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Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

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    Choctaw Asset Building assists tribal members in education

    The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) has an exceptional resume of tailoring specialized services to help tribal members help themselves. Choctaw Asset Building (CAB) is exemplar of this fact, as it rewards participants for learning sustainable money management.

    Built on the foundations of Individual Development Accounts (IDA), Choctaw CAB serves as a connection to anti-poverty efforts from the tribe.

    Through CAB, participants who save money for integral life expenditures are awarded funds from the tribe matched at an exponential rate. CNO will match three-to-one funds designated for buying a first home, and two-to-one on monies allocated toward starting/expanding a small business or attending college/vocational school.

    This opportunity is especially valuable to students, as they are essentially being paid to save money and learning sustainable money management in the process. “It is a wonderful program,” stated IDA Coordinator Dawn Hix, whose previous experience as an educator has brought her firsthand knowledge of the need for this service.


    CAB’s educational aspect is making an identifiable impact in the lives of tribal members. One such student is Callie Curnutt, a sophomore at Carl Albert State College and the 2013-14 Miss Choctaw Nation.

    Curnutt, who is on track for an Allied Health degree funded solely on scholarships makes note that having the extra funds provided by her effort through CAB are an ideal way to bridge the gap some scholarships leave between orientation and graduation.

    “I still have a lot of CAB money left to use; that makes me feel good to know I can finish my degree without having to take out a bank loan,” stated Curnutt, who will be carrying this degree towards a Physical Therapist Assistant program upon graduation.

    “It also taught me money management skills,” mentioned Curnutt, as she brought up the aspect of CAB designed to instill a sustainable mindset to tribal members. For participants in CAB are required to attend 12 hours of financial literacy training, which teaches debt reduction, savings planning and credit management. “You learn a critical life skill,” she declared.

    “By providing a form of educational funding while teaching such an essential life skill, CAB has really been an advantage to our SAP students,” stated Choctaw Nation Scholarship Advisement Program (SAP) Director Jo McDaniel. SAP students like Curnutt are great examples of how using services provided by CNO can lead to sustainable betterment of lives of tribal members, according to McDaniel.

    CAB is made possible in part by the Assets for Independence Grant hosted by the Department of Health and Human Services, which funded the first iteration of CAB in 2009. Upon being awarded the $800,000 grant, Choctaw Nation contributed $1 million of tribal funds to assure the effort made a substantial impact on tribal members.

    CAB’s grant is on the last year of its five-year cycle and has aided over 220 Choctaws. Recognizing that success, CNO desired to continue the process by applying for and earning a second grant in 2012, CAB2, which will ensure the opportunities continue.

    “The more tribal members we serve, the better,” stated Hix as she spoke of securing the second iteration of the initiative and planning to apply for a third. “This program is an excellent program. I can guarantee that I will apply for the second grant portion,” echoed Curnutt.

    CAB is a sub program of Choctaw Career Development. These two programs work in tandem in the hope that lessons taught by one, will lead to success in the other. Skills obtained via CAB, combined with those learned through Career Development can make for a prosperous way of life for many Choctaws.

    There is no blood quantum requirement for tribal members to take advantage of CAB. Potential participants must only commit to any of the three saving purposes, meet certain income requirements and reside within Oklahoma, Arkansas or Texas. Contact CAB online or by calling 800.522.6170 for more information and application.

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    Chahta Foundation scholarship recipients for 2014 were honored at a banquet in Durant on Wednesday. Honorees included Tamara Bolding, Jordan Dennis, Naomi Hixson and Susan Wyant. (Photo by ZACH MAXWELL)

    Chahta Foundation presents awards to four scholars

    Post-graduate students hailed as future leaders of Choctaw Nation By ZACH MAXWELL Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    DURANT, Okla. – The Chahta Foundation presented scholarships totaling $72,000 to four post-graduate students at a luncheon on Wednesday in their honor. One Master’s Degree student and three doctoral candidates were honored at the event, which was attended by Chahta Foundation staff and board members, family of the honorees as well as incoming Southeastern Okla. State Univ. President Sean Burrage.

