president of Native Voices and a member of the state-qualifying Academic Bowl team. A Fellowship of Christian Athletes leader, Brady is active in mission opportunities in his community and internationally. He and other youth organized a program providing meals, fellowship, and a Bible study for residents in local apartment complexes. He also participated in a mission trip to Nicaragua and is an intern for Voice of Hope Ministries in that country. Brady plans to attend East Central University, majoring in pre-medicine.

    Roland’s Todd Riddle is an Oklahoma State Regents Scholar and a class valedictorian. Vice president of the Technology Student Association, he is a TSA state champion in eight events and a national finalist. A four-year member of the Quiz Bowl team, he also serves as co-captain. Todd volunteers at the Ft. Smith Museum of History, and, through TSA, has participated in Toys for Tots and collected donations for Relay for Life. He is president of the National Honor Society, the Honor Club, and the senior class. He plans to study computer engineering at the University of Oklahoma.

    To be nominated for Academic All-State, students must meet one of the following criteria: an American College Test (ACT) composite score of at least 30; a Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) combined critical reading and math score of at least 1340; or be selected as a semi-finalist for a National Merit, National Achievement or National Hispanic Scholarship. This year’s All-Staters scored an average of 33 on the ACT, with 10 recipients scoring a perfect 36. In addition, 31 of this year’s All-Staters are National Merit semifinalists, while two are National Hispanic Scholars.

    The 2015 Academic All-State Class is the 29th to be selected by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence. Since the award program’s inception in 1987, some 2,900 high school seniors from 316 school districts have been named All-State scholars.

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    Mark Williams and Ghost Kids
    Mark Williams takes a break from directing “The Unrest” with some of the actors for his film. The children were ghosts in the thriller.

    Choctaw writer, producer, and director shares some of his story

    By Brandon Frye
    Choctaw Nation

    Heavener, Okla. - Mark Williams, 38-year-old full-blood Choctaw from Oklahoma, created a screen play in 2004. He had earned a finance degree, but his interest in storytelling lead him in another direction: teaching himself how to write for movies.

    During many evening visits to Barnes and Noble, Williams studied and practiced, eventually finishing a screenplay for a movie titled “Closure.” It was his first step into a film career which would have him writing, directing, producing, and editing movie creations of his own making.

    Williams would explore stories meant to frighten, as well as tales aimed at drawing out laughter from his audience. He would try his hand at short films, music videos, and eventually put work into a full-length feature film. He has entertained and also informed with projects like his documentary series, “Native American Paranormal Project,” which attempts to capture real Native paranormal footage with a Native team at locations scattered across Indian Country. His movie-making adventures were mostly a friends and family affair in the beginning, but since 2005, Williams has lead his own production company, Native Boy Productions.

    Williams’ work has found success at film festivals in Oklahoma, and have been shown at festivals across the country. For example, at the 2012 Red Fork Native American Film Festival in Tulsa, Williams’ “The Adventures of Josie the Frybread Kid” won Audience Favorite. At this same festival, as well as at the 2012 Mvskoke Film Festival, “The Unrest” received the Best Feature award. His newest film, “Violet,” is currently making the film festival circuit, being shown at Los Angeles and Canada. It has also been nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Thriller and Best Oklahoma Film at the Bare Bones International Film Festival.

    Questions and Answers with Mark Williams ◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

    How did you get your start making films?
    Growing up I always had an interest and a gift to write and be creative. Storytelling is something I picked up from my dad. He would always tell us stories from when he grew up back home on the reservation in Mississippi. They were outlandish at times but always entertaining. I never thought it would be something I’d pursue though. I went to college for a finance degree and was working at a bank when I wrote my first screenplay. It was a horror feature titled “Closure.” I’d never written one before and I’d never been to film school, everything was self-taught. I had the story in my head. Characters, dialogue and everything but didn’t know how to turn it into a script. I really didn’t want anyone else to do it so I taught myself and finished it sometime in 2004. After that I didn’t know what to do with it. I was told by a friend about screen play contests online so I did some research, found one in Los Angeles that I could afford the entry fee and mailed it in. About six months later I got an email saying I was a finalist.

    Where did things go from there?
    We went and shot “A Treasure for Two.” And by we I mean my wife at the time and my nephew and niece. It was a short film, a comedy about a young man finding a treasure map in his basement. He goes on a quest. It was a mixture between “The Goonies” and “Indiana Jones.” It was pretty bad, okay it was really bad, but I really enjoyed it. Then I wrote a little longer one titled “The Dare.” It was a thriller that I handed out to my friends and family. The production value and quality weren’t great, as you can imagine, but I thought the story and scares were pretty good. Apparently, others did too, as a few months later I got a call from a film festival in Tulsa saying they got their hands on a DVD copy and wanted to screen it. When I arrived at the 2006 Red Fork Native American Film Festival and saw the kind of movies showing before mine, I thought I had made a mistake. They were high budget movies, great quality, awesome locations. Mine had my family and was shot in my living room as well as a friend’s apartment. But when the audience jumped and screamed and looked away at my movie, I knew then and there this is what I wanted to do. To see another person entertained, to elicit an emotion from someone with something you created was an awesome feeling. To this day I still don’t get tired of it.

