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Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

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    Choctaw Defense’s great strides of 2013
    A message from Stephen Benefield | Choctaw Defense CEO

    Defense As we begin our 26th year in business I want to reflect back on what a memorable year we had in 2013. It was a year of substantial achievements for our group that saw the successful completion of the MTVR Chassis build of 1726 units in McAlester.

    The production line was truly a piece of LEAN manufacturing art! It was a production line that was recognized by the National Institute of Standardization and Technology for Excellence in Innovation and impressed every dignitary and customer that visited our facility.

    For at least another two years, the MTVR program will live on, as we manufacture and integrate the new lightweight cargo beds onto the chassis. That work process is scheduled to begin at Choctaw Defense in the second half of this year.

    Following a grueling almost 12 months of testing at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, and during the last few weeks of 2013, we received first article acceptance of our CAMEL II water delivery system for the Army.

    We are the OEM manufacturer of the CAMEL II and have been responsible for the entire design and development of this amazing piece of Army hardware. In achieving this milestone for First Article Acceptance, we are now authorized to begin full-rate production and will begin on our new product ion line, designed from the ground up to provide “best practice” in modern manufacturing efficiencies. I expect this new line to be as impressive as the MTVR line it replaces.

    We submitted the winning proposal for the CROWS system and were awarded the contract Fall, 2013. The CROWS contract was one of the largest contracts awarded last year for any tactical wheeled vehicle program at the Army. This was a heavily competed program that we won based on our superiortrack record of performance and by offering a very competitive price. Because of our relentless drive to improve our processes that continually eliminate waste while maintaining our profit levels, we can offer the best prices in the industry. This proves that our LEAN mindset and the work we have done to continually improve our processes and efficiencies is paying big dividends!

    The Camel II mobile water storage.

    Another notable success of the year was the re-compete of the 105mm Ammunition Crate. The new contract extends the life of the 105mm production program for at least another three years. As successful as we have been in winning new contracts that sustained our manufacturing business in the past year, we remain quite aware of the continuing reduction in spending levels at the Department of Defense going forward.

    Throughout this column, I have tried to make you aware that the ground is shifting and that our traditional line of business could be stressed if we do not continue to deliver the very best product at the most reasonable cost to the customer. The absolute fact is that military budgets for manufactured goods are shrinking. How far into the future this reduction will last is beyond our ability to forecast. Having known this situation for some time, the company leadership developed a strategy to expand into other lines of business that complements our legacy in defense contracting.

    The result of this planning was the creation of two new businesses that were begun in 2013 and are now taking off with a great deal of momentum. As we start this new year, I’m pleased to introduce these new companies under the “Choctaw Defense Group” that will begin an exciting new chapter in our history.

    Choctaw Defense Services is a Tribal 8(a) company focused on providing professional services ranging from information technology to facility maintenance and management. We selected these areas of specialization based on our research and experience in government and Defense contracting and determined that plentiful opportunities exist for us to successfully compete and win new business.

    Some challenges we faced were questions such as, “If you have no past performance to prove you can perform, how do you win new contracts?” And, “How do you build a performance record without contracts?” In acquiring the company, Banning IT Services, we thereby assumed the assets and people of an existing company that had already built an excellent record of performance. We agreed that both of our companies could be more successful by becoming one under the Choctaw Defense Group of companies.

    Starting in August 2013, we made the transition by hiring all of Banning IT’s existing employees and purchasing selected assets, while assuming several existing contracts.

    With this move, instantly, Choctaw Defense Services had highly qualified and valuable employees. It is also a good fit with our Choctaw Defense values and enables our ability to reference all of the work done previously by this great group of people as we compete for new contracts.

    Chip Melton, a 13-year member of the Choctaw Defense team, has assumed the role of Managing Officer for the new company and under his leadership we are aggressively building a strong business that we anticipate will expand very rapidly. Now, we are able to compete in new markets where only a year ago, we could not have entered.

    To round out our strategic expansion into new areas of business we have made an investment in Architects in Partnership Enterprise (AIPe). AIPe is an architectural and construction company that will focus on design and construction projects on military installations. Aaron Garriott was recruited to assume the role as Managing Officer for this new company. He has ramped up rapidly and is already winning new business in a variety of construction projects in the Oklahoma City area. Our application for SBA 8(a) certification will be submitted this spring and we are hopeful to have it approved later this year. The new 8(a) certification should open many doors for new contracts as we build this new company in the coming years.

    These are exciting times for our group. I can see a time in the near future when the Choctaw Defense Group will be a force in defense contracting, unmatched by any competitor. We are now a cohesive group that can market our proven capabilities and track record of success in manufacturing, professional service delivery, and architectural design and construction.

    To my knowledge, no other Native American or Alaskan Native group in the country can deliver this impressive set of capabilities.

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    Choctaw Recycling exceeds five million pounds
    Efforts in Durant, Poteau and McAlester set new standard for ‘Going Green’

    Luksi The Choctaw Nation Recycling Centers exceeded their goal of collecting 5 million pounds of recyclable materials in January.

    Tracy Horst, Director of Project Management for Choctaw Nation, said the material collected represents a savings equivalent of the energy consumption of 382 homes for a year.

    Horst said she appreciates everyone who continues to utilize the Choctaw Nation Recycling Centers as well as the staff members at Durant and McAlester.

    “Many thanks go to the cities of Durant and McAlester who bring community and business recycling to us,” she said. “We are also grateful to the many businesses in the Durant and Poteau areas who allow us to pick up their materials for recycling. We’d love to continue to grow and are happy to talk with anyone interested in recycling in their home, business, school or other organization.”

    Anyone with questions about these recycling programs can call Horst at (580) 775-4231.

    A breakdown of the material recycled in January includes 39 percent cardboard, 34 mixed paper and 27 percent plastics, electronics, tin, aluminum and shredded paper.

    “All the recycling center staff and the Going Green Team want to say ‘Yakoke!’ in a huge way for always recycling all that you can at work and at home,” Horst said. A celebration of recycling efforts is being planned for the spring.

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    The Cultural Events department conducts these camps during the summer to enrich the lives of Choctaw youth.
    Please make note the deadline dates for each camp.

    All first time applicants must include a copy of the CHILD’S OKLAHOMA CHOCTAW CDIB and MEMBERSHIP CARDS.


    For more information call the Summer Youth Activity Camp Program at (800) 522-6170.

    Summer Youth Camp Applications

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    Choctaw University prepping future leaders

    Choctaw University Seniors

    The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has been preparing the future leaders of the tribe with the establishment of an aggressive program to train management personnel with the skills and knowledge needed to build a bright future for themselves and those they serve.

    Choctaw University was conceived in 2012 and the first group graduated recently in ceremonies held at the Choctaw Casino and Resort in Grant. University classes are offered to all employees of the Nation and are broken down into two components. Continuing education is designed to train employees in developing skills they will need to advance by learning business, management and computer applications. The Leadership Series centers around growing the knowledge and skills of supervisors, managers and directors.