    Doctoral candidates receiving $20,000 were Jordan Dennis of Oklahoma City, who is studying law at the University of Oklahoma; Naomi Hixson of Tempe, Ariz., a speech-language pathologist studying at Arizona State Univ.; and Tamara Bolding of Los Angeles, a psychology major at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Susan Wyant of Purcell, Okla., received $12,000 toward a Master’s Degree in Education at Southwest Oklahoma State University. She is studying the field of psychometry.

    “I hope that, with my degree, I can give back to our Choctaw family and to Oklahoma,” Wyant told the gathering. “I couldn’t do it without you.” Golding began her short speech by saying “yakoke,” (“Thank you” in Choctaw) and said “It’s been a very incredible journey.”

    “Success is so much sweeter when we use it to have meaning in our lives and the lives of others,” said Stacy Shepherd, director of the Chahta Foundation and Senior Executive Officer of Tribal Member Services for the Choctaw Nation. “Somewhere down the road, I know each one of you is going to help someone in need.”

    Jon Marshall, chairman of the Chahta Foundation Board of Directors, echoed those sentiments.

    “It’s an honor for us to have an opportunity to invest in future leaders,” Marshall said. “One of the predicates of these people receiving an award has been each one’s commitment to humanity. They’re all doing things in terms of helping people.” The Chahta Foundation was formed in 2000 and began awarding educational scholarships in 2013. The foundation has given $174,000 in scholarships in two years.

    The foundation’s triumvirate mission includes “creating scholarships for Choctaws, preserving a rich heritage and sharing it with all people and promoting a healthy approach to living.”

    For more information, visit online at Chahta Foundation.

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    2014 Choctaw Language Scholarship application

    Applications are now being accepted for The Choctaw Nation School of Choctaw Language’s Chahta Anumpa Teacher Education Scholarship. Designed to increase the prominence of the Choctaw language among tribal members, this scholarship funds the education of a future language instructor who will work with the tribe to teach the native language of the Choctaw Nation.

    Applications must be completed by July 1, 2014 by a capable Choctaw attending or willing to attend Southeastern Oklahoma State University and interested in completing a Teacher Education Program while working closely with the School of Choctaw Language.

    “This opportunity was created as an incentive to increase our Choctaw speakers and teachers,” stated Choctaw Language Director James Parrish. “We believe this scholarship is mutually beneficial to the recipient as well as the tribe, as they will receive a quality education and gainful employment while Choctaw Nation sees an increase the language staff.”

    In recent years, Choctaw Nation has put an increased emphasis on tribal culture. A strong point to that endeavor is the traditional language. With community language classes taught both inside and out of the 10.5 county service area, as well as classes hosted in high schools and colleges for educational credit, the increase in certified instructors a necessity.

    Qualifying candidates will need to meet the following criteria:

    • Have completed 30 college credit hours
    • Must have CDIB and Choctaw tribal membership cards
    • Hold a Cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher
    • Be enrolled at Southeastern Oklahoma State University or willing to attend Southeastern and meet their admission requirements
    • Complete the application packet
    • Work part-time at the Language School
    • Complete 6 hours of approved English
    • Complete 18 hours of Choctaw language

    If you are interested in this opportunity, download and complete this application, then submit to

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    Nellie Hunter advises, love anybody

    Choctaw Nation elder provides wisdom for nation

    By STEPHENIE OCHOA Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    DURANT, Okla. – Whether it is a nation of a family, it takes wisdom, intelligence and compassion to grow something great, and as the adage goes, “it takes a village to raise a child,” it is comforting to know the Great Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma recognizes those elders who have helped to shape the nation and it’s people. By freely giving to the communal-cultural pool of advice, knowledge, and education, as a nation, we learn how to build more than better tomorrows, we learn to build the best tomorrows. nellie_hunter

    Nellie Hunter, 75 of Tupelo, opened her heart to provide the Nation with doses of love and experience hope to help any and all who might benefit from where she has been and what she has done. A great-grandmother to 10, grandmother to 22 and mother to seven, a member of the Choctaw Veteran’s Association, Women’s Veteran Association and Choctaw Nation Color Guard, Hunter devoted much of her life to serving others beginning with serving in the US Army and traveling abroad to Okinawa. The height of segregation, Hunter’s travels forced her to witness and experience much, yet, she stayed true to her helping spirit. As a caring individual, Nellie would always choose to stay with her fellow comrades because she felt it was the right thing to do.

