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Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

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    Choctaw Nation Offers a Variety of Housing and Rental Assistance

    By Kendra Germany
    Choctaw Nation

    The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma offers many different services for the benefit of its people. One of those services is The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Housing Authority.

    According to Tracy Archey, Service Coordination Director for the Housing Authority, the Housing Authority is here to assist tribal members in their efforts to adequately meet their housing needs.

    “The mission of the Housing Authority of the Choctaw Nation is to provide the Choctaw people with the opportunity for decent, safe, and sanitary housing while building stronger, healthier communities and promoting economic independence for our clientele,” said Archey.

    The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Housing Authority’s mission is achieved through the several services that are available through the Housing Authority in Hugo.

    There are many services available to the Choctaw people and others living within the 10.5 county service area, including programs that assist elders.

    Independent Elder Sites offer a total of 121 one-bedroom units across the Choctaw Nation service area. Sites are located in Poteau, Hartshorne, Talihina, Calera, Hugo, Idabel and Stigler.

    Applicants and/or spouse must be 55 years or older, have some form of income, pass an OSBI and local background check and have a CDIB and Tribal Membership card. Maximum income for family of one or two must meet the HUD established income limits in order to qualify as well. Rent is based off of 15 percent of total household yearly income. Amenities inside the units include a refrigerator, stove and energy star rated washer and dryer.

    Elders can also qualify for the 202 Supportive Housing for elders. 202 Supportive Housing is a partnership with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to serve Native American and non-Native Americans 62 years and over. This program offers one-bedroom apartment units across the 10.5 county service area. Sites are located in Poteau, Atoka, Calera, Hugo and Idabel. Applicants and/or spouse must pass a federal and local background check and meet the HUD established income limits. Amenities on each site include a common area building with a safe room inside.

    Elders are not the only ones who have the op- portunity to benefit from the services the Housing Authority offers. The Choctaw Nation Affordable Rental Housing Properties are comprised of seven housing communities within the Choctaw Nation service area. They are located in Bokoshe, Caney, Quinton, Red Oak, Wright City, and Talihina. Applicants must have a CDIB card and some form of income. All applicants, their spouse and/ or children over the age of 18, must pass an OSBI and local background check to qualify. Applicant’s income per number of family composition must meet the HUD established income limits, in order to qualify as well. Rent is based off of 15 percent of total household yearly income.

    Home Financial Services are also available. Homeowners Financial Services offer qualified members of federally recognized tribes the opportunity to purchase, construct, rehab, or refinance a home through its home loan products and counseling services. In addition to the numerous direct loan products, conventional, Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veteran Affairs (VA), and Native American 184 loans are available through participating lending partners.

    The Choctaw Home Buyer Advantage Program (CHAP) offers loans to eligible members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma nationwide with no income ceiling limits. The member qualifies for a mortgage according to credit and debt ratios. The amount of assistance for the CHAP down payment and closing costs are determined by underwriting guidelines of the participating lending partners. It is also determined by other purchase variables that include loan-to-value ratio and sale price.

    The Choctaw Homeowners Lending Services offers direct loans to eli- gible borrowers that reside in the 10.5 county service area, who otherwise may not be able to qualify for a secondary market loan through other institutions. Borrowers must be mem- bers of federally recognized tribes, with a household income that does not exceed 80 percent of the National Median Income level. Preference is given to members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Types of loans offered include new construction, purchasing existing homes, rehabilitation, home improvement, energy efficiency/weatherization, affordable development and refinancing of existing home loans.

    The Choctaw Homeowners Support Services offers a comprehensive menu of support services to eligible tribal member families wanting to pur- chase, repair, rehabilitate, or improve existing homes or building a new home. To be eligible, you must be a member of a federally recognized tribe, residing in the 10.5 county service area. Preference is given to members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Eligible qualified tribal families can finance the complete construction cost of their home, the purchase of the land and site im- provements.

    The knowledgeable Choctaw Homeowner Services Team can assist each family through every step of the process to purchase, repair, rehabilitate, or improve an existing home or construction of a new home and site development.

    The Housing Authority is also responsible for the Choctaw Nation Storm Shelter Program. The Choctaw Nation Storm Shelter Grant Program is administered through the Choctaw Nation Housing Authority, and provides storm shelters to eligible Choctaw Tribal Members who live in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas. These are states with a high risk of tornados.

    Applications will be processed on a first-come-first-serve basis. The Choctaw Nation Storm Shelter Grant Program is dependent upon availability of funds. Storm shelters shall be provided as grants for eligible applicants who meet the qualifications. Applicants must be 55 years and over, or must have a documented ambulatory disability.

    Storm shelters are awarded one time only. A storm shelter may be installed in a new or existing home. The storm shelter must be installed at primary residences and must be installed on property owned by the applicant. Those owning two or more homes are only eligible for a storm shelter for their primary residence. Only one person may register per physical address. Those that live in mobile homes, must own both the mobile home itself and the land it is located on to be eligible for the program. Only single-family residential homeowners are eligible for their primary residence. Those that live in a rented house are not eligible for this program. Apartment complexes, duplexes, and other multi-family residences are not eligible for this program, as they are considered a business. Community or neighborhood storm shelters are not eligible for this rebate. Homeowners rehabilitation services are also offered through the Housing Authority.

    The Choctaw Homeowners Rehabilitation Services assists with emergency repairs and rehabilitation to homes that are owned by tribal member families residing in the 10.5 county service area.

    The overall goal for these services is to assist as many tribal member families as available annual funding permits, with their efforts to protect their home’s long-term viability and create a decent, safe, and sani- tary living environment.

    Applications for assistance can be obtained by contacting the Housing Authority, or be picked up at any Choctaw Nation Field Office. To be eligible for assistance, applicants must be members of a federally recognized tribe with a household income that does not exceed 80 percent of the National Median Income level. Priority is given to eligible families that are lowest income, elderly, have verifiable disabilities, and members of the Choctaw Nation.

    Rental Assistance is available to eligible tribal families who reside in the 10 1/2 county service area. To be eligible, applicants must be members of a federally recognized tribe with a household income that does not exceed 80 percent of the National Median Income level and provide required documentation. Preference is given to elders and members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

    Homeless Emergency Shelter assistance has the same eligibility criteria as rental assistance. Preference is given to members of the Choctaw Nation.

    For more information on all of the available programs and services provided by the Choctaw Nation Housing Authority call (800)235-3087 or (580)326-7521.

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    Iti Owl

    Cultural Preservation Department_
    Choctaw Nation

    … the moon peeks through the forest as you walk, lighting your way. Off in the distance you hear it, at first very faint, then louder as it moves closer. The haunting call of an owl. Within seconds, it swoops over your head and lands on the fence post along your path, turning its head to look at you. Does your heart skip a beat? Are you filled with dread? If so, you are not alone. For many Choctaws, seeing an owl is a clear omen of an imminent family related illness, accident, or something far worse. For the month of October, Iti Fabvssa will explore the legend surrounding owls.

    Judy tells of a young girl, a resident of Carter Seminary. She awoke in such a fright that the night staff were unable to console her. Through her sobs she wanted nothing more than to call home. When Judy asked the staff what was happening the staff let her know that the young girl had had a bad dream and wanted to call home. Of course they denied her this request; it was 2 a.m. Judy inquired about the young girl’s dream. When she learned it was of an owl, she immediately chastised the staff members and allowed the young girl to call home. Her uncle had just died.

    Judy’s story is not unique. Many families have stories of owls and their ominous warnings of death in the family, whether extended or close. According to missionary accounts, owl stories were prevalent in our homeland as well, including one of the Choctaw ishkitini, or the horned owl. (Swanson 2011:199) It was believed it prowled at night killing men and animals. If it screeched, it meant this death was sudden, as with a murder. If the ofunlo, or screech owl, was heard it signified a young child under seven in the family would die very soon given the owl itself was small in size. If the opa, or common owl, perched on trees near the home and hooted, then this was an ominous warning of death among close relatives. “If my grandma heard a screech owl, she would just tremble in fear!”

    Mary Sockey travelled the Trail of Tears with her siblings and parents. Her mother, sister, and she were among the only survivors of her family. Having lost relatives as young as two years old in Mississippi, and then young siblings during removal, she was well aware of the pain in losing small children. It is no wonder she held an intense fear of screech owls. But why an owl? Why is the owl the messenger of such bad news?

    Joseph recounted a story of his youth, north of Madill. Elders sat on the porch at night. They saw in the distance an owl. It flew closer and landed near them. Each time they tried to scare it, it would fly away only to return and land in the exact same spot. It was a different looking owl, much too tall and bulky. It would flutter its wings and appear to dance before them. One of the elders went into the house, grabbed his gun, and returned to the porch to shoot it. It was shot in the leg and flew away. The next day, one of the elders reported to the others that a local witch or Indian doctor was in the hospital with a leg amputation.

    Olin remembered, this owl was different. We hired an Indian doctor to assess the situation during the day time and he found the owl to be an Indian doctor who wished to harm a family member. He offered us a solution to get rid of it. We crushed red bricks and replaced the pellets with brick dust in our shells. When we fired them off at the owl, the red dust scared it away.