    “Leadership Series is designed to develop skills for frontline managers,” said Jack Hedrick, program manager. “We have partnered with Southeastern Oklahoma State University to award college credits.”

    The establishment of the university will help educate and train a workforce to be better prepared to address issues in the future. The recent selection of the Choctaw Nation as one of five Promise Zones nationally, will provide an opportunity for well-trained professionals to use their skills to bring economic opportunity to the high-need communities.

    The Choctaw University Junior class.

    The Continuing Education program is to provide all Choctaw Nation employees an opportunity to grow personally and professionally. “Our goal is to grow a highly skilled, qualified pool of candidates within the Nation to serve as a pipeline for the next 100 years,” said Hedrick.

    Choctaw Nation has an estimated 7,000 employees in the 10-1/2-county area it serves. Classrooms are located throughout the Nation’s area of operation. They currently have 160 students enrolled and 200 have completed the courses.

    Vonna Shults, director of Website Services, completed her junior year and was among the recent graduates. “The tools and knowledge I have gained through the different levels have enabled me to serve my co-workers and the tribal members the best way possible,” said Shults.

    “I am working toward a degree in communications with emphasis in leadership. These courses are genuinely supportive of my job at Choctaw Nation and I am very thankful for the opportunity for professional growth and education through this university.”

    Acceptance letters for 2014 have gone out and classes began recently with orientation. Students are selected by making an application and being approved by their manager.

    Approximately 160 students have enrolled for the new year. The first graduate to take advantage of the college credits offered by the University is expected to receive a diploma in May.

    While still in its infancy, the new program is expected to provide quality leadership training and better prepare employees to be more proficient in their jobs, according to Hedrick.

    “We hope to do a full-blown assessment of the effectiveness of Choctaw University,” said Hedrick. “People have been able to change career paths due to involvement in the program which is our goal.”

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    Inter-Tribal Council holds first meeting of the year

    The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes held its first meeting of 2014 on Jan. 10 in Shawnee, hosted by the Seminole Nation. Tribal leaders and members of the council passed resolutions pertaining to:

    • Encouraging the Oklahoma State Legislature to enact legislation to protect Native American children and strengthen Oklahoma adoption laws.
    • Endorsing Oklahoma Legislature designating the Oklahoma Native American liaison as the Secretary of Native American Affairs.
    • Commending Congress for honoring 33 Native American Tribes with Congressional Gold Medals.
    • Endorsing Oklahoma legislation modifying the American Indian Arts and Crafts Sales Act of 1974 to more specifically define “American Indian Tribe” and “American Indian.”
    • Requesting advance appropriations for the Indian Health Service.
    • Endorsing the Nunes Bill to promote the general welfare of Tribal Citizens.
    • Commending Congressman Markwayne Mullin for his leadership and efforts regarding the Native American Veterans Memorial.
    • Supporting the Food Distribution Programs of the Five Civilized Tribes Fiscal Year 2014 Food Distribution Program Nutrition Education Grants to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services.

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    South Central CSC three week undergraduate summer internship for minorities

    SCCSC The South Central Climate Science Center is pleased to announce that they will be offering a summer undergraduate internship opportunity in 2014 for students of underrepresented minorities interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (for example, agricultural science, economics and environmental engineering). Interns will be involved in hands-on activities related to climate research that will allow them to see the direct impacts of climate variability and change on forest ecosystems in Oklahoma, coastal areas in Louisiana, and the Texas Hill Country. Internship participants will travel across the South Central United States to visit university campuses and field locations and interact with faculty conducting cutting edge research.

    The internship will take place from Sunday, July 20, 2014, to Saturday, August 9, 2014. Interns will spend one week with the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, one week with Louisiana State University and one week with Texas Tech University. All meals, lodging and travel will be provided during the three week period. In addition, interns will receive a $200/week stipend for the duration of the program. The program will not cover local travel between the participant’s home to their closest airport, personal equipment (clothing, cameras, etc.), or other personal expenses.

    The deadline to apply is 5:00 PM Central Time on Friday, March 14, 2014. For eligibility requirements and to access the application form, click here.

    The South Central Climate Science Center is committed to encouraging diversity in the sciences. Please encourage your scientifically minded students to apply for this unique opportunity to experience climate research hands-on.

    Established in 2012 by the Department of Interior, the South Central Climate Science Center provides decision makers with the science, tools, and information they need to address the impacts of climate variability and change on their areas of responsibility. The Center supports big thinking, including multi-institutional and stakeholder-driven approaches to climate variability, change, impacts, mitigation, and adaptation research.

    Scholarship presented to you by Choctaw Scholarship Advisement Program.

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    Wilson-Hooper Veterinary Medicine Assistance Program sparks unique opportunities

    By BRET MOSS Choctaw Nation Scholarship Advisement Program

    Dubai, UAE, and Glasgow, Scotland are locations seldom associated with the study of veterinary sciences, but are notable life experiences for members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) Scholarship Advisement Program (SAP).

    Along with a gathering of many scholarships, a multitude of connections to institutes of higher education and college-prep resources, SAP is the proprietor of the Wilson-Hooper Veterinary Medicine Assistance Program. This scholarship, named in memory of the sponsor’s parents, has assisted nearly a dozen students each semester since its implementation in the fall semester of 2012.

    “The Wilson-Hooper Scholarship has been a great blessing,” stated a recurring recipient who recently earned the title, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM).

    During the final clinical year of education, students were required to complete an externship. While others from class were limited, the recipient of the Wilson-Hooper was offered more freedom from financial constraints, resulting in a month of study “in one of the world’s most impressive equine hospitals in Dubai,” stated the recipient. “For that, I am forever grateful because it was the opportunity of a lifetime and it prepared me to better serve my future patients as a new graduate.”

    According to the sponsor, the program supports both students working toward a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine as well as those working toward an Associate’s Degree in Veterinary Technology.

    This designation is a nod to the value the sponsor places on the traditional familiarity Native Americans feel toward animals, noting the namesakes of the program had a great love for animals.

    As an illustration to this fact, the aforementioned recipient spoke of riding horses in younger years, stating, “I grew up riding horses, and as a high school student I was intrigued every time the equine veterinarian came out to treat a horse.”

    The Wilson-Hooper is awarded to several students each semester based on merit and overall passion for the field of study, with funds matched by SAP. “If money is holding them back, I will give them a leg up. But they have to ride the horse themselves,” stated the sponsor.

    The funds of the program are delegated among several students rather than a large sum to one recipient so as to encourage education among many, thus maximizing the impact. The monies, ranging from $1,000 to $4,000 when matched by SAP, awarded to the students each semester can relieve enough financial pressure for a student to devote full attention to academia. This can be the deciding factor in completing a degree program, commented the sponsor.