    Upon leaving the service, Nellie began her family and traveled until finally settling in the Oklahoma City area as a worker at VA hospitals. She felt the VA hospitals were a great fit for her nurturing spirit and she continued to work there until she could do so no longer but began helping disabled children often until they were adults.

    Putting herself second to others placed Hunter’s dream of finishing her college degree off until May of this year. She graduated with a Bachelors degree in Organizational Leadership and plans to help as many others as she can with her additional education. Hunter also aspires to run for Mayor of Tupelo. She hopes that this move will allow her to give back locally to her community.

    When asked why she helps so many throughout her life, Hunter said it is her belief that God gave her a “caring nature” and as long as she can, she will continue to devote her time to the benefit of others.

    Nellie Hunter wished for others to know that her biggest influences were from the Choctaw Nation, Chiefs Gregory Pyle and Gary Batton, “They were here for me always and offered me support throughout my life,”

    Hunter would like to leave the following advice for the Nation, “With God and confidence you can do anything.” Also, for the Nation, Nellie believes it’s important to help older children such as those leaving high school and entering college. “They don’t have as much support as they need to carry through with healthy lives” and she encourages all to know the dangers of addiction and how it can destroy lives. Hunter also expresses the importance that you should “love anybody.” According to her, it doesn’t matter if you know a person or not, everybody needs to be loved.

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    J.R. Wesson of Colbert adds cabbages to his locally grown produce at the Choctaw Nation Farmers Market on Wednesday, June 18

    Choctaw Nation Farmer’s Market

    By Zach Maxwell

    Summer is just about here and that means Choctaw Nation farmers markets are in full bloom across southeastern Oklahoma.
    Local growers typically bring their produce on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. to Choctaw Nation Community Centers or senior buildings in Durant, Atoka, Hugo, McAlester, Stigler, Broken Bow and Idabel. The farmer’s markets are open from 9 a.m. until noon unless produce sells out.
    Items found at the market outside of the Durant Community Center included tomatoes, cabbage, varieties of squash, garlic, onions, blackberries, potatoes and more. The menu will change with the seasons.
    The markets are supported by the Choctaw Nation Farmers Market Nutrition Program. Choctaw elders are reminded that applications are available for produce vouchers at local community centers.

    For more information contact: Peggy Carlton 1-800-522-6170 x 2303

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    Ribbon Cutting Food Distribution Durant, OK
    Chief Batton, Assistant Chief Austin, Councilman Ted Dosh along with other Councilmen and employees of the Food Distribution Center cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the new Food Distribution Center in Durant.

    Food Distribution Grand Opening

    Choctaw Nation held a grand opening for a new Food Distribution Center in Durant on June 19.
    The new market location is at 2352 Big Lots Pkwy in Durant.
    In order to qualify for the program, at least one member of the household needs to have a CDIB and meet a certain income level.Julia Food Distribution
    The distribution center is set up like a typical grocery store with aisles of food to choose from like fresh fruits, vegetables and meats along with foods that are low in sodium and fats.
    For more information call (580) 924-7773

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    chiefsSean Burrage, incoming president of Southeastern Oklahoma State University, is joined by former Choctaw Nation Chief Greg Pyle, Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby, Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton and Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr. (Photo by ZACH MAXWELL)