    What are some of your early memories enjoying the art of filmmaking?Mark Behind Camera
    My earliest memories actually came from the TV show “The Incredible Hulk,” with Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. Here was this gentle giant, misunderstood and uncontrollable. I was very young but I understood his quest to find a way to control the hulk. To this day what I remember the most are the end credits when you see David Banner walking down the road, hitchhiking, and you hear the piano score over the credits. I felt sad for the guy. I cheered him on during the show and would run around the house pretending to be the Hulk knocking things over, but when it came to the end when I heard that piano I knew it was over and I would watch him continue his search. That piano score was sad, man. But I found myself emotionally invested into the show and I guess that always stuck with me. TV shows, movies, they can have powerful impacts on people. To be able to achieve that is a gift. Now in all of my movies, I have a Hulk action figure somewhere in a scene. Sometimes it’s noticeable, sometimes you have to really look for him but he’s there.

    What personal traits have helped you become a successful filmmaker?
    Things my parents taught me really help me. They taught us to always think and dream big, to not limit ourselves and strive for what we really want to do. We were told to not be afraid of hard work and to not be afraid to fail because we all do and it’s that failing which will make us stronger. So I go into these projects with that mindset. My dad is a preacher, my mom is the Sunday school teacher so we grew up in church and were raised to have faith in God in all that we do. Career path, personal path, everything. With that kind of teaching and preaching how can I not try, right?

    What has been the hardest part of finding success as a filmmaker?
    Releasing control. I want to learn and be hands on but when the projects get bigger there is just no way that can happen. So you surround yourself with an awesome crew and utilize their talents to bring your vision to life. I can still learn by watching them work and picking their brain but I’ve learned I can’t direct to the best of my ability and try to do all the other duties. In earlier work I had to, and sometimes still do, because we’ll be running with a small crew. Now I have a team I can trust. But, I’ll be honest, sometimes its hard to just not want to go do it myself because I find it fun. On smaller projects, I am able to be more hands on and use the tricks I learned from the bigger projects. I swear I’m not a control freak. I just want to learn.

    What do you take from other filmmakers?
    One of the things I like to do is, after I watch a movie, watch it again but put it on mute and just watch the camera work, the blocking, the pacing. You can really get a feel for a director’s and a cinematographer’s style by doing this, and eventually, some of their style will find a way into one of my shots.

    What would you say makes your films unique?
    One of the things I really liked about my latest movie, “Violet,” is it is primarily an all Native American cast, but there isn’t one thing mentioned about it in the film. There aren’t any images, clothing, nothing that would reflect that these characters are Native other than their skin of course. This is something I wanted to purposely do. I wanted Violet to stand on it’s own as a universal, scare-the-pants-off-you entertaining movie. It just so happens Natives are cast in it. Don’t get me wrong, I love Native cinema. I make films with Native content, and also make some which don’t. I am friends with a lot of Native directors and fans of their work. But it’s more than okay to go outside of that and make a movie that doesn’t take place on the Rez.

    Do you find yourself sticking to any specific genres or styles?
    I get asked a lot if I just like making thrillers, horror films. I admit I’ve made a handful. For example, producing the documentary series, “Native American Paranormal Project.” But, I like to think I can go out and tell any type of story. I do have a children’s comedy series out titled “The Adventures of Josie the Frybread Kid.” It’s the furthest thing from a scary movie you can get.

    Why filmmaking and not some other form of storytelling?
    I gave book writing a shot. I even began a novel before I wrote my first screenplay. I got about 60 pages into it before I realized, “Hey, you’re writing a script more than you are a book or a novel.” The action and dialogue resembled a script more than a novel. A friend asked meif I wanted this novel to be made into a movie eventually, to which I replied yes. And then they asked, then doesn’t this novel need to be adapted into a screenplay? To which I replied of course. Then they had one final question ,which was: then why don’t you just skip the middle man and write the screenplay? I had no reply. Just a dumb look. So that’s what I did and that’s how “Closure” was written.

    What type of person do you imagine when you write and create your stories?
    In the early going I was really conscience to who I wrote for, like know your audience. Which is actually really good advice, but I ended up letting that hold me back. I kept starting over or thinking too much and the writing suffered. Now it’s simple, I just tell stories and make movies I would like to watch.