    Stories like these tell of great witches, or hatukchaya, that can transform themselves into owls. Once the hatakchaya is an owl, they use their medicine on unsuspecting people. For this reason, people have grown fearful of owls and want to avoid interaction with them because their presence is a warning of bad things to come. Traditionally, we consulted the village Indian doctor, or alikchi, to determine if an owl was a hatukchaya. We took their suggestions to counteract the upcoming disaster. Over time people noticed strange human-like characteristics of hatukchaya owls that made them easier to differentiate between regular owls: their deep throated or unusual hoot, their ability to laugh, their tall stature or roundness like a man, even their ability to dance, walk, jump, and move like a human. Despite this, people remain suspicious of all owls.

    Olin offered this story. Down in Mississippi, my mother was scared. Very scared because of two owls that would land on the clothesline, swoop down and walk around on the ground every evening. Over and over like a nightly ritual. I prayed with her. Then watched it happen again through the dining room window. Same thing, then they flew off. I went outside thinking there was something that was attracting these owls. Then I smelled the smell, was there a gas leak? I called the gas company and they found a gas leak. While the man was fixing the leak, I asked him if the owls would be attracted to the smell. He told me they would be but also the change in the air. With the leak the air was heavier and they could see it when evening came. It had nothing to do with the superstition at all; it was science.

    Our stories, including our legend, are passed down from generation to generation. A rich oral tradition could explain why we believe in the ominous warnings of owls or their true identity as witches. The next time you see an owl, where will your mind take you?

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    Lainey Edwards
    Lainey Edwards stands on the stage of the new Choctaw Nation Grand Theater the night before she performed in Durant. She had returned to her home state and the land of her tribe to share her blend of rock ‘n’ roll and country.

    Choctaw Singer Lainey Edwards Proving She’s a ‘Lucky Girl’

    By Brandon Frye
    Choctaw Nation

    Durant, Okla. Lainey Edwards, of Moore, began stomping out her own musical path early in life, making her way to Nashville as a performer and the voice of a popular radio show.

    “It was just a soul thing,” Edwards said, “At age 9, I just knew. I told both of my parents, and I auditioned for the school talent show before asking them.”

    This was one of her first musical steps, made back when she lived in Moore as a young Oklahoma tomboy. She received full support from Marty and Karen Edwards, her parents. Both were musically talented. Edwards’ father served as song leader at the family’s home church for 25 years, and he and her mother both sang at weddings.

    Edwards said her parents have always enjoyed music. Her father preferred country, and her mother was more of a rock ‘n’ roll kind of person. “I think I have a great mixture of both of them and their loves,” she said.

    With such a musical environment, and such supportive parents, it is no surprise by the age of 12 Edwards was performing frequently at the Oklahoma Opry in Oklahoma City. And it wasn’t long after the family followed Lainey to Nashville to pursue her ambitions.

    It’s not an easy task, moving to a city full of musicians and pushing into singer-songwriter stardom. But, Edwards is on her way, and offers appreciation for every songwriter, musician, friend, and family member who has played a role in her journey so far.

    “Moving to Nashville, everyone has huge hopes and aspirations. I moved to town with a team of people who believed in me,” she said. “There have been so many great lessons to be learned, so many great people to learn from.”

    In particular, she tends to shower praise upon her band members, referred to as “the tribe” in the official name for her group: Lainey Edwards and the Tribe. She also considers her fans to be a part of her tribe.

    In 2009 Edwards recorded and released her first album, “Lucky Girl,” it included 12 songs that she co-wrote.

    This summer she released a new five-song extended play, or EP, called “Barnstormin’.” The title track of the EP is a party song likely to transport most anyone who grew up as a southerner back to memories of their roots.

    Edwards has joined the list of proud Oklahoman country music performers, alongside the likes of Blake Shelton, Reba McEntire, and Toby Keith – only Edwards holds an additional pride close to her: being a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

    She said there aren’t many other performers with black hair, chocolate brown eyes, and the skin tone her heritage has offered her. Edwards said she embraces her heritage and where she came from.

    “My passion is to get back into Oklahoma as much as I can, work with my own tribe, develop awareness towards the culture,” Edwards said. “Everyone is so fascinated when I say I am Native American. I am extremely proud of it.”

    She recently returned to Oklahoma and to the Nation to perform in Durant and Pocola, and is planning on coming back soon for more shows.

    In addition to her country-rock performances, Lainey has taken on the role of hosting a radio show called “Latest with Lainey” every Saturday. Her show offers a behind-the-scenes look at the music scene in Nashville. The show currently reaches nearly 50,000 music fans a week, and can be found online at

    Her official website is, where you can watch her new music video “Barnstormin’,” as well as listen to some of her songs, read up on her latest news, and plan ahead to see one of her shows.

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    Choctaw Country Marketplace

    The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Opening New Grocery Store Concept That Will Bring 28 New Jobs to Pushmataha County

    By Sarah Oro
    Choctaw Nation

    Clayton, Okla. - Residents of Clayton and the surrounding area will soon have a new grocery and convenience store to fulfill their shopping needs. The development of the Choctaw Country Marketplace will be the newest addition to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s Commerce Division.

    The concept will include a full line grocery store, restaurant, convenience store and gas station, positioning it as a one-stop shop for its patrons. The market will offer fresh produce, a butcher and deli case, pre-packaged foods as well as in-store dining options. Fuel offerings will include ten pumps with four of those being diesel. The Marketplace is located right off the intersection of Highway 271 and Highway 2 in the former Clayton Country Store building.

    “We are excited to bring the Choctaw Country Marketplace to the area to help fill a need for the residents of Clayton and the surrounding towns. We hope the all-in-one concept will prove to be a convenient shopping option for locals” said Choctaw Nation’s Chief Gary Batton.

    The Choctaw Country Marketplace will provide 28 jobs and construction is currently underway with a planned opening date in March 2016.

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    The Choctaw Nation and its education programs join the voices speaking up for autism awareness

    Durant, Okla.– A new Muppet named Julia, a hyper-intelligent theoretical physicist named Sheldon, and a professor of animal science named Temple Grandin, what do they have in common? They all play a role in the social wave of autism awareness and education currently sweeping across the U.S.

    The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) joined this movement with a new initiative and an autism conference called the Coming Together Summit. The conference, held on Oct. 15 at the Choctaw Grand Event Center in Durant, brought nationally renowned speaker Eustacia Cutler in to share her story and answer questions from attendees. Booths also populated the event floor, offering resources and information.

    Many in attendance were individuals impacted by the neurodevelopmental disorder: family, caretakers, teachers, and those falling on the autism spectrum themselves.

    “I think it gave parents, guardians, brothers, sisters, all comfort to know they aren’t alone. They don’t have to walk this journey by themselves,” Rebecca Hawkins, Education Director for CNO and conference coordinator said.

    Hawkins brought Cutler in to speak, knowing she raised a child with autism herself. She spoke from a place of understanding, having raised daughter Temple Grandin at a time when autism was even less understood.

    The importance of a network for support was a topic Cutler touched on while addressing the crowd in the Choctaw Grand Theater.

    “I was passed from one person to another. I was only 20 when Temple was born,” Cutler said. “I had to fumble along, and am very grateful to these people” she said, mentioning the friends, teachers, and doctors who supported her.

    And according to Hawkins, playing a role of support is exactly what CNO and its education programs aim to do, and are doing.

    “We were seeing more children coming into our programs who have characteristics of the autism spectrum,” Hawkins said. “We are collaborating with our schools, collaborating with our families, bringing it all together for the betterment of the child.”

    She said the Choctaw education programs cannot be the only support made available, but they are willing to pull all the appropriate resources together for these families, and prepare caretakers working for the tribe to best interact with and teach children falling on the spectrum.

    But, the issue is larger than one interaction. Both Hawkins and Cutler explained autism impacts families, schools, and entire communities. The more people who understand autism, the better off we all are. This is where autism education and awareness become necessary.

    “The most important thing is we are trying to do is create awareness,” Choctaw Chief Gary Batton said.

    He said since becoming chief, he has received calls, emails, and has been stopped out in the communities prompting him to wonder: just how big of an issue is this for us?

    According to Hawkins, in regards to our native communities, the answer is pretty big.

    “One of the things we found was there are very few resources [tribal or otherwise] available to our families,” she said, pointing out how distanced families in the Choctaw Nation are from major research and treatment centers for autism—resources found mostly in big cities like Dallas or Tulsa.

    “There are very few studies on minorities as a whole, and we are not finding any research on Native Americans,” Hawkins added. “Hopefully we can get some kind of research or studies done, so we have information to work with.”

    The hurdles become clear, for families with autistic members living inside of the Choctaw Nation or other tribes in more rural areas: Autism is not well understood for our people, and help is not close enough to the people who need it.

    But there is hope.

    Cutler spoke words of encouragement for caretakers. “There are no precise answers to any of this. There are only choices. You will change them and you will be changed by them. You will get better with choices as you go along,” she said.

    And leaders within the Choctaw Nation are dedicated to raising awareness and taking action, while finding practical solutions to the problems at hand.

    “I don’t claim to have all the answers,” Hawkins said. “But I do know one thing, there is nothing being done and something’s got to be done, and that’s just the bottom line.”