    Sean Burrage welcomed as 20th Southeastern president

    Massey family and tribes host reception honoring incoming school president
    By ZACH MAXWELL Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    DURANT, Okla.– The Choctaw and Chickasaw nations joined the Massey family in welcoming Sean Burrage as the 20th president of Southeastern Oklahoma State University during a Monday reception in Burrage’s honor.
    A standing-room crowd of several hundred people gathered at the Choctaw Event Center to welcome Burrage, who stepped down as a state senator from the Oklahoma City area to return to Southeastern.
    “I’m now in higher education and dedicating myself to this cause,” Burrage said. “I promise to work for you and with you all to move this university forward.” Several leaders offered positive remarks to welcome Burrage, including Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton, Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby, State Regent John Massey and the event emcee, Greg Massey.
    Elected officials from across Oklahoma were in attendance, as well as several leaders from state colleges and universities. Burrage officially began his term as Southeastern president on July 1.

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  • 07/08/14--13:58: All-in for his education
  • All-in for his education

    Gabriel Louis earns the Gates Millennium Scholarship

    Gabe_Louis_web During the 2013-14 school year, Gabriel Louis walked the halls of Durant High School. In the fall of 2014 he will advance to the campus of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, and will do so as one of the select few to earn a Gates Millennium Scholarship. This good-through-graduation scholarship is awarded to a limited number of students in the United States and is based on merit and educator evaluation.

    This prestigious award, combined with a handful of additional scholarships through OSU, will allow Louis to pursue his education in the field of computer engineering. His interest in technology and knack for machines, combined with his appreciation for OSU led him toward this path.

    With such a well-paved road to success before him, Louis can attribute his current state to his dedication. “From the time he came into my class in 9th grade, he was not going to accept being satisfactory,” stated Neta Newton, math instructor for Durant High School.

    Louis studied under Newton for three years of pre-AP math, and AP Calculus during his senior year. As a reference towards his application to Gates, Newton speaks of Louis’s attitude towards academics as “always willing to go the extra distance.”

    Being recognized for his efforts in the classroom, Louis has been a regular on the Durant Superintendent’s Honor Roll. He seized the title of honor graduate as he remained in the top 10 percent of his class, and earned membership in the Oklahoma, Oklahoma Indian and National Honor Societies.

    Beyond the classroom, he was also involved in football, a sport he has played since early childhood and received honorable mention as all-district cornerback in his senior year. Holding multiple offices in the student council through the years and remaining active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes are also elements to his résumé which helped clinch the Gates. Piano has also been a passion in Louis’s youth. Playing his first notes at the age of 10, he advanced his skill to play the music of classic composers and eventually grace the stage of state competitions where he received a superior rating. He plans to expand his musical talents in the future with study of the violin.

    Throughout his life, education has been of utmost importance. He credits his mother, Terry Louis, as a key to his success. “She always demanded a lot and never let me just ‘get by’,” stated Louis as he humbly explained where he learned the importance of applying all his effort.

    “He’s always had the desire to excel in everything he does – mediocre didn’t cut it,” stated Terry as she spoke of her son’s success. “I look forward to the next chapter in his life and where it will lead him. It has been a blessing that he was selected as a Gates scholar and I give God all the glory.”

    Gabe reads along with a student, providing guidance.

    Currently, Louis is employed through the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s Workforce Investment Act (WIA) where he serves as a positive role model in the classroom at Washington Irving Elementary School in Durant. Washington Irving, participating in the Choctaw Nation Partnership of Summer School Education (POSSE) initiative, is hosting summer classes for young area children.

    Louis functions as a tutor and facilitator of daily activities. “I like mentoring kids – trying to get them on the right track,” Louis stated. This is his second year in this position. Before working with POSSE, he spent his summers serving the Choctaw Nation Child Care Development Center.

    “Gabe is a great role model for our students. His leadership skills are very evident,” stated Lisa Whitley, Louis’s summer supervisor, as she mentioned his positive impact on students.

    Spreading his knowledge of creating a high school résumé desirable to scholarship donors, Louis stated, “Don’t get discouraged. Keep applying and don’t let yourself get lazy or develop bad habits.” He also recommends that tribal members utilize the programs offered by their tribes, mentioning that Choctaw Nation Education had been significantly helpful in his academic efforts.