    What is your goal as a filmmaker? Overall, why do you do it?
    Violet Movie PosterTo elicit emotions. With “Violet,” I hope to get the scares, the screams, the roller coaster feel of going on this journey my story takes you through. “The Frybread Kid,” I hope to get the chuckles, the laughs and understanding the message we tried to get out there about being yourself. Reactions and emotions are why I do it. And it’s different for each project.

    If you were granted an unlimited budget for a film project, what would you do with it?
    An epic and truthful story about the Trail of Tears or about Native genocide. Our culture and our struggles to who we are today are often overshadowed by the hardships of what other races went through. Society knows of their struggles because there are films about it. Slavery, the Holocaust, to just name a few. If a huge production was made about the horror that is our past then I think it might raise some awareness and give insight into why some topics and issues are sacred and meaningful to us. I’m not saying let’s make a movie to make everyone feel sorry for us, we’re too proud and strong to ask for that, but you might need to be educated on what really happened.

    You write, produce, direct, and edit your films. What are the perks and pitfalls of fulfilling all of these roles at once?
    It can be very difficult. For example, on the day of a shoot as a producer I am making calls, picking up props, picking up wardrobe, if need be, just running errands that a producer would do and getting everything situated. The night before I am making calls, getting the call sheets ready, and doing all the things a producer or first assistant director would do. Then when we get on set I am still in producer mode and finally when all is set then I can go into director mode and start thinking about our scene and what we need to do. Days before that I’ve already discussed with my director of photography about our shots, but I’m going over them one more time and may make changes or may go with it. Throughout the day, I will be going from producer to director. So after 10 plus hours on set, I get home drained. I recently made a comedy where, for the very first time, I was not the producer. It helped a lot. I was able to focus on my actors and scenes. There are benefits and drawbacks. I love being hands on and being a part of everything when it comes to the production, but the duties and stress can be high. I’ve since been putting together a really good team I trust and they take on a lot of those duties. Even then, all the crew are still wearing multiple hats.

    What are your interactions like with the talent?
    I love working with the talent and utilizing their ideas if it makes the scene better. I’ve been told I’m an actor’s director, which made me happy. I’ve been blessed to work with some really talented people, it makes my job a lot easier. They’ve put their character and trust in me and into my script so I take that seriously and am humbled about it at the same time. A lesson I learned early on, which I still utilize today, is the practice of making your cast and crew feel important, because they are. A lot of times, especially now with my budget, they are working for low pay, if any. They are doing this because they love it themselves. But everyone wants to feel that their hard work is appreciated. Even if the pay isn’t making them rich, how you treat and talk to them can go a long ways. And food. Definitely have a good craft services set up. They appreciate that. Some days may have more, some days it may just be power bars, fruit and Gatorade but always keep them fed the best you can.

    Would you say being Native has influenced your filmmaking?
    In some projects, yes. “The Unrest” was about the tragic events that happened at Native boarding schools. My documentary series is about Native locations. The comedy, “The Adventures of Josie the Frybread Kid,” is an uplifting story about our favorite topic, frybread. “Violet,” “The Dare,” “Her Last Text: The Hailey Rose Story,” and a couple of others were thrillers that happened to have a Native cast.

    On a personal level, what has being Native meant for you in life?
    It has meant I come from a proud and strong people. There’s a common vibe with being Native. We can appreciate each other without knowing one another. No matter the tribe. And our humor is one of a kind. Non-natives don’t get it. I love hearing us laugh.

    Is it important for other Natives to get involved with movies or storytelling in general?
    I think Natives are natural storytellers. And with today’s technology and with access to equipment getting easier, I don’t see why more Natives can’t pursue it. There’s pride in it, there’s sacrifice in it, there’s joys in it. All positive stuff. We have a voice now. We can tell our stories the way we want to.

    Do you see yourself as a role model?
    To be honest I’ve never seen myself as being a role model, because there are so many other people I look up to, there is so much for me to still learn. But if some kid wants to grab a camera and make something happen because they saw it can be done from my work, then that makes me happy. If that some young kid is Native then, well, I don’t mind having that role. I do know our Native youths need positive outlets, and if media or filmmaking turns out to be one of them, I’d be happy to chat with them.

    Where would you point people to if they wanted to watch your stuff?
    Right now the best way to follow anything I do would be on my facebook page On it, you will see announcements, festival updates, behind the scenes of current and past projects. We are planning on having a really big year and some pretty big announcements coming up so be one of the first to hear about it on that page. Please like it, comment on it, share pics or the page. Yakoke.

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    Batton Scholar Twahna Hamill
    Twahna Hamill one of the six recipients of the Batton Family Scholarship.