    For CNO, getting something done in regards to autism began back in 2012, when Angela Dancer, Sr. Director of Home Visitation and Disability Services with the Outreach Department got the ball rolling. She played a vital role in initiating the Choctaw Nation Tribal Early Learning Initiative, or TELI.

    TELI brought in a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help develop collaboration between early childhood programs within CNO. These programs included Head Start, Early Head Start, Child Care Assistance, and Tribal Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting.

    As a group, these programs decided to dedicate attention to better serving children with special needs. And after noticing the prevalence of autism diagnoses with the children they worked with, their attention moved to autism awareness and education.

    This led to a widespread effort by the CNO head start centers in each of the districts to teach their communities about autism, during Autism Awareness Month last April.

    Some of the head starts and daycares worked together, some reached out to the community, and some got the local public schools involved. There were balloon releases, public speakers, and stories on local media. Each center decided what would spread the word best for their area.

    Ultimately, the TELI initiative also made the “Coming Together Summit” on autism possible. It will be what makes the upcoming event, bringing in Grandin to speak on Dec. 17, available to the public. Grandin, a professor and author, is a well-known advocate of autism education and animal rights in the livestock industry. In 2010, a movie starring Claire Danes was made about her life.

    At the ground level of the issue, CNO employees like Hawkins are in the planning stages of aiding families directly, uncovering ways to bring assistance to them inside of Choctaw Country.

    “Here in southeastern Oklahoma, one of the things I am doing with this initiative is trying to find the resources we can bring down to our area,” Hawkins said. She explained, these resources might be bringing professionals and counselors into Choctaw communities. It might be utilizing the conection to animals some children with autism seem to have.

    “We have just begun,” Hawkins said. “We don’t have all of the answers. We just know there aren’t a lot of resources in this area. So it comes back down to educating, making aware, that’s what this whole effort is. It is opening the door for us to start asking questions, start getting answers.” To get tickets for the upcoming summit where Temple Grandin will speak, visit Additionally, schools and large groups can contact Kelli Brown at 800-522-6170 ext. 4618.

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    Veterans Day PR 2015
    Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton (left) and Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr. accept flags from the Skullyville Post Veterans Association from Spiro, Oklahoma, during the Veterans Day ceremony on November 11, 2015.

    Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma commemorates Veterans Day

    Tvshka Homma, Okla.– Approximately 900 Choctaw citizens and veterans gathered on the Choctaw Nation Capitol Grounds Nov. 11 to honor our country’s veterans.

    The ceremony opened with Choctaw Nation’s Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr., acting as master of ceremonies, introducing the Rev. Bertram Bobb to give the invocation followed by the posting of the colors by the Choctaw Nation Color Guard.

    Choctaw Royalty, as represented by Miss Choctaw Nation Neiatha Hardy, Junior Miss Choctaw Nation Loren Crosby, and Little Miss Choctaw Nation Ariana Byington, signed the Lord’s Prayer and the Talihina High School band played the National Anthem and later in the program played the Armed Forces Medley.

    Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton thanked the veterans for their service and welcomed them, their families, and Choctaw Nation citizens for attending the ceremony.
    “Today we are here to honor you, our veterans, for all the sacrifices you and your families have made for God and country and for making the United States truly the land of the free and the home of the Tvshka Homma [Choctaw for red warrior], the brave,” Chief Batton said.

    He acknowledged that some families have paid the ultimate sacrifice by losing their loved ones in battle. He also recognized the number of troops who come home with depression, PTSD, and traumatic brain injuries and told them they are not forgotten.
    “I want you to know today that you are the ones who inspire me,” Chief Batton said. “I look around this room and know that you inspire all of us. There are never enough words to say, so I just say Yakoke, thank you for making our world a better place.”

    Guest speakers Tribal Council Speaker Thomas Williston and Colonel Bobby Yandell followed and the program ended with a 21-gun salute and taps. Lunch was served in the cafeteria on Tvshka Homma grounds.

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    2015 Outstanding Elders Group
    The Outstanding Elders of 2015 are pictured immediately following the Outstanding Elders banquet on Oct. 13, at the Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant with Chief Gary Batton and Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr. Thirty-two elders were honored from the 10 1/2 county area inside the Choctaw Nation.

    2015 Outstanding Choctaw Elders Honored at Banquet

    By Ronni Pierce
    Choctaw Nation

    Durant, Okla. - Linda Watson from District 3 was named the outstanding female elder and Walter Phelps from District 12 was named the outstanding male elder at the 2015 Outstanding Elders banquet on Oct. 13, at the Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant. In addition to the two overall selections, each district named its own outstanding elders.

    The honored elders and their families were in attendance. Also at the annual event were Chief Gary Batton and Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr., District Councilmen, and Tribal Chaplain Rev. Bertram Bobb.

    Watson works part time at the Choctaw Nation Hospital. She helps with fund raisers to furnish water and fruit and to treat the children to a meal after the day is over. She is currently serving as the President of the Talihina Seniors.

    Phelps was raised in Wilburton and served in the U.S. Air Force. He has been married to his wife Betty for 46 years. Together they have raised three children, a daughter and two sons. He and his wife are pleased to work with the Crowder Seniors helping in the kitchen and preparing meals. The Choctaw Nation first officially started honoring its elders in 1999 when the first Outstanding Elders banquet was held. A male and female are nominated from each community center, either by fellow elders or their councilman. The biographies are then submitted to the Senior Nutrition Department which makes the final choice. The male and female winners, all the nominees, and the past Outstanding Elders winners since 1999 are honored with a banquet.

    The winners are given a plaque and a framed picture of themselves with their Councilman and Chief Gary Batton.

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    Smithville Wellness Center Ribbon Cutting
    Roselee Senior (Williams) of Smithville stands with Chief Gary Batton among council and community members, all lined up to cut a ribbon opening the new wellness center expansion.

    Choctaw Nation Opens New Wellness Center in Smithville

    Choctaw Nation

    Smithville, Okla.– Smithville community members, Chief Gary Batton, Assistant Chief Jack Austin, Jr., members of the Tribal Council, and Choctaw Nation employees met at the Smithville Choctaw Community Center on Nov. 17, to officially open the Choctaw Nation Wellness Center expansion.

    Roselee Senior (Williams), a Smithville local and Choctaw elder, cut the ribbon, signaling the availability of the workout equipment. Senior said she plans on coming to the facility as often as possible.

    Treadmills, ellipticals, and stationary bikes line up against windows looking out onto the wooded trails near the community center. There are also free weights, lifting benches, and weight machines.

    “We want to make sure to keep our people well,” Chief Batton said. “We want our tribal members to live longer and have good, long, fruitful lives.”

    Chief Batton went on to explain the Choctaw Tribal Council members serving all counties such as District 3 Councilman Kenny Bryant have consistently worked to bring these types of opportunities to their people.

    “I am very proud of them for making that a wish, and then making it become a reality for us over here on this side of the state,” he said.

    This new wellness center marks the eleventh center to open within Choctaw Country, and another is scheduled to open in McAlester in December 2015.

    Larry Finch Construction Corp. completed the construction for the Smithville center and is also responsible for the new chapel on the capital grounds at Tvshka Homma.

    Smithville’s wellness center is attached to its community center, which can be found on 39617 N. Highway 259, Smithville.

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    Story Telling Sarah Elizabeth
    Attendees of the Creative Writing Workshop “Choctaw Culture and History Preservation” were Audrey Jacob, Carolyn Hall, Dianna Street, Lynda Kay Sawyer, Candace Dees, instructor, Choctaw author, editor and storyteller, Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, Shonnie Hall, Colin Kelley, Rebecca Good, and Shelia Kirven.

    Teaching a Lesson in Telling the Choctaw Story

    Durant, Okla.– Choctaw author, editor and storyteller, Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, recently held a day-long Creative Writing Workshop entitled Choctaw Culture and History Preservation at the Choctaw Nation Community Center in Poteau. Choctaw writers of various skill levels were invited to register for the free workshop and attendees came from all across the Choctaw Nation. The workshop delved into subjects including research, capturing culture and history, and the publication process.

    Sawyer advised workshop attendees on the value of gathering information through family stories, journals, letters, memoirs, and interviews to get started in the writing process. She said that literally millions of records are still out there in the world that have not been digitized and that many times one has to actually go to where the documents are located to do fact finding.

    Visiting local museums, libraries, universities, national parks, historical societies, and tribal offices and asking what documents are vaulted and may not be online is an important tool to remember. Consulting with the experts is still a great way to get your facts. Also, reading newspapers, catalogs, magazines, and literature of the time period is a great tool to use in your writing, she noted. By getting a feel of what was going on in the era that you write in helps tremendously.

    She reminded the group, “Do your own research and do as much as you can to be accurate.” She went over the importance of making sure that the writer documents his or her sources and gives credit where it is due, making sure to “guard against assumptions.” She reminded the group that just because you think you know something to be true, exercise due diligence and do your homework to make absolutely sure before you write it down. Emphasizing the importance of getting works published for preservation reasons, Sawyer noted, sometimes can be as easy as publishing an annual family Christmas letter and distributing it among family and friends. She stressed getting the stories on paper and getting them out for others to read and enjoy.