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    Ribbon Cutting Food Distribution Durant, OK“Chief Gary Batton, Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr., Councilman Ted Dosh along with other Councilmen and employees of the Food Distribution Center cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the new Food Distribution Center in Durant.” (By: DEIDRE ELORD)

    New food distribution center for the Durant area

    By Deidre Elrod
    Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    The Choctaw Nation celebrated a grand opening for a new food distribution center June 19. The new market location is at 2352 Big Lots Pkwy in Durant.

    The staff began the move from the old location May 29 till the 31. All of the shelves were stocked and the food was moved ready for clients to go shopping the morning of June 2.

    Jerry Tonubbee, Director of the Food Distribution Program said, “ Moving into the new store from the old one was like moving out of a dungeon and into a palace.”
    Julia Food Distribution

    The distribution center is approximately 7500 square feet and is set up like a typical grocery store with aisles of food to choose from like fresh fruits, vegetables and meats along with foods that are low in sodium and fats.

    “Typically a family on our program will receive approximately 85 pounds of food per household member per month,” said Tonubbee.

    In order to qualify for the program, at least one member of the household must have a CDIB, cannot be participating in the SNAP program and cannot exceed the income guideline set by the USDA that vary by family size.

    Tonubbee said, “In May, Durant served 358 households consisting of 834 people. We anticipate that number growing over the coming months.”

    Two more markets are planned for future sites in McAlester and Broken Bow areas.

    For more information about the Food Distribution Program call (580) 924-7773.

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    CoachBobFello_1_Coach Bob Fello guides a group of football camp participants Wednesday, June 25 in Durant. Youths going through football passing drills at the Day of Champions football camp in Durant. (Photos by BRANDON FRYE)

    Ken Heupel brings all-star cast of coaches to guide Choctaw Nation youth camp

    Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    DURANT– Coach Ken Heupel’s Day of Champions football camp drew 248 students of the game to Paul Laird Field on the Southeastern campus this week.
    Heupel brought an all-star cast of coaches to the two-day event, including Bob Fello of Kansas State, former Chicago Bears’ assistant coach Earl Mosely, Northwestern Oklahoma alum Waleed Gaines, ex-NFL player Will Harris and former OU wide receiver Jarrail Jackson.

    One of the highlights for attending youth was meeting Ken’s son Josh Heupel, a former OU quarterback who was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 2000.
    “This is a great opportunity to work with the Choctaw Nation,” Ken Heupel said. “They have a vision for their youth and their elders. And we teach young people how to listen and how to believe in themselves. And we’re also learning all the time.”

    Terri Confer, mother of eight-year-old camp attendee Ayden Confer, said she signed her son up to, “get some exercise and sunshine.” She added, “We come from a town that has no football, so this is a good opportunity.” Her son played youth football for a Durant league last year and she wants him to “strengthen, train and learn something new” at the camp.

    Heupel said the camp focuses on four principles: Discipline, respect, trust and hard work. The Day of Champions was one of several sports and cultural camps hosted by the Choctaw Nation throughout June. Other sports camps covered baseball, softball, basketball, golf and stickball.

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    LegacySoapAllison Crawford explains the different types of soaps she offers to a customer at the Choctaw Welcome Center in Colbert.
    (Photo by STEPHENIE OCHOA)

    Legacy Soaps now part of Choctaw Nation Store to serve local area residents.

    Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    DURANT– Artisans are often the torchbearers for a culture, teaching and sharing with others the spirit of a people who came before, with the spirit of talent and passion for contemporary additions of today. Of such torchbearers is a unique artist whose crafts were designed to heal and help.

    Allison Crawford, Choctaw goat’s milk soap maker, has dedicated her life to helping others in a very holistic and historical way, yet, with contemporary additions. Legacy Soaps, the name of Crawford’s business, was born out of the need to help a unique portion of society that she felt needed extra love and care, pediatric critical care patients.