    Batton Scholarship Spotlight: Twahna Hamill

    (Editor’s note: This is the first in a series about the six recipients of the Batton Family Scholarship, offered since 2012 to Choctaw students who are nearing graduation at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.)

    Twahna Hamill feels a deep connection to her ancestors. Her family hails from Bennington as well as the Choctaw Reservation in Mississippi. This has helped guide her path toward a Bachelor’s degree and now her pursuit of a Master’s in Native American Leadership.

    Hamill was one of the first recipients of the Gary & Angie Batton Family Scholarship in 2012. The scholarship opened many doors for her, allowing her to concentrate on classes and participate in a Native Studies course that took her to the Natchez Trace in Mississippi.

    “I loved it, it was beyond the experience of a lifetime,” she said. “I’ve been able to put that experience into my graduate courses in ethno-history.” She also wrote an essay about her aunt Lorene Blaine, a revered Choctaw elder. Hamill’s academic journey has also allowed her to learn more about her Mississippi family.

    “I feel like there is something that can complete you more as a person by knowing the experiences of your ancestors,” she said. “It enriched my life to know they left a great legacy.”

    Soon after finishing under-graduate studies, Hamill took a job as a retention specialist with the Native American Center for Student Success at SE. “Retaining students has been the best part, because I want to help them reach their goals,” she said. “I want to see them get to know their culture and pursue their passions, whatever it may be.”

    This opportunity opened another door, and she has now accepted a position as a coordinator with the Choctaw Nation STAR (Student Talent and Retention) program.

    Hamill is set to graduate in December with the Master’s degree and plans to continue her career in the fields of education and Native American history. “My wife and I have always had a passion for giving back,” said Chief Gary Batton, also a board member of the Southeasteren Foundation. “I’m hoping that we can give another opportunity to our Choctaws. I know what it’s like to grow up in small town USA and go to off to school.”

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    Rubin White Ribbon Cutting
    Surrounded by local dignitaries and clinic physicians and staff, Chief Gary Batton cuts a ribbon symbolizing the grand opening of the Ruben White Health Clinic in Poteau, OK.

    Choctaw Nation Health Clinic Opens in Poteau

    By Brandon Frye
    Choctaw Nation

    Poteau, Okla. - Chief Gary Batton cut through a red ribbon July 2, 2015 at 10 a.m., symbolizing the opening of an extensive expansion to the Ruben White Health Clinic in Poteau.

    Dignitaries including Poteau Mayor Jeff Shockley, Poteau city council members Jimmy Holstead and Tommy Robinson, and District 4 royalty Junior Miss Jase Cassey and Little Miss Gracie Mattox, attended the ribbon cutting.

    Representatives from Manhattan Group Construction, which built the new facility, were also present alongside the physicians and staff of the clinic.

    Teresa Jackson, Senior Executive Officer for Choctaw Health Services, said this expansion was needed in Poteau because it will provide many of the services found at the hospital in Talihina to locals, without their having to make a longer drive.

    “This is for you, our tribal members,” Chief Gary Batton said. “We want to provide the best health care to our members. We want to improve health so you can have long life, that’s what it’s all about.”

    According to Todd Hallmark, Executive Director of Health Operations, the health clinic was already offering services such as a family practice, pediatrics, and pharmacy prescription refills but the expansion has made more services available.

    These new services include an employee clinic, offering emergency health care to employees, their spouses, and their children. This new employee clinic will draw in workers from the travel plazas, casinos, recycling center, and everyone else working for the Choctaw Nation in and around Poteau.

    New also is the optometry office, which will provide two optometrists for tribal members.
    Jessica Vaughn

    A physical therapy program is now housed at the back of the expansion. Included in the rehabilitation equipment is a physical therapy pool with a treadmill and current-based resistance—a first for the tribe.

    Behavioral health was expanded and will now offer more counselors to tribal members.

    Open for recreational use, as well as rehabilitation, are the new wellness center and half-court basketball gym. Treadmills, free weights, and other workout machines are now available.

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    Durant Clinic Groundbreaking

    Choctaw Nation and Indian Health Services partner on regional health clinic in Durant

    Durant, Okla.– A ground breaking ceremony was held July 6 to celebrate a Joint Venture between the Choctaw Nation and Indian Health Services (IHS) to construct and operate a regional health clinic in Durant.

    The medical campus will include a 143,000-sq.-ft. clinic, 17,000-sq.-ft. administration building, and an 11,000-sq.-ft. facilities building to be located north of the Choctaw Nation Community Center and Child Development Center off Big Lots Road.

    The medical campus will be adjacent to a new tribal headquarters building on which construction is expected to begin this fall.

    The investment is for the tribal people, said Chief Gary Batton. “It’s to create a better way of life and to create jobs. It’s about making sure their life is longer.” He recognized the Tribal Council and the many individuals who worked diligently to make this possible.