    Another recurring recipient, currently in the third year of study at the University of Glasgow [Scotland] Veterinary School stated that with the funds provided by the Wilson-Hooper scholarship, they were able to fund extramural study programs required by the university.

    These extramural studies include working in locations such as Malta and Ireland. “These experiences have not only made my education better at applying my knowledge, but also myself,” mentioned the recipient as they spoke of how learning foreign cultures and customs has shaped perceptions of education. “I would not be able to do this without funding.”

    “I have correspondence with [the sponsor] and I keep [them] updated with any places I visit and experience I get while I am out here,” stated the recipient. They also went on to inform that the sponsor arranged correspondence with the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Lab in order for the recipient to speak on behalf of the Glasgow Pathology Club.

    As mentioned by the recipient, Wilson-Hooper’s sponsor is dedicated to not only financial assistance, but to the overall education of the scholars. The sponsor has provided each DVM student with a copy of Borror’s dictionary of Greek and Latin word roots and forms to assist in learning descriptions behind muscles, bones and behavior, as well as species’ names. Money and expectations can be barriers, but a little help can go a long way, the sponsor declared.

    Wilson-Hooper’s sponsor has been actively assisting Choctaws since 2006, as a benefactor to the Jones Academy, a school for Native Americans, located in Hartshorne. Through this connection, the sponsor met CNO Executive Director of Education Joy Culbreath, who introduced the sponsor to SAP in 2011.

    Learning of the considerable ways SAP assists Choctaws who desire higher education, Wilson-Hooper’s sponsor was determined to make a difference.

    “It’s always exciting for SAP to have the opportunity to work with a tribal member and create scholarships for other Choctaws. We are extremely grateful for the sponsor of this scholarship and the vision they have in creating a pipeline of Choctaw veterinarians,” stated Shauna Williams, donor and scholarship specialist.

    “The fact that someone wanted to help students focusing on veterinary medicine was very encouraging; it let me know that my hard work and dedication to veterinary medicine was important and was appreciated,” said the recipient who has become a DVM. “If someone from SAP hadn’t reached out to me and told me about the scholarship and what I needed to do to apply, I would have never known about it,” they continued.

    In efforts to project this opportunity into the foreseeable future, the sponsor and Choctaw Nation are working together to create an endowment. This will allow funds to renew over time, enabling continual funding.

    If you are Choctaw and would like to know about more scholarships geared toward Native Americans, or would like to know how SAP can assist you toward the goal of higher education, visit the SAP website or call 800-522-6170. Becoming a member of SAP is open to all Choctaws and provides numerous resources such as an extensive database of Native American Scholarships.

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    Shutik Isht Ia, or Take to the Skies!

    Airfest returns to Durant

    Choctaw Code Talkers to be honored at airfest

    Take to the Skies AirFest gets ready for second annual show in Durant! Shutik Isht Ia!

    Durant welcomes back this Festival of Aviation featuring a full Aerobatic Air Show and family festival to be held at the Durant Regional Airport–Eaker Field on Saturday, March 29, presented by the Choctaw Casino.

    “Shutik Isht Ia” is the Choctaw translation for “Take to the Skies”! Debby Standefer, President of the Take to the Skies AirFest, stated “we are very exited to be returning and promoting the City of Durant and their beautiful airport as well as the unique opportunity to feature cultural information and education of the Choctaw Nation.” This will be the first Air Show of the season in Oklahoma and North Texas. Actually, this is not just an event; it is an experience that will affect all of your senses with something to offer every age.

    Standefer says, “We are proud to honor our military during our show and this year feature a Celebration of the Choctaw Code Talkers. The Choctaw were actually the original Code Talkers and we are honored to celebrate them.” Opening Ceremonies Saturday afternoon at the start of the air show will be action packed including Choctaw dancers and singers, honor guards, flybys, skydivers and more!

    “We are excited to sponsor the 2nd annual Take to the Skies AirFest at the Durant Regional Airport. This inspiring event is a perfect outing for the entire family. We expect this year’s event to be bigger and better than last year! It’s a must see!” stated Arlene Alleman, Corporate Director of Marketing for presenting sponsor Choctaw Casinos. Durant is home to the headquarters of the Choctaw Nation and the Choctaw Casino and Resort with its AAA 4 Star rating. Come join for the AirFest and stay for the weekend. There’s a lot to see and do! Durant, known as the City of Magnolias is a charming city. The airport boasts a beautiful new terminal and was named after General Ira Eaker, an aviation pioneer and war hero. Lake Texoma, the 12th largest lake in the US is only 15 minutes away.

    The event opens at 10 a.m. Saturday. Before and after the air show you will be entertained with helicopters, airplanes, warbirds, Commemorative Air Force, powered hang gliders and parachutes, skydivers, radio control aircraft and more, in static displays and demonstrations. Southeastern Oklahoma State University Aviation Sciences Institute is located at the airport. They have a phenomenal aviation program and a flight team who dominates their competitions. Flights for the public will be available throughout the day in helicopters, airplanes, warbirds and biplanes. Wander through concessions of delicious foods, exhibits and booths. The giant Kids’ Area has a variety of attractions for different ages. There are a lot of activities for the kids and Choctaw Nation cultural activities, reenactments, dancing and music. There is so much to see and do!

    The Air Show begins at 2 p.m. with a variety of airplanes performing dramatic flights and aerobatic performances, a thrilling sight for all! Mike “Spanky” Gallaway, announcer for the famous Red Bull Air Races and other prestigious events will have you jumping in excitement as he announces the show and flies as well! The stars of the show are the breathtaking Trojan Phlyers Demo Team with their astounding formation aerobatics that will keep you on the edge of your seat! Piloted by highly decorated combat veteran pilots performing exciting precision close formation aerobatic routines demonstrating the cutting edge performance of the Trojan T28 warbird and the flying expertise acquired in formal military training, the Trojan Phlyers demonstrate high speed action with the roar of the big engines as they fly their historic aircraft rich in military history in a unique and thrilling performance and salute the veterans or our great nation and the men and women who continue to serve and protect us today. Blue Skies Parachute team will perform and a great line up of performers are set to fly for you. We are still adding performers!

    Take to the Skies AirFest promises to provide something for everyone in an action packed day of fun for the entire family! The mission of the AirFest is to encourage young adults to become involved in aviation, thereby contributing to better future adults. Education, literacy and health are our focus. Bring the entire family and introduce them to the vast wonderful world of aviation and show them how they can become involved. You will love it!