    As a pediatric nurse, she began to research and use goat’s milk to specially design holistic products that could remedy various skin problems. As each bar was developed, Crawford helped many special cases as well as their family members never considering her soaps might be what helped her the most.

    Crawford originally planned soap making to be a pastime, however, when an accident left her unable to carry on as a nurse, the healing soaps allowed her to continue on with her dream of caring for others and also provided for her financially. Legacy Soaps became this artist’s full-time job and grew in size and are now carried in the Choctaw Nation Welcome Center Store and shipped throughout the United States as well as abroad with 10 different bars and custom creations available.

    As an artist and a caregiver, Crawford says she is fulfilled, “doing what you love is freedom and loving what you do is happiness.” Yet, when asked what her next goal is, Crawford says, “I always ask myself, how can I help or whom can I help next?”

    Legacy Soaps are all made in traditional Native American methods passed down from other Native soap makers and all ingredients are harvested from goats born and raised on her farm. She breeds, rears and milks her own goats then mixes, molds and cuts the soaps all by hand adding specially researched and tested oils and emollients for specific issues.

    A few of the conditions Legacy Soaps help with, she says, are anti-fungal needs, acne, dry skin, eczema, depression, muscle soreness, tension, antiseptics and other skin irritants. For additional information about Legacy Soaps, visit Legacy Soaps or visit the Choctaw Nation Store in Calera.

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    ChoctawOBNBox(From left to right) Sgt. Mike Johnson, Director of Law Enforcement R.D. Hendrix, Director of OBN Darrell Weaver, and Chief Agent of Enforcement Bob Cook stand with the new drug drop within the Choctaw Nation Public Safety Department. (Photo by Brandon Frye)

    Choctaw Nation Public Safety and Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics Provide Prescription Box

    Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    Durant-The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN) installed a permanent prescription drug drop off box inside the Choctaw Nation Public Safety Department at 1705 Locust St. on June 24, 2014.
    Any person can deposit unwanted and outdated prescription drugs and containers, which will serve to protect the environment from chemical pollution as well as safeguard against accidents and any possible abuse of substances. These OBN drop boxes are currently the only legal means of discarding medications safely in Oklahoma.

    “It’s a win-win,” R.D. Hendrix, Director of Choctaw Law Enforcement, said. “There is not a charge for it, OBN provides the box, they provide the service to come pick it up when it is full, and it’s convenient for all of our employees here to be able to utilize.”

    Statewide, OBN has taken back roughly 28 tons of unwanted prescriptions.

    The disposal box at the Choctaw Public Safety Department is the 158th to be installed within Oklahoma and is now one of three boxes available to citizens within the Durant area.

    Hendrix said OBN wants to take drugs off the streets. “I’m sure they saw, throughout the state, a lot of problems with prescription drugs,” he said. “Not only people selling them, but things happening in the homes.”

    Mark Woodward, OBN spokesman, said prescription drug abuse is a growing epidemic in Oklahoma and it is unsafe to leave outdated drugs in the house. “Old, expired medications left in the home can be targeted by users,” Woodward said. “Teenagers also target their parent’s current or expired prescription drugs to abuse, trade or sell in order to obtain alcohol, marijuana or other drugs.”

    These drop boxes are also vital for preventing potential disasters caused by keeping unnecessary medications in the home, Darrell Weaver, Director of OBN, said. “A lot of your elderly people, they usually have several medications, and a lot of times they get more than what they need. Once they pass on, what do the relatives do with the medication?” He added, “I always say this: it’s about saving lives and it will be well worth it if we can save at least one life.”

    The drop box inside the Choctaw Nation Public Safety Department will be available during the business hours of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Additional locations are available to citizens of Durant at the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office and Durant Police Department.

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    TimNevequayaChoctaw/Comanche artist Tim Nevequaya plays the flute at the Owa-Chito Festival of the Forest on June 22. (Photo by Zach Maxwell)

    Choctaw culture on display at Owa-Chito Festival

    Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    From a Choctaw judge at the annual art show to a ring of booths around a stickball field, the Choctaw Nation was on full display at the Owa-Chito Festival of the Forest last weekend at Beavers Bend State Park.