    Workshop attendees were each given a copy of “Touch My Tears,” a compilation of Trail of Tears stories that Sawyer had previously edited and published.

    Feedback from those attending the workshop was very positive:

    “Everything was great. I would love more of these in our area. I especially enjoyed hearing everyone’s writing.”
    “Enjoyed the lessons and opportunity! Yakoke.”
    “All good info. Well worth the day.”
    “This will help me get a jump start on my new adventures. Thank you for offering this opportunity to the Choctaw people. This was exactly what I have been looking for. Please offer more soon.”

    Sawyer said, “With a small group of Choctaw writers and storytellers, we were able to cover a broad spectrum of how to preserve Choctaw culture and history through the written word. From an illustrator to a master storyteller, we saw connections made and bonds form. I hope each one in the workshop can take what they learned and apply it to their projects.”

    Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer is an award-winning author and Choctaw storyteller of traditional and fictional tales based on the lives of her people. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has honored her as a literary artist through their Artist Leadership Program for her work in preserving Trail of Tears stories. In 2015, First Peoples Fund awarded her an Artist in Business Leadership Fellowship. She writes from her hometown in East Texas, partnering with her mom, Lynda Kay Sawyer, in continued research for future novels. Learn more about their work in preserving Choctaw history at

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  • 11/25/15--02:11: Wiring the Choctaw Nation
  • Connect Home November
    Farhad Asghar, of the CollegeBoard, New York, New York, addresses a meeting of public and private sector participants with ConnectHome in Hugo last month.

    Wiring the Choctaw Nation

    By Charlie Clark
    Choctaw Nation

    Durant, Okla. - When President Obama visited the Choctaw Nation July 15, he announced the launch of a new project—the ConnectHome initiative. ConnectHome is a sequel to ConnectED, which seeks to have 99 percent of K-12 students acquire high-speed Internet in their classrooms and libraries by 2018.

    ConnectHome has a similar reach of bringing high-speed, broadband Internet to residences in rural America that are not currently served. It is a commitment by the federal government with communities and the private sector. The pilot program is launching in twenty-seven cities and one tribal entity—the Choctaw Nation—and will initially reach over 275,000 low-income households—and some 200,000 children—with the ability to access the Internet at home.

    The intensions are simple: Where computers had not been before, students will be able to do their homework at home, parents can search and apply for jobs, and everyone can be better informed.

    Thanks to the Choctaw Nation’s positive results with the federal Promise Zone grant and other spotlight-grabbing success stories, the Choctaw Nation was selected as one of the pioneer sites for the initiative. As a result, Choctaws living in rural HUD housing will be among the first in the nation to receive this help. The Choctaw Nation’s service area of 10 ½ counties in southeastern Oklahoma fits the target description sought by the Obama administration.

    A White House release states, “Since the President took office, the private and public sectors have invested over $260 billion into new broadband infrastructure, and three in four Americans now use broadband at home.”

    But the gap widens considerably in low-income homes.

    At the time of the President’s visit, Chief Gary Batton said, “The ConnectHome Initiative will link our homes to a world beyond southeastern Oklahoma, and tie our lives to greater opportunities.”

    President Obama noted that the initiative is a step beyond the Promise Zone, of which the Choctaw Nation was one of five designated across the country. It also is, he said, to be a private-public partnership—a variety of businesses and community agencies working together.

    Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Durant, and Durant Public Schools were on board from the get-go to offer facilities and instructors to train all ages in digital literacy for free.

    Speaking a few weeks after President Obama’s announcement in Durant, Sean Burrage, president of Southeastern Oklahoma State University, said, a committee has already been formed with representatives from local educational institutions, utility companies, and the Choctaw Nation. The group, Burrage said, is working to make the idea a reality.

    According to Burrage, the biggest obstacle at this time is the lack of infrastructure.

    These rural areas are not wired to receive the Internet. “So there is not much point in training or even handing them a laptop if they take it home and still can’t get a connection,” he said. So the cable has to be laid first.

    On Oct. 22, after a Choctaw Nation ConnectHome Convening meeting in Hugo, Charlie Hembree of Vyve Broadband, a Shawnee-based company, said, “We just got through laying cable through the towns of Quinton and Red Oak. That was for another project to get to another area, so these communities just lucked out.”

    Upon further questioning, Hembree explained that while the cable runs through the towns, it still does not reach individual residences.

    “They will still have to come into town to use their computers at school or the library,” Hembree said, adding that he knew of no plans to wire private homes in the extreme rural areas.

    “And Wi-Fi,” he said, “is pointless in these mountains and valleys. You’d have to have a tower at the top of each hill and that’s not going to happen.”

    Scott Grosfield, Regional Director of Rental Property Services and ConnectHome for the Choctaw Nation, was on his way to a meeting Nov. 2 in McAlester when he called. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office was holding a two-day workshop on Southeast Oklahoma and Promise Zone that he was to speak at, but also hoped to learn a few things.

    “The Choctaw Nation Housing Authority will receive $52,700 this year for ConnectHome,” he said. The funds should be received within a few months from USDA. The application for continued funding is uncertain, he added.

    These funds will be used for “service costs and router fees” to living facilities in the affordable homes program “in Wright City, Talihina, and Durant,” he said.

    In addition to the trainings by SE and other educational groups, Grosfield said, “Best Buy will be furnishing instructors on how to use devices” (laptops, etc.) and “OETA has a mobile learning unit that will teach how to uses tablets and other devices.”

    He had thoughts too on what’s to be overcome. “The biggest obstacle,” Grosfield said, “is obtaining the devices.”

    These will have to be donated, Grosfield said.

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  • 11/25/15--03:24: Young Choctaw in Print
  • Elissa Hamil
    Elissa Hamil is the daughter of Jamie and Kevin Hamil, who both work for the Choctaw Nation.

    Young Choctaw in Print

    By Kendra Germany
    Choctaw Nation

    Durant, Okla. - A Choctaw woman is making a name for herself in the world of publishing.

    Elissa Hamil, 19, of Durant recently had a short story published in the book, “The High School Truth.”

    “The High School Truth” is a collaboration of 34 contributing authors representing all regions of the United States, and various ethnic, religious, and racial groups.

    The book coins itself as being the “ultimate guidebook to American high school life.” Each story answers the question, “What do you wish you had known on your first day of freshman year?”

    According to Hamil, co-authors and book organizers Martin Rather and Lila Rimalovski, specifically wanted someone of Choctaw decent to contribute to the project.

    “They called me and asked me questions about myself, and about Oklahoma,” said Hamil. “They thought we all lived on reservations.”

    Elissa’s story explains to students that it is okay to be afraid of high school.

    “I thought about my first day of high school, when we had this fire drill,” said Hamil. “I had no clue what was going on, but then I realized that it was okay because no one else knew what was going on either.”

    “The High School Truth” is available for purchase on, in both hard copy and e-book form.

    She graduated high school with honors, and is currently seeking a Bachelor of Science degree in biology at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Elissa works in the Office of Academic Affairs at SE. Her goal is to become an optometrist.

    Hamil says she is thankful for the opportunity to have her work published. “When I graduate I hope to give back to the Choctaw people.”

    Elissa was also recently given the chance to sing the National Anthem for the President of the United States on his July 15th visit to Durant.

    Hamil credits her Choctaw heritage for allowing her to be a part of many of her recent opportunities. “I am proud to be Choctaw. God has blessed me with many wonderful opportunities as well as great friends and family who have supported me in everything that I do.”

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  • 12/02/15--02:59: Iti Fabvssa - The Log Cabin
  • Iti Fabvssa - The Log Cabin 1
    _An 1830’s-40’s cabin at Goodland Academy with a mudcat chimney, Choctaw County, built by Henry Leavenworth Gooding and Choctaw workers. Image courtesy of Goodland Academy.###Iti Fabvssa - The Log Cabin_

    By Historical Preservation Department
    Choctaw Nation

    No building style is more iconic of Americana than the log cabin. In many regions, including Choctaw Nation, log cabins are the oldest standing buildings. There is just something special about the way that an old log cabin combines nostalgia with skilled hand craftsmanship, and about how its construction from local, natural materials makes a cabin seem to literally be a part of the land itself. This month, we will take a look at this classic American icon, from a Choctaw perspective.

    From what we see and hear, it would be easy to think that log cabins are a uniquely American invention, built by the first European settlers in what is now the United States, but actually, neither of these notions is correct. The first Euro-American houses of the Spanish in Florida (late 1500s), and by the English in New England (first decade of the 1600s) were of a timber frame construction, following the building traditions of those two ethnic groups. The log cabin, however, originated in Scandinavia and was brought to the English Colonies by Scandinavian settlers before 1640. Beautiful, strong, and made from large logs, which were then plentiful in America’s old growth forests, the log cabin quickly caught on in what is now the United States in frontier areas where sawn lumber was difficult to come by.