    Joint Ventures between tribes and IHS are very competitive. There were 36 applications from across the country for a Joint Venture this year. The Choctaw Nation was one of three to be selected to participate.

    RADM Kevin Meeks, IHS Area Director for the Oklahoma City Area, described the partnership, explaining the Choctaw Nation provides funding for construction of the facility and IHS works with Congress to obtain funding for staffing to operate the facility.
    Durant Clinic Render

    “I commend the Choctaw Nation for your commitment, for your investment in the health care of Native American patients,” said RADM Meeks. “The real reason we are here is because of the commitment to improve the health of our patients who utilize the Indian Health Care system in the Choctaw Nation.”

    Choctaw Nation Health Senior Executive Officer Teresa Jackson said this is the first tribal IHS program to have an outpatient ambulatory surgery clinic. Other services will also include primary care, dental, pediatrics, a lab, diabetes care, community health nurses, optometry, radiology services (including MRI, CT, bone density, mammography, ultrasound, fluoroscopy and x-ray), pharmacy, behavioral health, physical therapy, and numerous specialty care services.

    Construction of the health center is expected to be complete in January 2017.

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    President Obama to visit the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    Durant, Okla. - On Wednesday, July 15th, the President will travel to Durant, Oklahoma, where he will visit the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and deliver remarks on expanding economic opportunity….Further details regarding the President’s travel to Oklahoma will be available in the coming days.

    Outside Links

    This post will be updated with relevant information

    Last edit 7/10/15 at 2:20PM

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    Spencer Tidwell
    Spencer Tidwell, Durant High School, shows his Hillsdale College cap after signing a letter of intent to play baseball for the Saints.

    Choctaw to continue baseball career at Hillsdale College

    By Zach Maxwell
    Choctaw Nation

    Durant, Okla. - Spencer Tidwell of Durant will continue his baseball playing days at Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College.

    Tidwell, a Durant High School graduate, played shortstop for the Lions. He was also a member of the football squad at Durant. He signed a letter of intent to play for the Saints at a ceremony in May at his high school.

    Parents Tina Vaughn and Shelby Tidwell, as well as little brother Skyler Tidwell, joined coaches and teammates at the ceremony.

    “It’s just a blessing,” Tidwell said. “This opportunity to go to the next level is something I’ve wanted since I was a little kid.”

    Durant had three athletes sign collegiate letters of intent at the ceremony, including cheerleader Brooke Podany (OBU) and soccer player Breanna Cedillo (MSC).

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    President Visit
    President Obama pledges to do better by our ‘first Americans’ community center on March 4.

    President visits Choctaw Nation to unveil new program and meet with Choctaw youth

    By Ronni Pierce
    Choctaw Nation

    Chief Gary Batton, the Choctaw Nation, and the city of Durant were host to a historic event on July 15. Tribal youth and elders were invited to join the Chief, Council, and community members to hear first-hand as President Barack Obama announced a new initiative that will ensure digital opportunities for all Americans. ConnectHome will expand high-speed broadband Internet services to families in the Choctaw Nation and 27 other communities across the country.

    After taking the stage and shouting out an enthusiastic “Halito!” to nearly 1,000 people gathered in the Durant High School, the president thanked Chief Batton and the other tribal leaders for their attendance. The president acknowledged the fact that some American communities “have been neglected and fallen behind. And as part of that, I said we’re going to do better by our first Americans.

    “Now, we can’t reverse centuries of history—broken treaties, broken promises. But I did believe that we could come together as partners and forge a new path based on trust and respect.”

    He spoke of naming the Choctaw Nation as one of America’s first Promise Zones a little over a year ago. The Promise Zone areas are where the federal government teams with local communities and businesses to create economic development and to jump-start job creation, expand educational opportunities, increase affordable housing, and improve public safety.

    The ConnectHome initiative will take the Promise Zone designation even further.ConnectHome will use partnerships to bring broadband, technical assistance, and digital literacy training to students living in public and assisted housing across America, according to the White House.

    Chief Batton said, “The ConnectHome initiative is about helping our people who are in poverty-stricken areas, to help them gain access to broadband Internet because so many of our tribal members do not have access to the world like everyone else does. And so in our low-income housing and in our elderly living sites that’s what this is going to be about—to help them get an education and to find employment. “The ConnectHome initiative will link our homes to a world beyond southeastern Oklahoma, and tie our lives to greater opportunities.”

    The president and HUD Secretary Julián Castro announced 27 cities and the Choctaw Nation will participate in ConnectHome.

    The communities were selected through a competitive process that took into account local commitment to expanding broadband opportunities.