    The AirFest looks forward to working with local services and organizations. Non-profit organizations are invited to participate to raise awareness and funds. We look for volunteers and groups to assist on show day and are still taking applications for vendors, exhibitors and sponsors. “Sponsorship is invaluable to an event. It enables the event to grow in every way. The Take to the Skies AirFest relies on sponsorships so that we can keep this a very low cost event to the public and to continue to grow the show each year. We work with our sponsors to develop active integrated programs not only to promote the sponsor and assist them in achieving their marketing goals, but to create a positive experience on site for the public. The attendance this event garners not only locally, but from spectators throughout the state, Lake Texoma, North Texas and Dallas gives us the ability to market not only our sponsors but to showcase and promote our growing airport and the wonderful city of Durant while at the same time becoming an important revenue source for the city through lodging, retail and food sales in town through the weekend. We are honored to have the support of Durant Regional Airport-Eaker Field, the City of Durant, to work with the Choctaw Nation and proud to promote these incredible entities, the Choctaw Casino Resort, and to showcase Durant as a destination location,” Debby Standefer said.

    Be sure to follow Take to the Skies AirFest on Facebook and Twitter for the latest information, and visit our website for our schedule and detailed information updated as new information comes available. Online discounted tickets for the festival are only $8 for 13 and up, $5 kids 6-12, Seniors 65+ and military with ID. Kids under 6 free. Truly an experience and one you won’t soon forget, the Take to the Skies AirFest will take off Saturday March 29th 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. We’ll look forward to seeing you there!

    For more information please visit our website, or Facebook page

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    Making education his business

    Cole Palmer attends LeadAmerica’s Conference on Business Innovation

    By BRET MOSS Choctaw Nation Scholarship Advisement Program

    Cole_Palmer DURANT, Okla. – Getting a head start on educational opportunities can be exciting. That was just the case for Cole Palmer, a 17-year-old junior at Durant High School, from Calera, Okla.

    During the summer of 2013, Palmer had the pleasure of attending LeadAmerica’s Conference on Business Innovation at Stanford University. He was specially nominated for this 10-day program purposed to expand horizons of students with an aptitude for business. “It is a competitive selection process – they are picking someone who demonstrates strong leadership qualities,” stated Choctaw Nation Scholarship Advisement Program’s (SAP) College Prep Coordinator Stephanie Gardner.

    “It was incredible,” Palmer stated as he reviewed his activities of the past summer. According to Palmer, the program focused on many aspects of business with an overarching project which divided the entire population into small teams.

    These teams were charged with conceiving and developing a product for which they would build a business. Palmer’s squad made the decision to build a business around a bike helmet composed of eco-friendly and cost-efficient material deemed the “Green Dragon.” In this plan, Palmer was designated the VP of management and was required to plan the work involving employees and manufacturing locations for the mock company.

    Palmer mentions that it taught him all the steps involved in creating a business, asserting that he can now see business models from a more complete view, identifying the inner-workings and the behind-the-scenes planning.

    Along with Palmer were over 100 U.S. and international students from countries such as Japan and Russia. This added a great deal of cultural learning to the experience Palmer stated. He noted it was interesting to learn about the various ways those from other nationalities view business and how it shaped the overall project.

    Along with the projects and new acquaintances, Palmer was also able to experience the campus life of a prestigious university, as well as the atmosphere of San Francisco. His group visited a large local flea market where they interviewed small business owners and discovered first-hand the work involved in starting a small business.

    Upon his return from the summer expedition, Palmer received a letter from Envision, the program responsible for the LeadAmerica conference, stating that he had been invited to the 2014 Global Young Leaders Conference.

    Palmer plans to attend this conference, learning leadership skills on a global scale. He will be traversing Europe, absorbing lessons from leaders in a multitude of countries. Notable locations such as Prague, Berlin and Vienna are on the 13-day itinerary, which begins June 29, 2014.

    Choctaw Nation SAP is proud to recognize Palmer’s accomplishments as he primes his resume for college. He mentions that he plans to attend a university with a distinguished business program upon graduation in 2015.

    To prepare for his graduation, Palmer has taken part in SAP’s ACT test prep and has been able to have his testing fees paid by SAP. “By providing testing assistance, SAP hopes to grant our members a strong advantage in the collegiate application process. We are glad to see Cole take advantage of this asset,” stated Gardner.

    If you would like to learn more about the Envision program, visit their website at For information on more college prep services, visit SAP’s website at and follow on social media.

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  • 03/28/14--10:55: My saltpork challenge
  • My saltpork challenge

    By VONNA SHULTS Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    In my 40 years on this earth, I have had the pleasure of discovering salt pork and through trial and error I am now able to prepare it at home for my family without the need to call 911. Preparing salt pork to keep your immediate family happy would satisfy most folks and they would be content preparing it for special occasions, such as a holiday or loved ones birthday, but not for me.

    I wanted to know where my skills stood against those who have been cooking for the masses for decades. The only way to find out was to cook salt pork at an event where there would be lots of hungry Choctaws willing to eat what I had prepared.

    The solution came to me before I finished the thought in my head where I could find willing participants: wild onion dinner.

    Wild onion dinners are a staple during the springtime and are a favorite food amongst Choctaws. These tiny onions are picked by hand, individually cleaned and then prepared by sautéing with scrambled eggs. Sounds terrible, right? However, the mere mention of them in the wintertime will elicit “ooohs” and “ahhhs” from any Choctaw within earshot.

    Just like salt pork, everyone has a favorite chef that can prepare wild onions better than anyone else. I was not completely convinced anyone would allow me to cook alongside him or her but one Friday afternoon an opportunity presented itself to me.

    I had spent most of the day in Broken Bow learning Choctaw dances from a Mississippi group and on my way home I stopped at Sulphur Springs Methodist Church in Bennington to see one of my favorite Choctaw chefs, Lorene Blaine.

    It was the night of their annual wild onion dinner and gospel singing. Unfortunately, there were many church members that had attended a funeral many miles away and they were unable to help prepare the dishes until later that day. I offered to help and Lorene allowed me to help her son, Junior, prepare the salt pork.

    I felt like a Triple AAA pitcher who had just gotten “the call” for the big league.

    I became very nervous and immediately worried about everything that could potentially go wrong. Junior was outside the church and had a large cast iron Dutch oven ready for us to begin our task.

    We worked together for several minutes and I had expressed my trepidation of cooking salt pork for so many Choctaws. Junior assured me that everything would be just fine because they were coming for his mom’s wild onions in the first place.

    Shortly, we brought the Dutch oven into the kitchen of the church, as Junior needed the flame outside to begin frying catfish.

    So there I was, elbow to elbow, with one of the most respected Choctaw ladies I have had the pleasure to meet.

    Lorene had worked all day preparing batch after batch of wild onions and eggs. Her daughter, Teresa, had been frying potatoes in another room for several hours as well. I continued my careful watch over the salt pork; I refused to let it burn on my watch.

    I had become a little bit more comfortable knowing I had my mentor right beside me. Every so often I would peek over and watch her method of preparing wild eggs. I am positive I bothered her with my multitude of questions; however, Lorene answered each one with the true patience and grace not afforded to most folks.

    As the day wore on and evening approached, many church members came by with desserts, side dishes, fry bread, vegetables, and drinks for the annual event. Other members and guests had begun to gather outside the church fellowship hall to visit.