    For Choctaws, home construction with logs was nothing new. Choctaw ancestors had used small-diameter logs, set vertically in a trench to form the core of the walls of winter houses for centuries, while giant logs were used as roof supports (see Iti Fabvssa 4/11/15). However, the rectangular log cabin with horizontal logs seems to have come to the Choctaw homeland after the area passed from the colonial claims of Spain, France, and England, to the United States, shortly after the American Revolutionary War. Choctaws would have first seen these log cabins as ever-increasing numbers of Euro-Americans pushed into the area and began settling along the Tombigbee River and Mississippi River. Choctaws called these log cabins “Chuka Itabana” (Byington 1915:110). This name, which literally means “house fit together” in the Choctaw language, refers to the intricate way that the ends of the logs were notched and assembled to create the main part of the house.

    In the early 1800s, log cabins moved from the peripheries of Choctaw country into the center as Euro-Americans began building log churches, schools, and governmental buildings in and amongst Choctaw settlements. Choctaws began building and living in these log cabins too, as they moved out of the ancient villages in order to practice Euro-American-style farming, or to set up inns along major routes of transportation, like the Robinson Road. By the time of the Trail of Tears, few or none of the ancient, circular Choctaw winter houses were being built, instead, it was the rectangular log cabin. Henry Halbert (n.d.) describes a type of cabin that was used by some Choctaws in Mississippi around this time. It was rectangular in shape, and its logs were round, notched at their ends to fit together. Its roof was made of logs, oriented with the long axis of the cabin, with the top log serving as a ridge pole for the roof. The spaces between the logs in the roof and walls were mortared. Long boards were scored at their centers and bent over the ridge of the roof with enough hanging over the sides to create eaves. For warmth, a fire was made of dry wood in the middle of the dirt floor. This cabin style (Figure 1) was used by some Choctaws in Mississippi until the 1850s.

    When many Choctaw people arrived in what is now Oklahoma on the initial wave of the Trail of Tears, nearly all of them constructed log cabins as their first homes. Initially, most of these cabins were not fancy, but built quickly as immediate shelter for families arriving in a new place. These quick structures were made from relatively small diameter, round logs, cut green, and notched near their ends so that they could be stacked up to form a square pen. Due to the fact that the longer a log is, the heavier and more difficult it is to move, these homes averaged about 16 feet by 16 feet. Often, they had dirt floors, with storage pits dug into them. Split pieces of wood, moss, or rocks were wedged into the spaces between the logs of the walls and coated with a clay chinking called “chuka isht vlhpolosa” in the Choctaw language (Byington 1915:110). Doors were made of split pieces of wood, or even deer hide. Windows, if they existed, were cut into the log walls. They had no screens and maybe no glass, but wooden shutters were made to close them off when needed. Many of these cabins had a loft, where the children slept under roofs (“chuka isht holmo” in the Choctaw language [ibid]) made of pole rafters and covered with split wood shingles (Figure 2). Some of these houses had fireplaces lined with stones, and “mudcat” chimneys that were made of a log framework, plastered with clay. These houses were put up in a short time with the aid of family members, friends, and congregation members, through an event known as a cabin raising or “chuka itabvnni” in the Choctaw language (ibid., also see Iti Fabvssa 12/13/14). Construction tools were very simple, and these builders may or may not have had the use of animal power.

    Over the first year or two, the green logs of these cabins would dry and shrink, creating gaps in the chinking and roofs. In the winter time, these houses could be cold, drafty, and dark. Although they were really temporary structures, some families were content or were forced by circumstances to keep living in them until the buildings finally caught fire within their mudcat chimneys, or rotted from the bottom up as a result of not having a foundation.

    Families would often build the temporary log cabins while they took their time building a more substantial and comfortable log home. This type of structure is represented by most of the log cabins from the early days that still survive into the present, such as the Thomas LeFlore Cabin, which was built in Choctaw County in 1834, under contract by the United States government as a stipulation of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Rather than being made from round logs, this type of home is made from hewn logs. These logs came from large-diameter trees that were felled in the late fall, when the sap was low. In southeastern Oklahoma, pine and oak were favorite woods for cabins, but other types were used when convenient. During the winter months, while the felled trees were still green and relatively soft, workers would use a broad axe to remove material on two opposite faces of the logs, leaving the logs with two thin, round, natural sides, and two flat-hewn sides. Hewing logs was an important skill for many Choctaw men, doubly so when the railroads, which required large numbers of hewn timbers for crossties, began to enter Choctaw Nation in the 1860s. For homes, the hewn logs were worth the extra work. Compared to round logs, the hewn logs made homes that were more resistant to rot (because of their shape and greater percentage of heartwood), and more even in their dimensions (McRaven 2005). Both of these characteristics made for houses that were less prone to drafts, stronger, and more comfortable.

    If possible, once the green logs were hewn, they would have been stacked and allowed to cure for approximately a year before being assembled into a cabin. In the meantime, a foundation made of pier stones (“chuka aiontvla”, [Byington 1915:110]) would be stacked up to support the corners of the house, the porch, and at certain places along the sill logs. Sheet metal, if available, would be placed between the pier stones and the bottom log, or “sill,” to act as a barrier to termites and moisture. Mortises would be cut into the sill logs to hold flooring joists, up off the ground and away from rot. Floors made of thick-sawn lumber, would be built on top of these. The ends of the hewn wall logs would be expertly notched by a skilled craftsman to fit together snugly to form the shell of the house. Some Choctaw log home builders used the half dovetail and the V-notch, which were the best techniques, while others used the simpler but weaker square notch or half notch (Figure 3). Just as in constructing the temporary houses, the logs for the permanent houses would be set in place by work crews, in a day or perhaps more of community activity and fun. As the walls grew in height, ramps would be set up to help men and animals pull the logs up to the top of the walls. These more permanent cabins often had a second story or half story above the first. The most common method for building a large house from logs of a finite length was to construct two square log pens and connect them together, creating a type of cabin known as a “dog-trot”. The space in between the two pens in a dog trot was floored and roofed, but left without front or back walls in order to form a breezeway (passive air-conditioning). In nice weather, the breezeway is where the family would eat. It was common to build a one or two story porch on the front and additional rooms onto the back of the home. The Choctaw homestead usually has other buildings besides just the house, including a smoke house, barn, and cellar. These were often, although not always constructed from round logs.

    Hewn log homes were built in southeastern Oklahoma until at least the first decade of the 1900s (c.f. Bays 2014). These houses were not only made to last 200 years or more, but to adapt as family needs changed through time. If a family living in a single pen home grew, they could build a second pen and make it into a dog trot, build another story, or add on more rooms elsewhere. Logs were replaced, recycled, and given second life in new structures including barns. As time passed and styles changed, many of the old log homes were eventually sided over.

    Today, log homes still have an appeal to many Americans including many Native Americans. Kits with milled round lumber are popular, but somehow they seem to fall short of what our great-grandparents achieved: simple houses, made from local materials, crafted with skill and put together by the hands of the community. Their old log homes that still stand are a testament to them and to the self-reliant way of life that they knew. The Historic Preservation Department is currently trying to locate and document early log buildings within the Choctaw Nation. If you have one, please give us a call at 1-800-522-6170 ext. 2236.

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    Midwest Drug
    Ellis Cain, left, and Kelsey Cain in the entry way of their Ada business headquarters. From this location, the two run a drug testing business, a bail bonds business, and oversee new offices in Duncan and Davis.

    A Choctaw from California plants seeds of business and entertainment from coast-to-coast

    By Brandon Frye
    Choctaw Nation

    Ada, Okla. - Kelsey Cain, 46-year-old Choctaw business owner and lifelong entrepreneur, has been experiencing one of the busiest years of his life.

    A busy life and blooming business are nothing new to Kelsey, the owner and operator of the Ada-based drug and alcohol testing facility called Midwest Drug Test, LLC. His admitted inability to sit still, his knack for building successful businesses, and tendency to pursue his passions have always kept him busy.

    After moving to Oklahoma from California in his youth, he quickly built up his first business as a teen.

    “I started Kelsey’s You-Bake Pizza when I was 19, here in Ada,” he said. “You took it home to bake. It was popular in California when I was growing up, but it didn’t go over so well here, because it was too hot in the summer!”

    This began a pattern in Kelsey’s entrepreneurial endeavors, moving and starting new businesses—only as an adult, these businesses found more success.

    He started Midwest Drug Test with his mother, Patricia Donwen, in 1989. The two found a need for a drug testing service in the area after a supervisor for the Santa Fe Railroad Company approached them needing to test employees. In response, the first mobile drug testing service in Oklahoma opened its doors, with Kelsey and his mother at the helm.

    After helping his mother launch the family business, looking to live in a bigger city, Kelsey left Ada and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1991. There, he started a new drug testing facility as part of the Midwest Drug Test Company. This new business also found success, and supported Kelsey while he pursued his artistic passions.

    During his eight years in New Mexico, Kelsey became well known for his work with acting and modeling. He also dove into theater, and recalls landing the male lead in almost every show.

    Theater started as a side gig but quickly grew into his main passion. So much so, he saw the need to move to an even bigger city in 1999 to continue to grow his performance career. So, he sold his New Mexico business and moved.

    “I went off to become an actor and model in New York City,” Kelsey said. “My first modeling gig in New York City was on the cover of a romance novel. It was fun, a farm boy going off to New York City to get into modeling.”

    Again, Kelsey started a new branch of the Midwest Drug Test Company, only this time in New York. And again, the business took off, supporting him while he chased his entertainment interests.