    Prior to the event, President Obama and Chief Batton met with a group of Native youth and discussed the recent White House Tribal Youth Gathering and opportunities for young Native boys and girls. The president called out to 16-year-old Kelsey Janway in the audience. Janway is a member of the Choctaw Youth Council who represented the Choctaw Nation at the White House. President Obama made note that her family could only get phone reception at their home in Heavener if they stood on a certain rock. She laughingly agreed and many of the audience who were from rural areas were nodding their heads in understanding. The president emphasized that kids like Kelsey have big dreams, that we need to invest in those dreams through advancing technology in rural and low-income areas. He said, “When we make those commitments to all of our children, the great thing about it is the blessings are returned back to us—because you end up having a workforce that is better educated, which means suddenly companies want to locate, which means businesses start booming, which means businesses start hiring, which means everybody does better.”

    This is only the second Native American community President Obama has visited during his term in office. In June 2014 the president visited the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota. And this is only the second time a sitting president has visited this community. President Theodore Roosevelt passed through Durant during a whistle stop tour on his way to San Antonio in 1905. President Obama’s visit last week is the first time a current president has made an official visit to our tribal nation.

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    Beacon Award 2015
    Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s Flight Operations pilots John Wesley, Al Cherry, and Quentin McLarry.

    Choctaw Nation receives Beacon Award

    By Lisa Reed
    Choctaw Nation

    Oklahoma City, Okla. - Eighty missions … more than 97,000 miles … the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s Flight Operations team has spent hundreds of flight hours on journeys to help wounded heroes. Four years ago, the Choctaw Nation joined Veterans Airlift Command (VAC), a nonprofit organization that provides free air transportation to wounded veterans and their families.

    The Choctaw Nation was recognized for its charitable influence on July 16 with a 2015 Beacon Award during a ceremony at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel in Oklahoma City. It was among five other category winners who were honored for continuing to embody the spirit of giving.

    “People and companies who give of their time and money to nonprofits don’t do it for the recognition. That’s why the Beacon Awards are so important; it’s an opportunity to salute companies who are making a significant difference, allowing and encouraging their employees to become involved in their communities,” said Joni Brooks, president and publisher of the Journal Record.

    “I am so proud of our pilots for showing their heart and compassion for our veterans by assisting them through the Veteran’s Airlift Command,” said Chief Gary Batton. “They go above and beyond the call of duty to help and I am so thankful that the Choctaw Nation and our pilots are able to help those who have served God and country.”

    It’s often nearly impossible for some veterans to travel on commercial airlines because of injuries, PTSD, or many other concerns. Veterans Airlift Command provides a free, low-stress environment for traveling to and from anywhere in the United States for medical and other compassionate services.

    “Giving back to the community is part of the heart and soul of the Choctaw Nation,” said Al Cherry, director of flight operations. “The concern and understanding of Chief Batton and the Tribal Council for the needs of veterans in these situations, and their generosity, are what make it possible for us to make the trips.” Cherry, Quentin McLarry and John Wesley are the Nation’s three flight operations pilots.

    Passengers assisted on the Choctaw Nation’s VAC flights have included an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) victim who lost both legs above the knee, one arm above the wrist, and severe damage to the other arm. The Choctaw Nation flew him and his wife home for the first time since the explosion. Cherry remembers a huge reception waiting for the veteran with Patriot riders, family, friends, and townspeople – a true hero’s reception.

    Another flight carried a group of six wounded warriors, most who had been injured in different attacks, back to meet their units when their units returned from deployment. They were there for their units, but the town turned out for them.

    The Choctaw Nation uses its business successes as a means to continue the missionary work of helping others. The Nation has participated in hurricane and tsunami relief, has an active Meals on Wheels program, has assisted many communities and churches with needs, and has several programs for boys and girls. Many tribal members and employees donate untold hours in helping build a sense of community.

    “The Choctaw Nation takes a long-term view of its mission. By assisting with these efforts, we are encouraging our young people to grow and become better partners within their communities,” Cherry said. “In turn, they will encourage the next generation to do the same. The end game is that we are better people.”

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  • 07/23/15--05:17: Timber trust lawsuit settled
  • Timber Lawsuit Arial
    An example of clear-cutting on former trust lands in the Choctaw Nation. [Photo Provided by Ackerman McQueen]

    Timber trust lawsuit setttled

    By Zach Maxwell
    Choctaw Nation

    Durant, Okla. - The Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations have settled a decade-old federal lawsuit regarding former tribal trust land, as announced by Chief Gary Batton. Terms of the early July settlement have not been released, pending official approval from both tribal governments.

    A partial settlement was reached in May on a portion of the suit. The settlement was approved by Choctaw Nation Tribal Council at its May meeting, but details were not available due to a non-disclosure clause.