    That’s when I first noticed the amount of “FBIs” watching my every move in the kitchen. Yes, the “FBI,” otherwise known as the “Full Blood Inspector,” whom would be inspecting how good or bad I did with the preparation of the salt pork.

    I could see them peering through the screen door trying to figure out who I was. They did not know this person Lorene had allowed into her kitchen. I could sense their concerns about my cooking skills without them uttering a word.

    I knew then the task was either pass or fail and not only was my reputation on the line, but Lorene’s as well.

    Panic had set in and I wanted to run out the back door of the kitchen and pretend I was never there in Bennington, but I could not leave my friends and family there to finish the dinner alone. So I stayed to face my critics.

    Lorene knew every face that walked into the church and as they came by to say hello, she would take a minute from preparation to introduce me to them. Most people there had known my grandmother, Minerva Fobb. Several of my aunts had also came by that evening for the dinner and they were surprised to see me standing watch over the salt pork.

    My level of credibility had grown a little bit, but only a little.

    Time for dinner to begin and there was enough food in that kitchen to feed a small army. It never fails to amaze me the amount of hospitality and fellowship that presents itself whenever a group of Chahta come together.

    I would challenge anyone to look at a room full of Chahta people and find one person who is not having a good time visiting with friends and family.

    The food was placed buffet style and each person was able to make their own plate and many asked who had made the fry bread, beans, desserts and also, the salt pork.

    I stood brave and admitted that I had been the one to cook salt pork that afternoon and to please let me know how I fared. I promised not to get my feelings hurt if they told me they didn’t like the way I had prepared it for them.

    Finally, a man with the kindest face walked up to me, set his arm on my shoulder and said, “You cooked that meat just the way I like it. See you next year.” I asked Lorene if I passed the test and she told me to go look in the bowl that held the finished salt pork. I looked in the bowl and turned back to her and said, “It’s empty.”

    She just smiled and gave me a quick nod and I knew what she meant: I had passed.

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    Choctaw Nation provides extensive scholarship database to members at no cost

    Higher education is expensive. Whether students are seeking enrollment in four-year universities, junior colleges or vocational training, funding is a constant obstacle. What if all the tools needed to overcome these roadblocks were put at your feet, for free?

    Recognizing the substantial benefits a degree of any persuasion can bestow upon the life of a graduate, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) has provided a valuable tool with which to combat rising tuition costs often deferring potential students from their school of choice, or even the pursuit of higher education in general.

    Choctaw Nation’s Scholarship Advisement Program (SAP) has created a scholarship search engine that debuted in 2009. This unique database is an exclusive research database pioneered by SAP available to each member of the Choctaw Nation, completely free.

    Operating much like popular scholarship search engines, the Choctaw scholarship database will intake information about a user and tailor a list of scholarships applicable to their demographic information and desired field of study.

    What distinguishes this database from comparable mainstream services is it completely foregoes solicitation or ad-based funding. Once hopeful recipients create a username and complete a questionnaire allowing the program to customize the search results, all available funding is displayed and ready for the user to apply – no email ads, spam or selling of contact information to third-parties.

    A prime example of the database enabling a potential student to reach their goals is Jessie Kuykendall, a Tulsa native with a Master’s in Global Communication from George Washington University and Bachelor’s in International Studies from Baylor University. During her search for graduate programs at the 2009 Ivy League and Friends event hosted annually by SAP, Kuykendall learned of the newly created database.


    Jessie Kuykendall with her brother, James
    at her graduation from George Washington University.

    “I spent my Christmas break that year scouring through the database, which I found easy to use and helpful for locating opportunities,” Kuykendall stated. In her search, she discovered a Pickering Fellowship which would have otherwise gone unnoticed. “It is safe to say I would not have known about this incredible opportunity without the scholarship database.”

    The Pickering Fellowship granted Kuykendall considerable support in her graduate study. As a portion of the fellowship, she interned in Washington, D.C., in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and in the Political Section of the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She was also awarded $40,000 annually to cover tuition and various costs of her graduate degree.

    According to Kuykendall, the fellowship is a cooperative endeavor of U.S. Department of State and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation designed to help bring in diverse groups to the Foreign Service who have been historically underrepresented and have financial need. The Pickering Fellowship is an exceptional opportunity cataloged by the database – where size and term-length of opportunities vary.

    The database is not only for those applying to graduate school, as it boasts all types of funding applicable to higher education. Choctaw high school students are encouraged to get a head start on funding; those in college can benefit from discovering money for the next semester and high school students can begin looking for continual funding. Parents are welcome to be involved in the search, as they can save notable opportunities to which the student can later apply.

    Since the beginning of SAP, the staff has recognized funding as a high hurdle for many students. “The scholarship database was created to help students overcome that obstacle by increasing the awareness of the opportunities available,” stated SAP Director, Jo McDaniel.

    “It has significantly streamlined the guidance process for scholarship searches with students because the database tailors its results to each student and allows them to search on their own terms,” continued McDaniel. “This is truly one of our most effective aspects of our program when it comes to offsetting financial burden of the student.”

    Illustrating McDaniel’s statements are the features and ease of use contained in the database. Choctaw students are able to search approximately 30,000 undergraduate and 20,000 graduate-level portable scholarships, grants, merit awards, loan repayment programs, internships, residency programs and much more from one web page in just minutes.

    The database is so extensive that, in some cases, opportunities found through SAP are not found elsewhere. Those curating the information are highly trained in the search for higher education funding. Even the most obscure funding can be found because those searching know exactly for what they are looking.

    Once a target list is created via the original questions, the lists are constantly updated and editable. For example, if a student took part a new extracurricular activity, they would be able to add this information and get financial aid leads pertaining to the activity.

    Once a streamlined list is prepared, users are able to view a description and all information about the opportunity, and then apply from the same page. For those looking to quickly browse and apply later, the save feature will allow a user to save several high interest leads for later application. This function can be particularly helpful to parents looking to highlight certain front-running programs.

    Currently, Choctaw Nation is the only entity providing scholarship search assistance on this scale, and has been since 2009. Over the past four years, SAP has witnessed a growing number of stories similar to Kuykendall’s. It is the hope of SAP that each tribal member seeking higher education will take advantage of this tool, as it can open life-changing doors to students.

    If you are a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and wish to utilize the scholarship database, visit to connect with SAP. If you have had success with SAP, please notify the SAP offices, as to share triumphs and motivate fellow tribal members.

    Follow SAP on Facebook and Twitter, as many opportunities and information provided are applicable to members of any Native tribe.

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    Affordable Care Act (ACA) Frequently Asked Questions

    Question: I am a member of the Choctaw Nation and I have always thought I had “insurance” through the tribe. Do I?