    He recalls his time in New York as a flurry of entertainment jobs, starring in docudramas, designing photo shoots for pop figures like Beyonce´, putting on art shows, and modeling.

    Kelsey moved back to Ada at the end of 2011 to be with family, selling off his company in New York. In January of 2013 he took command of the home office for Midwest Drug Test.

    Hitting the ground running, he quickly began work to raise his family business to new heights.

    “It was my goal to bring it up to what it should be,” Kelsey said. “I interacted closely with new companies, and also got back in contact with the companies we had lost touch with. I have doubled sales over the last two and a half years.”

    With business back and booming, Kelsey and his business partner Ellis Cain pushed for an expansion of business, recently opening two satellite offices for Midwest Drug Test in Duncan and Davis.

    The two also started a completely new bail bonds business called 2 Cains Bail Bonds.

    “We started 2 Cains Bail Bonds in January of 2015, so it’s pretty much still in its infancy stage,” Ellis said. “But it’s doing really well.” The businesses are all enrolled as preferred suppliers with the Choctaw Nation.

    Above and beyond offering help to businesses and individuals with drug problems at a work force level, both Kelsey and Ellis are dedicated to helping before legal issues arise, at a social level.

    “We do have a social responsibility on both sides of our businesses,” Kelsey said. “We offer community services, to bring a recovery side to all of this. I provide talks with organizations, communities, and individuals. I offer solutions for where to go, what to do, so when someone has an issue there is a seed there just in case it’s needed.”

    Kelsey said many people are affected by drugs and alcohol today. In some way, he added, he would rather these problems be prevented, than let them continue on and get worse. He speaks from a place of understanding, having had alcohol problems himself.

    As for his continued success as an entrepreneur, Kelsey chalks it up to more than just his passion and a need to keep moving.

    “Fight! Fight for what you feel is right,” Kelsey said. “It takes a lot of work, perseverance and patience. Believe in yourself, your service, and your product.”

    The headquarters for Midwest Drug Test is at 1120 N. Mississippi Ave. in Ada. Kelsey and Ellis can be reached at 580-421-9000.

    The Duncan office can be reached at 580-786-4455, Davis 580-369-5000.

    Tribal members interested in getting involved with the Preferred Supplier Program are welcome to contact Boyd Miller at 800-522-6170, extension 2889.

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    Josh Lambert
    Josh Lambert, an award-winning kicker for the West Virginia Mountaineers, is seen here warming up on the sidelines during the OU-West Virginia game on Oct. 3 in Norman.

    Choctaw Football Player Kicks Stigma of Diabetes, Finds Success

    By Ronni Pierce
    Choctaw Nation

    Norman, Okla. - Josh Lambert’s list of accomplishments since being diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 10 is no mean feat.

    An award-winning, two-year starter at kicker for the Big 12 West Virginia Mountaineers football team, 2014 accolades include:

    • Finalist for the Lou Groza Award
    • All-American second team
    • All-Big 12 Conference first team selection by the AP and second team by the coaches,
    • Holds the NCAA record for most field goals made at 40 yards or more in a season (16)
    • Tied the NCAA season record for most contests with multiple field goals made in a game (10)
    • No. 2 kicker in the nation in scoring (135)
    • Made the most field goals nationally in 2014 (30)
    • No. 1 in the Big 12 and No. 1 nationally in field goals made per game (2.31)
    • Led team in scoring with 135 points, which was a WVU record for kick scoring in a season
    • Four straight games (Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas Tech, Baylor) with a field goal of more than 50 yards
    • Was 4-for-5 on field goals of 50 or more yards in 2014
    • His 54-yard field goal vs. Baylor gave him four field goals of 50 yards or more for the season and five overall, which tied him with Paul Woodside for the most in school history
    • His then career long 54-yard field goal against No. 4 Oklahoma was second-longest in school history
    • Two-year starter at Garland, Texas, high school and named All-District 10-5A first team kicker as a senior

    Described as a quiet, private young man by his grandfather Butch Lambert, he is also a long-time patient of the Choctaw Diabetes Wellness Clinic. “Whether it’s dentist appointments, eye appointments, anytime I need to see an endocrinologist, they have been nothing but accommodating,” Lambert said about the Nation’s health services group. He continued, “I can’t say enough good things about what Choctaw Nation has done for me.”

    Lambert was actually playing soccer at the time when he was first diagnosed and didn’t really understand the implications of the disease on his health or any potential sports activities.

    With type 1 diabetes the body doesn’t make insulin and, unchecked, the disease can lead to heart and kidney disease, nerve damage, and any number of other complications.

    However, there is a long list of athletes who have found success in their respective sports after getting the disease under control. Golfer Scott Verplank, the Chicago Bears’ Jay Cutler, the Arizona Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson, and the Texas Rangers’ Mark Lowe are just a few successful athletes living with type 1 diabetes.

    Team Novo Nordisk is a global all-diabetes sports team of cyclists, triathletes, and runners who compete to dispel the fatalistic myths surrounding the disease. The team’s stated mission is “to inspire, educate, and empower people affected by diabetes.”

    “Pretty early on I knew if I took care of business, it’s not going to slow me down,” said Lambert. “Don’t let it affect you—you have to be the boss of it.”

    With his genealogy, he also knows the high rate of the disease in Native Americans.

    His Choctaw heritage is traced down from the maternal side back to the Magees and Monatubbees in Mississippi.

    His grandfather Butch said that one of their ancestors, She Ni Yah, was always referred to as Choctaw Rose.

    And Butch’s Uncle Jonsey Jones was a fancy dancer and an excellent bead worker while his sister Mary Joene Cook has won some awards for her beadwork.

    “I understand in our people there is a higher rate of diabetes,” Lambert continued, “so if you take care of it, it shouldn’t slow you down, you can do whatever you want to do.”

    The red shirted sophomore also knows that taking care of his health may lead him into the next phase of a promising sports career—the pros. “If I am fortunate enough to go to the next level, I can’t turn that down.”

    The Choctaw Nation Diabetes Wellness Clinic is located in Talihina, 800-349-7026 ext. 6942 or 6959. It not only treats the illness but also focuses on prevention in the public schools promoting healthy lifestyle choices through diet and exercise.

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    Susan Witt
    Susan Witt, CEO and founder of Unique Foods, LLC, and Ace in the Bowl Salsa poses with her product during the Fancy Food Show event held in New York.

    Choctaw Entrepreneur has a Hot Hand with an Ace in the Bowl

    By Kendra Germany
    _Choctaw Nation-

    Edmond, Okla. - Susan Witt, founder and CEO of Unique Foods, LLC, has been spicing things up for over 20 years now.

    Her original mild salsa recipe was first a hit with her friends and family. One day, after bringing her salsa to a party, a friend asked her if she ever thought about going commercial with her salsa.

    Witt laughed off the question. At the time she was busy with her family’s dry cleaning business and being a mom.

    Four years ago the same friend told others that his biggest regret was not convincing her to market her salsa.

    She then decided that it was time to take a chance on her spicy mixture.

    With the help of Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Product Center, she learned the process of commercializing her product.

    From that encounter Unique Foods, LLC, and Ace in the Bowl Salsa was born.

    In October 2012, Ace in the Bowl was in jars and ready to go on shelves.

    “Last summer, I went to the Fancy Food Show in New York City, “ said Witt. “The product was well received and was named one of the best new products of 2015 by the Specialty Food Association.”

    Ace in the Bowl is a Made in Oklahoma (MIO) product and is bottled in Mustang.

    She also became a member of the MIO Coalition in June.

    According to Witt, while MIO covers everything from salsa to soap, the MIO Coalition is food only.

    “The Coalition is governed by the major food companies in Oklahoma. They let a few small companies join. I was elected into the coalition in June,” said Witt.

    Ace in the Bowl is an all-natural, olive oil-based salsa with ingredients not found in other off-the-shelf salsas. It is also a sugar and gluten free product.

    Currently, the salsa comes in three flavors, mild, medium, and hot.

    According to Witt, the mild has no heat and is good for children and people with digestive issues. The medium has jalapenos and varies in heat.
    “Medium varies, because jalapenos vary. It always has the same amount of jalapenos, but some are just hotter than others,” said Witt.

    And the hot packs a lot of heat and has jalapenos, habaneros, and crushed red peppers.
    Ace in the Bowl

    There are no artificial preservatives in Ace in the Bowl Salsa. “The only preservative in this is vinegar,” she said.

    Her original recipe only included what she had in her kitchen.

    “I got lucky, because people liked it,” she laughed.

    Ace in the Bowl is available for purchase on the Ace in the Bowl website. It is also available for purchase at various grocery stores in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas, as well as several gift shop locations. Witt hopes to soon have her products in retail locations in southeastern Oklahoma as well. A full list of those retail locations is also available on the Ace in the Bowl website.

    The salsa is also featured in a few salsa of the month clubs.

    “One out of Pennsylvania has placed an order and another out of Austin Texas, will be placing an order,” said Witt.

    Witt was also just approved to be on Amazon and redesigned her website and packaging label. “Our website is now on our label, so people know where to contact us.”