    At issue was an accounting of the tribal trust lands taken by the U.S. gov- ernment after Choctaw and Chickasaw governments were dissolved more than a century ago. The Nations filed suit against the U.S. government in 2005, seeking that long overdue accounting and an equitable restoration of the trust.

    “I’m very excited that the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, Gov. Bill Anoa-tubby, along with myself, and the U.S. government have agreed to a settlement of the timber trust account case,” said Chief Gary Batton. “This settlement will begin the healing process for many of our tribal members. This is the first time that the federal government and tribal Nations have worked on a settlement of some of these dark pages of history.”

    Batton said the settlement funds, whose sum remains undisclosed at this time, will be used to improve the lives of Choctaw and Chickasaw tribal members through economic development and social service programs. Many of these programs are new innovations aimed at improving the lives of low-income tribal members.

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    Resort Ribbon Cutting

    Celebs add glam to noteworthy event at Choctaw Casino Resort

    By Charles Clark
    Choctaw Nation

    Durant, Okla. - It’s not unusual to find fun and excitement in the Choctaw Casino. But June 28 saw even more thrills and glitz, as the new Grand Theater was opened with a ribbon cutting at- tended by Chief Gary Batton, Choctaw Nation officials, and one of America’s most legendary rock’n’roll bands, Aerosmith.

    No fewer than 200 people—members of the Choctaw Nation, local dignitaries and the public—were on hand to witness the occasion.

    Chief Batton addressed the turnout noting it was an important and joyous milestone in the long and difficult trail of the Choctaw people. Amid the glee of the occasion, Batton’s comments brought gravitas and a sense of pride in this latest accomplishment of Choctaw enterprise. He also pointed out that the 400 construction workers and now 300 added staff members have brought 700 new employment opportunities to southeast Oklahoma.

    Executive Director of Choctaw Gaming Janie Dillard said, “It’s not over yet,” as she zestfully listed the new features of the facility, which opened along with the Grand Theater.
    Resort Aerosmith

    Vocalist Steven Tyler, guitarist Joe Perry and other members of Aerosmith were on hand to help those at the ribbon cutting ceremony “Dream On.” Attention shifted in all directions as rock stars, top leaders of the Choctaw Nation, flashing lights of the casino, and the bling of new spa hallways, competed for the eyes and ears of the crowd.

    The three suites and 3,000 seats of the Grand Theater had sold out days in advance for the concert by platinum-recording artists Aerosmith. Barely two weeks into its Blue Army 2015 Tour, Aerosmith wowed cheering head bangers in an energy-filled, 90-minute parade of hit songs that included “Cryin’,” “Rag Doll,” “Jaded,” “Walk This Way” and “Sweet Emotion.”
    Sounds from their 1970’s wild youth-style, through the MTV video star-years, to the perfecting of their rock classics in stadiums took fans on a journey of nostalgia while demonstrating the lexicon of their influence.

    Dillard said that acts are booked at the venue through December. Standing in the wings are Kenny Rogers and Wynonna, who are in concert Aug. 6; Three Dog Night and Nazareth, Aug. 8; Boston, Aug. 27; Nickelback, Sept. 4; BJ Thomas and The Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley, Sept. 19; and the “Queen of Country” Loretta Lynn, Oct. 3. The Band Perry, Aretha Franklin and more are scheduled before New Year’s Eve arrives.

    The new Spa Tower offers a luxury experience for those needing a getaway. While staying in a choice of hundreds of rooms and suites, guests may enjoy a hair salon, barbershop, mani-pedi nail care, chemical peels, and state-of-the-art fitness center found in the 25,000-square-foot facility. Robes and sandals are provided for those who enter the co-ed mineral baths area. Water terraces over tiles, into the soaking mineral salts from Savoy, Hungary. And if that doesn’t get you relaxed enough, massages, facials and light refreshments can be ordered up. One example is the naturally refreshing cactus toning wrap and foot revitalizing treatment.

    Business travelers can make use of a new Conference Center. The 14,000-square-foot Magnolia Grand Ballroom has its own kitchen, which can accommodate more than 800 diners. Versatile private suites and 16 fully equipped meeting rooms allow for the needs of any size gathering.

    From bridal parties, couples retreats and business seminars to the casino excitement of world poker tours and today’s favorite musical entertainment, the Choctaw Casino Resort is an oasis in southeast Oklahoma and the Grand Theater rocks.

    To go: The Choctaw Casino Resort and the Grand Theater are located at 4418 S. Hwy 69/75 in Durant. It is suggested that those interested in attending a particular concert not delay in making reservations. Several of the upcoming shows are nearly sold out. At this writing, for example, fewer than 50 seats remain for Boston. For Box Office information, call (800) 628- 1403 or visit online

    Resort Art

    Choctaw artists create original décor

    Hotels often display art. But it’s usually from mass printings, mundane in nature—just something to break up lengthy walls of taupe.