    Answer: Unless you are an employee of Choctaw Nation you do not have “insurance” through the tribe. If you are Native American and have a Certificate Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) card and/or a tribal membership card you are entitled to Native American health benefits. The term Native American Benefit of Indian Health Services is a health benefit which allows those eligible to seek health care services at an Indian Health Service (IHS), a Tribal or an Urban facility. This benefit is designed to allow health care services to be rendered under the umbrella of Indian Health. If you were to be seen in a health care setting outside of Indian Health, you would be asked if you had health insurance. Outside providers do not bill Indian Health, therefore would expect the patient to provide a source of insurance coverage for payment. This benefit could have limitations for the patient due to the geographic location of an Indian Health care facility. Being Native American allows you to have health benefits at one of the many Indian Health care facilities, but it is not considered health insurance.

    Question: If I’m a tribal member and can receive Indian health benefits how is this different from insurance?

    Answer: An insurance plan can be purchased privately or received under an employer-sponsored insurance company and often allows the patient to be seen at any health care facility that will agree to submit a claim for services. This allows the patient the flexibility to be treated anywhere, with no or limited restrictions. Health insurance is a contract between you and the insurance company and the company agrees to pay part of the medical expenses when you are sick or get hurt. Under the insurance plan, there are monthly premium costs as well as varying deductibles (depending on the plan) but the insurance will cover the care you need. A standard health insurance policy also gives you access to preventive care to keep you healthy, like vaccines and check-ups. Many plans also cover prescription drugs.

    Question: I do not have health insurance but, I am Native American and can be seen at any Indian Health clinic/hospital for care.
    Do I need to do anything in 2014 because of the new law that President Obama passed?

    Answer: President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law which states everyone in the U.S. must have health insurance beginning January 1, 2014. Those that do not have health insurance could face a new health tax penalty that will be applied to the tax household when they file their income taxes. The tax penalty (per individual) for 2014 is $95.00 per person or 1% of annual income (whichever is greater) and this penalty will go up each year for those that remain uninsured.
    If you are Native American and can “prove” your Native American descendency, you do not have to do anything with respect to the new law. The law has several exceptions and Native American, member of a federally recognized tribe is one of those exceptions. When filing your taxes for 2014, you will need to answer several new questions on the income tax forms relating to health insurance coverage as well as submitting copies of your CDIB card and/or tribal membership card to the IRS. By sending “proof” that you are Native American you are letting the IRS know that you are exempt from having to purchase the mandatory insurance, because you are eligible for Native American health benefits.

    There will be some Native Americans/Alaska Natives that will have to take an extra step to prevent the IRS from charging a tax penalty. Some may not have documented proof they are a member of a federally recognized tribe. Some examples might be: • Newborn child pending a Social Security card and/or tribal membership. • A Native American that is a member of a state recognized tribe. • A Native American with a CDIB card but no tribal membership due to tribal law limiting membership for various reasons such as blood quantum limitations. • Foster children of a Native American, step-children of a Native American, or a pregnant mom carrying a Native American child. Some will need to complete the Application for Exemption for American Indians and Alaska Natives application and send this request to the Marketplace to receive approval and exemption from the IRS tax penalty.

    If you need help with this additional step, please come in and visit with one of our Benefit Coordinators at any one of our clinics for help with this process. This form is only needed in certain circumstances and all others that have a CDIB card and are current members of a federally recognized tribe do not need to do anything at this time. If you have questions or concerns you may call toll-free: (800) 349-7026 or visit any one of the Choctaw Nation health facilities and speak with a Benefit Coordinator for one-on-one help!

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    Choctaw Nation to host STEM Camp at Jones Academy


    Summer is an exciting time in Choctaw Nation. With many events occurring between June and August, tribal members of all ages have their pick of ways to enjoy the mid-year months.

    This summer, 9-12th graders who hold a CDIB card are encouraged to attend the Science Technology Engineer and Mathematics (STEM) Camp at historic Jones Academy in Hartshorne from July 13-18.

    During the week-long residential camp, students will be able to partake in exciting, hands-on STEM-centered events such as robotics, forensics and engineering. Trips to a the Bio-Med Forensics Lab, Computer-Aided Drafting (CAD) Lab and an engineering lab will give participants a feel for the broad range of STEM professions available after graduation. Classic summer outings such as trips to Robbers Cave State Park and the movies will also be on the docket for the camp.

    “We want to give our students opportunities to explore varying STEM disciplines and allow them to experience these disciplines in a hands-on, culturally relevant way through workshops and field trips,” stated Karen McGaugh, project coordinator for the camp.

    McGaugh’s statement reflects Choctaw Nation’s vision of achieving successful, productive and self-sufficient lifestyles for tribal members, as a STEM oriented transcript can draw considerable interest from colleges and major corporations, according to Stephanie Gardner, college prep coordinator for the Choctaw Nation Scholarship Advisement Program (SAP).

    This means Choctaws who are involved at an early stage will create numerous prospects for themselves in the future. “We want our Native students to understand that they are capable of successfully going on to post-secondary education or directly into a career in any number of STEM disciplines,” continued McGaugh.

    This program is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and a number of contributors such as EPSCoR Oklahoma, Oklahoma CareerTech, and KISS Institute for Practical Robotics. All housing and transportation will be provided by the Choctaw Nation.

    Applications are due May 9, and space is limited. Must be in grades 9-12, hold a CDIB card and have successfully completed Algebra 1. Download the application here.

    Please contact for more information.

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    Letter to all Choctaws from Chief Gregory E. Pyle

    Choctaw Chief Gregory E. Pyle will be announcing his retirement during a festive celebration April 24 in honor of his 65th birthday.

    Pyle’s career with the Choctaw Nation began on a tribal ranching board in the 1970s. He served 13 years as assistant chief and 17 years as chief. The Choctaw Nation has consistently progressed since Pyle took office in 1997. Growth in tribal revenue, jobs, services and cultural knowledge are among the goals that have been reached in the past 17 years.

    “I have enjoyed working with the Council and staff on the many tribal projects and programs.,” said Chief Pyle. “My future is going to be exciting in a whole new way! My wife, Pat and I have plans that include traveling and spoiling our grandchildren, spending many years building memories during our retirement.”

    As the Choctaw Constitution provides, Assistant Chief Gary Batton will step into the role as chief of the Choctaw Nation during a swearing-in on April 28.

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    The Cultural Events department conducts these camps during the summer to enrich the lives of Choctaw youth.
    Please make note the deadline dates for each camp.

    All first time applicants must include a copy of the CHILD’S OKLAHOMA CHOCTAW CDIB and MEMBERSHIP CARDS.


    For more information call the Summer Youth Activity Camp Program at (800) 522-6170.Summer Youth Camp Applications

    Returning Camper Online Registration

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    Chief Gregory E. Pyle Letter to All Choctaws

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    Letter to all Choctaws from Chief Gary Batton

    Chief Batton began his employment with the Choctaw Nation nearly 27 years ago. He has worked in several capacities at the Choctaw Nation including leadership positions in housing, health and administration. Shortly after Gregory E. Pyle took office in 1997, he appointed Batton to the position of Executive Director of Health and the Choctaw Nation Health System was completely transformed. Chief Batton’s first undertaking after stepping into the role was replacing the Choctaw Nation hospital, a former TB Center constructed in the 1930s, with the state-of-the-art Choctaw Nation Health Care Center, a 37-bed hospital with a 52-exam room outpatient clinic. Upon completion of construction, the $28-million facility was completely debt-free.