    Witt is also working towards making packaging for a three jar pack gift set.

    “Those will be great for mailing gifts. If you want to send a gift to someone in California, call me up and we will send it out,” said Witt.

    Ace in the Bowl also has a fund raising program splitting the proceeds with them 50/50. “We have a three pack for 20 dollars. The group collects 20 dollars and gives me 10,” said Witt. “I don’t get to keep the 10, I use it for shipping and other costs. I don’t really make a profit off of the fund raising. It is a way for me to give back to the community.”

    Witt hopes to someday add other products to the Ace in the Bowl lineup. She is working on adding an Italian salsa. She also hopes to eventually have dry mixes for dips and soups.

    Witt is a proud member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Her grandfather Silas Anderson King and great-grandparents were on the original Dawes Rolls. “It is really important to me that the legacy of the Choctaws continues in my family. I am proud because I know how proud my grandpa was,” says Witt.

    “Oklahoma is very fortunate to have many really good MIO products. But I can say, I’m one of the few producers who is Choctaw.”

    For more information about Ace in the Bowl, including prices, locations and recipes, visit

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    Atoka Chilis

    Business Looks Hot as the Choctaw Nation Adds Another Chili’s to the Mix

    By Charlie Clark
    Choctaw Nation

    Atoka, Okla. - The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to welcome a new Chili’s® franchise to Atoka.

    Residents of Atoka will now be able to enjoy a fresh casual lunch or a night on the town at Chili’s®. The restaurant’s ribbon-cutting and soft opening was held on Friday, Dec. 4. There were over 100 people present at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, with Chief Gary Batton, Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr., several members of Tribal Council and local officials in attendance. The restaurant officially opened its doors to the public on Monday, Dec. 7.

    “The Choctaw Nation is excited about opening this location in Atoka. We have been very pleased with the performance of the Poteau restaurant and we look forward to serving and being a part of both these wonderful communities”, said Jody Standifer, Executive Director of Retail and Food & Beverage for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

    The Atoka restaurant has provided over 45 new jobs to the surrounding area. District 10 Princess December Pittman is among those employed.

    Positions are still available for anyone interested in working in a fun, fast-paced environment. To apply, visit

    The restaurant is located at the junction of U.S. Highway 69 and Highway 3, adjacent to the existing Choctaw Nation Travel Plaza and Casino Too.

    The Atoka Chili’s is a 4,500 square-foot restaurant with seating for 156 customers.

    The hours of operation will be 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday–Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday–Saturday.

    The Chili’s restaurant is the newest addition to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s Franchise Division.

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    McAlester Ribbon Cutting
    A ribbon cutting was held for a new Choctaw Nation Community Center, Head Start, Food Distribution center and Wellness Center on Friday, December 11, at 10 a.m. Chief Gary Batton, Asst. Chief Jack Austin Jr., Tribal Councilmembers, VIPs, employees and community members were on hand for this historical ribbon cutting of the new McAlester campus. Chief Batton spoke about the impact that the new facilities will have on the area and states, “it’s something that has been desperately needed here in the McAlester area for a long period of time and hope that our tribal members are excited for the services they’ll be receiving here.”

    The 7,956-square-foot Community Center can seat 454 people. It offers a full commercial kitchen for meal prep for senior citizens and special events. The new facility has office space for CHR, Tribal Police, Outreach Services, and others.

    The Head Start will accommodate up to 33 students in a school-readiness program for children. It will have an indoor safe room, it will be equipped with newer technology such as a smart board and classroom and touch screen computers. It will also have a parent resource room with computer/Internet access.

    The Food Distribution Center will be a 6,333-square-foot facility offering a state-of-the-art nutrition education kitchen for staff nutritionist, to demonstrate how to prepare healthy meals. It also houses the Next Step Initiative program.

    The Wellness Center provides top-of-the-line fitness equipment and a wide variety of fitness classes for tribal members, Choctaw Nation employees, emergency crew members and active military. The 6,100-square-foot facility includes a cardio room, weight room, and restrooms with showers. Staff also offer free personal training, nutritional counseling and comprehensive fitness assessments to Wellness Center members.

    The new campus is located on the south side of Industrial Park, Elks Road, Afullota Hina in McAlester (behind Great Balls of Fire.)

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    Talihina Connect Home
    Connecting after the ConnectHome meeting in Talihina are, from left, Stacy Shepherd, SEO of Choctaw Nation Member Services; Scott A. Gros- field, Regional Director with Housing Authority of the Choctaw Nation; and from everyoneon, Washington, D.C., Chike Aguh, Chief Programs Officer, and Amber Petty, national program coordinator.

    Rural Broadband Dream on Way to Becoming Reality

    Charlie Clark
    Choctaw Nation

    Talihina, Okla. - Three public meetings have been held concerning the Choctaw Nation and its Connect-Home program: Hugo, McAlester, and most recently Talihina.

    President Obama visited the Choctaw Nation in Durant on July 15 and unrolled the ConnectHome initiative, a followup to ConnectED, which seeks to have 99 percent of K-12 students have high-speed Internet in their classrooms and libraries by 2018.

    Along the same line, ConnectHome means to bring high-speed, broadband Internet to designated low-income residences in rural America.

    In his talk, President Obama referred to targeting residents of HUD housing for the assistance. Residents of the Choctaw Nation’s HUD-type program, under the Housing Authority, will benefit from this plan. But there have been some misunderstandings about who is eligible.

    Scott A. Grosfield said his office had received more than 60 calls in the week before the Nov. 20 meeting in Talihina, including one from Utah, wanting to know when their new tablets would arrive.

    Scott A. Grosfield, Regional Director of Rental Property Services & ConnectHome Project of the Housing Authority of the Choctaw Nation, explained who can expect a free device and training to the more than 100 area residents at the Choctaw Nation Community Center in Talihina. He also sent an email the following week: “The ConnectHome Project is bringing wifi to rental units within the Choctaw Housing’s inventory only. If you don’t live in any of our rental sites, this program will not impact you. The tablets that GitHub donated to Choctaw Housing this past Friday the 20th is strictly for residents with children who reside in our low income or ARH sites only. Our Rental Managers for those sites will be signing all of the devices out to the children’s parents sometime after the Thanksgiving break. The devices already have programs installed in them to get started on their learning process. The Connect-Home team is working diligently behind the scenes to negotiate the best data plans and the overall best infrastructure to bring broadband wifi to all of our rental sites within our service area. We are trying to roll out the service to these sites at one time and are projecting that time frame to be sometime in January 2016.”

    After entertainment by traditional Choctaw dancers and a dinner, Fred Logan, Connect-Home Coordinator of the Choctaw Nation Housing Authority, emceed the meeting, which among other things, sought to explain ConnectHome and its goal of “bridging the digital divide.”

    Representatives from participating agencies and companies delivered brief presentations and answered questions from the crowd. Among the private-public supporting organizations attending were EveryoneOn and GitHub. Other organizations that have announced support of the Choctaw program, and attended previous meetings, are OETA, Best Buy, the Oklahoma Public Library System, the Boys & Girls Club and several Internet companies. GitHub announced that it plans to provide 58 free tablets to Talihina families participating in the program.

    For additional information on the Connect-Home Initiative in southeastern Oklahoma, contact: Scott Grosfield, Regional Director of ConnectHome for the Choctaw Nation, 580-743-5360,

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    Rev. Bertram Bobb Funeral Services

    Funeral services for Rev. Bertram Bobb will be held on Friday, December 18, 2015, at 2:00 p.m. in the Hugo Agriplex at 5th and Rena in Hugo, Oklahoma. Rev. Olin Williams will be officiating with Choctaw Nation’s Tribal Relations Senior Executive Officer Judy Allen giving the Eulogy. Burial will follow in the Antlers City Cemetery with Military Honors. Bertram Bobb passed away Friday, December 11, 2015, in the Choctaw Nation Hospital in Talihina, Oklahoma, at the age of 91.

    Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Chief Gary Batton states, “The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma mourns the loss of a great man and leader, Brother Bertram Bobb. When you saw Brother Bobb in his iconic flat rimmed hat, you knew by his actions he was deeply rooted in his faith and his commitment to helping others. My prayers and deepest sympathy to Brother Bobb’s family during this difficult time.”

    Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr. adds, “What an example of a great Choctaw. He truly exhibited Choctaw values. He will be missed but I am thankful for my memories of him and what he has passed along to all Choctaws.”

    Bertram Edward Bobb was born March 30, 1924, in Smithville, Oklahoma, the son Johnson and Mae Estelle (Edwards) Bobb. He attended Goodland Indian School in Hugo, Oklahoma, Jones Male Academy in Hartshorne, Oklahoma, and Murray State College in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. Bertram served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He married his Beloved Mary Ann (Greenwood) Bobb in Antlers, Oklahoma, in 1950, and had lived in the Antlers community since 1971. His was preceded in death by his parents and wife, Mary.