    Not so at the Choctaw Casino Resort’s new Spa Tower, where original creations by five contemporary Choctaw artists adorn the new expansion.

    A good starting point is always at the beginning. To view the nouveau art at Choctaw Casino Resort, guests need only to approach the registration desk. Five impressive works can be found directly behind check-in.

    Chief Gary Batton is quoted in a brochure on the project: “I am excited to see our Choctaw artists highlighted in the interior design of the Durant resort expansion… We invite you to visit the art displays and learn of the great heritage and culture of the Choctaw people.”

    More one-of-a-kind pieces can be observed when strolling the hallways from the lobby into the new 25,000-square-foot facility.

    The Artists

    DYLAN CAVIN The Norman artist has said he prefers painting over graphic design: “For me, the artwork was and still is my main connection of my heritage… It forces me to go back and to read and to do research and to go through the history, and to me that connects me more with my past and it comes around that way.”

    NORMA HOWARD As a child, the Stigler artist used to go home and draw the toys that her classmates had: “I live the Choctaw life, so I know it’s from within.”

    GWEN COLEMAN LESTER Now calling Claremore home, the artist can’t remember a time when she didn’t draw: “I like to put Choctaw language in there whenever I can.”

    DG SMALLING The Oklahoma City-based artist travelled the world as a child of missionaries: “Rather than something being an interior design project, the Nation now has for the first time in hundreds of years a definitive body of work to represent what Choctaw Nation is at this point in the 21st century. That’s the importance of this collection, the standard that it establishes for other artists.”

    JANIE UMSTED Calling Durant her home, the artist came by it naturally, receiving art instruction from her mother since age 3: “…This has become a project that I think about all the time. It really has taken over my life in a very good way.”

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    Cody Mayo
    Photo provided by Bjoern Kommerell.

    Young actor Mayo’s career on the rise

    By Brandon Frye
    Choctaw Nation

    Los Angeles, Cali. - Cody Mayo, a Choctaw Nation member, is living his life-long dream: to be an actor. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma and moving to Los Angeles, his career took off.

    Most recently, Mayo acted as a guest star alongside veteran actors on TNT’s television series “Major Crimes,” a police show and spin off to “The Closer.” Mayo’s episode is slated to air on Monday, July 27, at 8 p.m. (C.S.T.).

    Mayo, who grew up in Saginaw, Texas, recalled the support he received as a child from both his parents. His Choctaw heritage came from Dale Mayo, his father, who had spent time with production work, building sets, and designing lights and sound for theatrical shows. His mother, Cathy Green, dabbled in country music performance. Mayo said both his parents supported his dream of becoming an actor and actively encouraged him.

    “My earliest memory would be with my dad who took me to the theater in Fort Worth called Casa Mañana,” Mayo said. “I saw a production there and was hooked immediately.”

    His drive for acting stuck with him through grade school and into high school, when Mayo said he started pursuing acting aggressively and winning awards.

    Mayo was the first in his family to attend university directly after high school. Getting into college was a foreign experience. He said all he knew was he wanted to act. He was drawn to OU for the arts program, the competitive acting school that accepts only 40 people from across the globe each year.

    After graduating, Mayo moved to L.A. He started auditioning right away for several popular television shows. He said they were all big roles.

    In December 2014, Mayo booked his first job, a character named Todd on MTV’s series “Faking It.” Then in 2015 he landed the role of Joe Walker on the NBC pilot “The Curse of the Fuentes Women.”

    His newest casting as a guest star on TNT’s popular series “Major Crimes” is a sign of good things to come.

    “I’m auditioning on a weekly basis for shows you see on TV or movies you see in theaters,” Mayo said. “It’s been a really great experience, and the exciting part is, it’s just the beginning.”

    Mayo says he owes a lot of gratitude to the Choctaw Nation for the support during college, with scholarships. He also expressed an appreciation of Lindy Waters, a Native mentor during his time at OU.

    “I owe a lot to my heritage and spirituality. It developed in me a foundation, the spirit of not giving up,” Mayo said. “I knew once I decided on this career it was going to be a very difficult road. You hear ‘no’ a lot. So I knew I would have to have the ability to rise from the ashes.”

    He said he wants his story to be a source of motivation for adolescents in the Choctaw Nation.

    “It doesn’t matter where you come from, your circumstances. You can really achieve what you want,” Mayo said. “Don’t let yourself be held back. Discover how your heritage can empower you. Because, when you pursue dreams, you have to be able to rebound and not give up. A lot of this power comes from family and heritage.”

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