    While Chief Batton was managing the health system, the patient load grew from 120,000 to over 240,000 and new clinics were constructed in Idabel, Stigler, McAlester, Broken Bow and Atoka to meet demand and improve accessibility for patients. Additional services including ophthalmology, orthopedics, cardiology, physical therapy and a mail-order pharmacy were added.

    Batton developed partnerships with other organizations and governments to add even more services to the health system. Through partnerships with OU Health Sciences Center, ear, nose and throat (ENT) services began being offered at Talihina and a program for specialized care for high-risk youth with diabetes was started. A partnership with Eastern Oklahoma State College brought about the establishment of a dental hygienist program. A coalition with the State of Oklahoma and other Oklahoma Tribes led to the establishment of REACH, a program to promote physical activity and reduce the lifetime risks of cardiovascular disease.

    Chief Batton is involved in the growth of the entire Choctaw Nation. He continuously looks for ways to improve and expand services. Among his numerous duties, he has served as Chairman of the Choctaw Nation Business Committee where he focused on adding new businesses and expanding and increasing profitability of current businesses to support the priorities of health, education and jobs. When he was appointed, his first initiative was the development of an economic plan that consisted of $385 million in construction to expand the gaming facilities in Durant, Grant, McAlester and Stringtown. With his guidance, tribal businesses have shown a 69 percent increase in profitability and tribal services continue to grow and evolve.

    In addition to his job duties, Chief Batton has represented the Choctaw Nation on numerous boards and committees including the National Budget Committee for Indian Health Service, the National Health Service Corps National Advisory Council, and the Tribal Technical Advisory Committee for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). He currently serves on the Thunderbird Youth Academy Foundation Board, the Children’s Hospital Foundation Board of Advocates, the Choctaw Nation Chahta Foundation Board and the Southeastern Oklahoma State University Foundation Board.

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    Chief Gary Batton’s focus on ‘Doing what is best for Choctaws’

    By Lisa Reed Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    The new Chief of the Choctaw Nation, Gary Batton, repeated the oath of office April 28, swearing to devote his “best efforts toward the preservation of the heritage and tradition of the Choctaw Nation in order that all mankind may better understand, evaluate, and appreciate the history of its glorious past and enjoy its brilliant future.”

    Tribal Court Chief Justice David Burrage administered the ceremony on the lawn of the headquarters complex in Durant. Several hundred people were on hand for the historic event, some tribal members travelling from as far as Illinois to watch the inauguration of the Chief of the Choctaw Nation.

    “This is such an honoring and humbling experience for me to be up here and to serve as your Chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma,” said Chief Batton. “I want to tell the Council, the judges, Chief Pyle, and everyone how much I appreciate you all. One of the things I stand for is unity. As long as we stand together united, there is nothing that will hold us back.”

    Chief Batton’s philosophy of “Doing what is best for Choctaws,” is evident in his plans to continue the Nation’s progress with a focus on God, family, health, jobs and culture. This is in alignment with the tribe’s vision to assist in creating paths toward success for all Choctaws.

    “I appreciate the guidance and model set by Chief Pyle in maintaining a good balance between work and family. It is important to balance family, work and health – and balance also means keeping those values taught us by our ancestors.” Chief Gregory E. Pyle announced his retirement last week and has plans to travel and spend more time with his grandchildren.

    “I want to go back to our grass roots. I want to make sure to go back to sitting on the front porch with our elders, listening to what they say, what direction we need to go,” Chief Batton said. He plans to develop a Council on Wisdom comprised of Choctaw elders who can continue to give guidance and direction.

    One of Chief Batton’s first official acts was to appoint Olin Williams of Bennington as the Employee Chaplain. Williams is a tribal historian for the Choctaw Nation, a minister, and counselor for many fellow staff members.

    He also recognized a member of the audience, Nellie Hunter, 75, of Tupelo who will graduate this spring with a degree in organizational leadership. Hunter is a veteran and still serves as a member of the Choctaw Nation Color Guard.

    With the promise of highlighting the Choctaw culture to the world, Chief Batton announced several upcoming projects including building a chapel in Tvhska Homma and a culture center in Durant.

    Expanding programs begun under Chief Pyle and Batton’s administration are also a big part of the plans for the future. Chief Batton said he has a goal of creating 750 new jobs over the next year. This has an impact on both families and communities. He discussed unique plans to assist with housing repair, food distribution, enlarging ranching operations, and creating jobs to invest in the Choctaw people.

    The tribe is building several new wellness centers – four of them to open in the next 45 days. Independent Living Centers for elderly are on the drawing board for several counties as well as a Choctaw health clinic in Durant and expansion of the Poteau health clinic.

    Education still remains a priority and more focus will be placed on higher education opportunities, and programs for youth.

    “We always believe in giving our kids a ‘head start’ and I am thankful we will get more of that accomplished in this coming year,” Chief Batton said as he announced the construction of new child development centers in McAlester and in the Bethel/Battiest area.

    Chief Batton stressed the importance of keeping our dollars in southeastern Oklahoma. Tourism is one way to bring people to Oklahoma, to teach the Choctaw culture and tell of the tribe’s glorious past. Tribal members will also have a chance to buy Choctaw Nation car tags through a program that will be developed to benefit them and still support the state of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

    Chief Batton announced the Nation will be building a new tribal headquarters in Durant that is critical for the staff. The new facility will give the employees the tools they need to provide better service for tribal members in one location.

    “We are a family, we are a tribe,” he said. “Thank you for your support. It will take all of us to do what is best for Choctaws. God bless America, God bless Oklahoma and God bless the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.”

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    Newly appointed Assistant Chief of the Choctaw Nation, Jack Austin, Jr., was sworn in April 29 at the Tribal Capitol, Tvshka Homma, by Tribal Council Speaker Delton Cox. Assistant Chief Austin has had a long career with the Choctaw Nation, beginning employment at the Choctaw Nation Health Care system in 1991 soon after being honorably discharged from the Army. He holds a Master of Education. He began his journey with the healthcare system in the Material Management department – and just prior to being selected as Assistant Chief, Austin was the program director for the Choctaw Nation Recovery Center.

    He and his wife, Philisha, have been married 24 years. They have three children. Clark, 18, is attending Carl Albert State College. Malacha, 16, will be a senior next year at Talihina High School. “Sam is our youngest blessing at the energetic age of 4,” said Assistant Chief Austin.