    Bertram leaves to cherish his memory his family: three sons, Johnson Wilson Bobb of Antlers, Oklahoma, Wesley Edwin Bobb of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Frederick Bertram Bobb of Antlers, Oklahoma; grandchildren: Deborah Estelle Tepe and husband Jeremiah of Antlers, Oklahoma, Bertram Edward Bobb II of Chickasha, Oklahoma; one great-grandchild, Talia Tepe; one sister Evangeline Wilson of Chickasha, Oklahoma; niece, Cynthia Mae Ouellete and husband Roland and children Alexander and Lauren of Dallas, Texas; special nephew, David “Liwi” Greenwood; cousin, Anella and Phil Garcia and family; numerous nieces and nephews, cousins, and a host of other relatives and friends.

    Bertram received a BS in Accounting/Business Administration at Northeastern Oklahoma State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He attended the Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas, and was ordained in ministry at Scofield Memorial Church, Dallas, Texas. He was the Founder, and Director of the Christian Indian Ministries, Antlers, Oklahoma, from 1963 to present; Bertram Bobb Bible Camp in Ringold, Oklahoma, from 1971 to the present, the Native American Bible Academy in Ringold, Oklahoma, from 1990 to the present. Bertram served as the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Chaplain, from 1996 to the present, and the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes Chaplain for 27 years. He is the only person to be appointed Tribal Chaplain for his lifetime. Bertram was a member of the Choctaw Code Talkers Association for 20 years. He repeats to the youth of today the wise words told him by his coach, “People may take everything you have, but they can’t take away your education. Get your education.”

    The family will receive friends on Thursday, December 17, 2015, from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the Mt. Olive Funeral Home Chapel. Wake services will begin Thursday at 7:00 p.m. with Rev. Travis Bankester officiating. Family and friends are also invited to sign the guest book or send private condolences to the family at

    Contact information for the funeral home is as follows: 303 N. 2nd Hugo, OK 74743 ~ (580) 326-9627

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  • 12/22/15--07:04: Iti Fabvssa - The Big Hunt
  • Iti Fabvssa - The Big Hunt 2

    Iti Fabvssa - The Big Hunt

    Choctaw society developed out of a long and intimate relationship with the plants, animals, soil, and water of our homeland in the southeast. Through this relationship, Choctaw ancestors engineered a food way that minimized their risk of going hungry by relying on a combination of four independent food systems: agriculture, gathering wild plants, fishing, and hunting. This food way was flexible enough to adapt to fluctuating conditions. For example, if it was a bad year for crops or wild plants, Choctaw communities relied more heavily on hunting and fishing to get their sustenance and vice-versa. This month, Iti Fabvssa presents some information about the Choctaw fall and winter hunts.

    In the Choctaw calendar, the months after the agricultural fields were harvested are known as Little Hunger Month and Big Hunger Month, roughly corresponding with November and December. This is when Choctaw men would leave the villages on an extended hunting trip known as Owachito (meaning big hunt). The Owachito was so-named because it could last for months, and take hunters over hundreds of miles of territory. Little and Big Hunger Months received their names because Choctaw hunters would take limited, light-weight food rations with them on the Owachito, and because fasting for spiritual purification was an essential part of hunting. It was a hungry time of year.

    The regions that Choctaws hunted in the fall and winter changed over the years in connection with changes in the natural and political environment. During the centuries before European contact, most of the ancestral Choctaw population was concentrated in major farming communities located on the central Tombigbee, the central Alabama, and the Black Warrior Rivers and also around Mobile Bay. The neutral ground between these communities was maintained as hunting preserves. In response to European arrival, disease, and slaving raids, Choctaw populations started to reorganize into communities located in what is now east-central Mississippi and western Alabama. In the early 1700s, these communities conducted winter hunts in the Tombigbee River valley, the area just north and east of Mobile bay, and also in what is now central Mississippi. Through the 1700s and early 1800s, Choctaw communities and our neighbors, became increasingly involved in the hide trade with European groups. Ultimately deer were hunted at an unsustainable level and became rare in and around the Choctaw homeland. This compelled hunters to travel still farther west on the Owachito. By the 1750s, after making peace with the Chickasaw, if not before, Choctaw hunting parties were traveling as far west as the bank of the Mississippi river. Some of the names given by Choctaw hunters to places in this area are still in use today, including Issaquena (from issi okhina, meaning “deer creek”). and Nita Yuma, probably meaning “bears are there”. By the late 1760s, at the invitation of the Spanish governor, some Choctaw people began moving into what is now Louisiana. By 1800, Choctaw hunting parties were traveling all the way to present-day southern Oklahoma. In fact, the Ouachita mountains may derive their name from the Choctaw term “Owachito”. The familiarity that Choctaw hunters had with the west was demonstrated when, in negotiations for the 1820 treaty of Doak’s Stand, Chief Pushmataha drew out the course of the Canadian River and the upper part of the Red River (between present-day Oklahoma and Texas) for future president Andrew Jackson, whose aides had never been there before. For several decades, Pushmataha and other Choctaw men had been traveling to this area, hunting, encroaching on the territory of the Quapaw, Caddo, and Osage and fighting along the way.

    As alluded to above, deer were the main query of Choctaw hunters on the Owachito. The Owachito was not the only time that deer were hunted, but it was the main time. During the fall, deer were to be found in largest numbers in patches of oak/hickory forest, eating fallen nuts and acorns. Later in winter, they moved into dense cane breaks, where they were harder to reach. After deer, bear were the next-most important Choctaw game animal. More essential than the bear meat itself, was the fat, which was rendered into grease (see Illustration 2). During the 1600s, and up until about 1740, bison herds lived in the heart of the Choctaw homeland, and were regularly hunted. As Choctaw hunters moved west in the 1700s and early 1800s, they continued to hunt small numbers of bison. From today’s perspective, we only have partial glimpses of what life was like in a Choctaw hunting camp on the Owachito. Able-bodied women may have been present, but primary sources speak of men. We know that parities hunting in distant lands built temporary houses by setting a line of posts in the ground, and then laying sheets of stripped bark from the top of the posts down to the ground on each site. This created an “A” frame-like structure. The ends, left open, had camp fires burning near them to keep the occupants warm. (see Illustration 1). Hunting was a spiritual activity. In camp, hunters fasted and prepared themselves to go out and get meat and other products for their community that was depending on them.
    Iti Fabvssa - The Big Hunt

    We know a little more about the hunting techniques that they used. The surround was an ancient one, whereby hunters went out and encircled herds of deer, sometimes with the use of fire. By the late 1700s, deer were mostly being hunted through stalking. Sometimes, hunters used elaborate decoys made from a stuffed deer head to get close enough to the animals for a good shot. These hunters often walked 30 miles in a day in stalking their query. When a successful hunter brought meat back to camp, it was shared. The kidneys were cut up, distributed, and burned in the hunters’ fires as a way of giving thanks.

    Meat was preserved by cutting it into strips and drying it over a smokey fire. Hides were scraped fresh and then dried into rawhide for transport. Fat was taken from the bear and rendered pure in a clay pot over the fire. It was preserved by mixing it with sassafras root chips, and placing it in a pot that had been buried in the cool ground up to its rim. Choctaws probably transported the bear grease in containers made from sewn-up green deer hides. Once emptied, the bags could be un-sewn and, already exposed to the bear grease, would be ready for tanning. When it was time to head back home, hunters would pack up the dried meat and other items on the back of their Choctaw ponies. Two 50-pound packs would be suspended on each side of the horse, and a third one set on top. For protection from rain, all would be covered by a hide.

    When a hunting party returned to their village, it was a time of joy and celebration, both because the men had made it home safely, and because of the essential food and materials that they brought with them. Hunters are said to have shared the bounty with their estranged wives and other households that had no one to provide meat.

    After spending some time in the village, hunters would again go out in the heart of winter in search of animals with prime pelts. This was during Koichito Hvshi and Koichusk Hvshi (Panther Month and Wildcat Month, respectively), which roughly correspond with January and February. These month names come from two of the animals that were hunted for peltry. Hunters would set up temporary camps , sometimes with their women and children, in places several miles from their village where they could easily access the swamps and cane breaks where pelt-bearing animals lived during that time of year. Among all of the Southeastern Tribes and European communities, Choctaw men were said to be the best at the dangerous job of hunting panther and bear. Black bear migrated into Choctaw country during late fall, to avoid colder temperatures to the north. Although bear were hunted on the Owachito, this later season hunt was favored by Choctaw hunters because by December the bear were at their fattest and they moved slowly. In hunting bear, hunters would go out into cane break and look for a rotten, hollow tree showing signs that it was being used as a bear den. They would build a fire at the base of the tree, causing the rotten wood to smolder. Eventually, the bear would be awakened by the smoke and forced to jump from the top of the trunk. Hunters would shoot the bear with arrows in mid-air or on the ground. Choctaw oral stories indicate that hunting dogs were also sometimes used to harass the bear.

    The Owachito and the winter pelt hunt were dangerous, but enjoyable times for Choctaw men. The hunts provided them with an opportunity to show their skill and their spiritual efficacy. Through the hunts, they provided their communities not only with animal protein, but also the raw materials such as hides, tendons, antlers, horns, bison wool, glue stock, bones, and hooves that Choctaw people used to make a variety of life-supporting implements, structures, and tools. Today’s Choctaw people who prepare themselves spiritually to go into the woods in November, December, and January, to hunt for meat and other animal products for their families are carrying on a very ancient and storied tribal tradition.

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