    “I feel I was raised in the midst of the tribe during most of my youth. Both parents were, and are still, serving Choctaw people. I have been to many events throughout our Choctaw Nation growing up. I can still remember the State of the Nation address being given by the Chief of that time under a brush arbor on the Council House grounds,” continued Austin.

    Attending the Lighthouse Cathedral Church the past 30 years, Austin has served as a board member there the past ten years and enjoys work as a youth pastor, teaching weekly youth classes.

    The new Choctaw Chief, Gary Batton, was present as Austin was administered the Oath of Office. According to the Choctaw Constitution, ratified in 1983, the Assistant Chief is appointed by the Chief, and approved by a vote of the Tribal Council.

    “Our goals moving forward will align with the tribe’s philosophy to ‘do what is best for Choctaws’,” said Chief Batton. “Assistant Chief Austin, the Tribal Council and I are all looking forward to working together!”

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    Small town student, big future

    Jordan Kern earns Gates Millennium along with full scholarship to Duke University

    Jordan Passion and determination – these two qualities will enable one to reach outstanding goals. For Choctaw and Henryetta, Okla., native Jordan Kern, these attributes earned him two full scholarships to Duke University and an admirable direction in life.

    As a member of Duke’s class of 2018, Kern currently holds a full financial aid scholarship awarded by Duke, valued at over $240,000. Beyond this, Kern has also earned a Gates Millennium Scholarship, which will fund any portion of his undergraduate degree not covered by Duke as well as the cost of his graduate studies through a doctoral degree. This award makes him the first student of his school to ever earn the coveted Gates scholarship.

    The combination of these scholarships will provide the funding needed to achieve his educational goals without worry, which is integral to his plans of entering the medical field.

    Though Kern’s story is only just beginning, his past actions and accomplishments serve as an outstanding example for students of small town beginnings aspiring to compete on a large scale.

    Growing up in Henryetta, Kern attended Henryetta High School where he will graduate as the valedictorian with 64 college credit hours from Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics and Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology. In addition to his academic success, he was also heavily involved in extracurricular activities and volunteer work.

    His most notable volunteer accomplishment is an extension of his interest in the medical field. Kern began the Friends of Benton organization, in which he and his fellow volunteers would procure medical equipment for those who needed it, but could not afford to purchase. Friends of Benton has served along with other organizations such as Saint Francis Children’s Hospital and Camp Barnabas Special Needs Summer Camp with the goal of improving the lives of special needs children.

    Kern’s younger brother and namesake to Friends of Benton, Benton Kern, who was born with chromosome two deletion and surpassed medical life expectancies serves as Jordan’s inspiration to pursue a career in pediatrics. “He just sparked a passion,” Jordan stated as he described how his relationship with his brother effected his outlook on the future.

    Jordan and Colton Braun at Camp Barnabas.

    Kindling the fire lit by Benton, Jordan served as a volunteer at Camp Barnabas where he was charged with the care of a youth with cerebral palsy. This solidified his future plans in pediatrics. “I love caring for kids,” Jordan stated.

    To prepare for his future education, Kern used his time in the Creek Nation summer work program to shadow the doctor who had cared for Benton in the past – Dr. Michael West of the Creek Nation Health Clinic. While learning from Dr. West, Kern was able to get a firsthand experience of what his future will hold. “He really took me under his wing,” Kern mentioned.

    “I look forward to seeing what his does in medicine,” stated Dr. West, as he spoke of Kern’s notable scholarships and bright future. West went on to mention that he had not seen a student quite like Kern during his career and was impressed with his accomplishments.

    Along with Dr. West, Kern was also highly encouraged by his parents, to whom he attributes his drive and determination. “They helped me to find college preparatory programs and motivated me to strive for excellence,” Kern stated. He spoke of how is parents’ continual support of his aspirations, no matter how high he aimed. “My parents molded me into who I am today.”

    With a direction for his life decided, Kern was determined to find a way to make it happen. Overcoming obstacles has been something with which he had experience. Along with assisting his family in the hardships accompanying Benton’s medical condition, Kern had also suffered nerve damage from a football injury his freshman year.

    Before the injury he had planned to attend a junior college with an athletic scholarship, but the damage had forced him to physical therapy throughout his high school career and a change in higher education plans.

    “No matter how hard you are knocked down, you can always get back up,” Kern declared as he spoke of overcoming difficulties associated with his setback. By his senior year, he had surpassed expectations to become a team captain on his football team and participant in multiple sports.

    It was this same drive that led him to the Gates Millennium Scholarship. Kern became involved with the Choctaw Nation Scholarship Advisement Program (SAP) which he cites as a substantial asset to his academic success.

    “Beginning my freshman year, SAP opened me up to a new world of education. The program proved that no matter who I was or where I came from, I could achieve greatness in my academic career,” stated Kern. “I had only dreamed of attending a college with such prestige as Duke University, but SAP made my dreams into a reality.”

    Jordan and Dr. West.

    Utilizing features of SAP such as access to College Horizons and the annual Ivy League & Friends event, Kern was able to make connections with admissions councilors and other students. This helped him realize all the opportunities he had above and beyond his local options. “Before finding SAP, I was another football player who hoped to attend a junior college on an athletic scholarship,” stated Kern.

    “Jordan is an outstanding example of the potential found within our Choctaw students,” stated SAP Director Jo McDaniel, who has witnessed Kern partake in many of the aspects of the program. “We wish him the best and are humbled to have played a part in his outstanding journey,” continued McDaniel.

    With new doors opened through these resources, Kern took on the most challenging courses available, became involed in a large amount of volunteer work and began scholarship applications.

    “It was the toughest application I have ever completed,” stated Kern as he spoke of the Millennium Scholarship application. During the process, he was required to complete seven different essays. Not able to fully convey his passion and determination in those seven essays, Kern completed eight. This aided him in claiming the prize. “The work you put into the application, you get back.”

    Kern had accepted his position into Duke before he was awarded the Gates Scholarship. “The main thing that pushed me to apply to Duke University was the students. Everyone on campus has great spirit,” he stated. “I knew from the moment I stepped on campus that I had found the place I wanted to be.”

    During his time at Duke, Kern plans to continue his effort with Friends of Benton by servicing at the Duke Hospital. Involvement in the multicultural center also tops his list of activities once he arrives in the fall. Spreading Native culture to other students is an aspect of his enrollment he eargerly anticipates.

    Through Kern’s rise to such notable academic success, many lessons have been learned. He has made it a priority to spread the motivation and encouragement by speaking to groups of underclassmen at local organizations.

    “My biggest advice to fellow native students is to never let outside views determine who you are. I recently read an article that stated only 13 percent of Native Americans graduate from college. I laughed because I will be one of those numbers. I laughed because I know that our generation of students will shatter stereotype,” said Kern as he demonstrated his confidence in not only himself, but other Native students. “I want to be an example for current Choctaw students - proof that anyone can accomplish their goals.”

    A Friends of Benton group volunteer their time at the St. Francis Children’s Party.

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