    Several aspects of Choctaw culture and life ways were in the offering for thousands of Owa-Chito visitors. Several tribal members from Texas and surrounding states visited booths displaying Choctaw beadwork, basketry, pottery and other items.
    Youth and adult stickball teams held demonstration games on Saturday, with heated competition in both games. Artisans including Judy Davis, Tim Nevequaya and Anthony Thompson demonstrated a variety of native art and expression.
    Choctaw food was available thanks to the senior volunteers from the Broken Bow area. The group cooked up “shukha nipi” (hog meat), tanchi labona (hominy soup) and Indian tacos with fry bread. The seniors also sang Choctaw hymns on the Group Camp stage.

    Storytelling was offered by Olin Williams, with cultural artifact usage demonstrations by Les Williston. Renowned artist DG Smalling helped judge more than 200 entries by 76 artists in the Kiamichi Owa-Chito Art Show.
    Traditional Choctaw colors were on full display with the social dancing demonstrations and the Miss Choctaw Owa-Chito pageant, which was held on Friday.

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    Gatekeeper to growth and development, Choctaws begin organizing for new initiative

    Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    DURANT– Sara-Jane Smallwood, Promise Zone Coordinator for the Choctaw Nation, spoke to local economic representatives, educators and business leaders at the third annual E3 Economic Summit at Southeastern Oklahoma State University June 17.

    Smallwood spoke of the designation of the Choctaw Nation as the first tribal Promise Zone, one of five areas in the U.S. to be selected. “The designation in January was a huge surprise and also a huge joy when we found out that we were the first and the only tribe to be designated as a Promise Zone in the country,” Smallwood said.

    President Barack Obama also designated urban and rural areas in San Antonio, Las Angeles, Philadelphia, and Southeastern Kentucky as Promise Zones, beginning the anti-poverty program aimed at providing resources and improving conditions for those communities.

    Smallwood said the initiative would enhance cooperation between federal agencies, governmental branches, community advocates and Native American tribes. “My job is to work with all of our leaders, both internally and externally, to figure out what our needs are and put the pieces together to communicate that to federal agencies,” Smallwood said. “Right now, we are focusing on a few key areas that we know will contribute to our economy and create a better workforce for tomorrow.”

    John Redman, Rural Development Specialist for the United States Development Agency (USDA), also speaking at the E3 Economic Summit, said the government wants to invest in what works by helping these Promise Zone areas define clear goals and gain access to more resources. “We’re going to try to fund as many projects as we can,” Redman said. “We are looking for new projects to partner with the Choctaw Nation and their local affiliates, so the Choctaw Nation is going to be a very important player in economic development here in the years looking forward.”

    Kathy Hendrick, Director of the Southeastern Center for Regional Competitiveness stated, “In general, the Choctaw Nation has already made a huge impact on the Southeastern Oklahoma areas and the Promise Zone initiative will only help those areas to develop and grow more.”

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    FixAssetsCN2014Choctaw Nation Fixed Assets Team (Photo by STEPHENIE OCHOA)

    Finance department helps nation to “Go Green”

    Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    DURANT– The Choctaw Nation Finance Department participated in a departmental recycling challenge to support the “Going Green” efforts of the Nation. As one of the largest departments within the Choctaw Nation, 15 sub-departments consisting of around 127 people were able to collect 54,657 pounds of recycled goods that translates to around 16.3 pounds of trash per person.

    The contest began early May and each team was responsible for the collection and drop off of recycling materials at the recycling center. Participants collected plastics, cell phones, newspapers, office paper, magazines, aluminum cans, printer cartridges, Styrofoam items, shredded paper, medicine bottles, phone books, cardboard and steel cans. The winning teams received certificates and the first place team won a certificate as well as a pizza party.

    The average pound-per-person team results are as follows:

    • 5th Place – Accounts Payable – 400 pounds
    • 4th Place – Employee Services and Payroll – 515 pounds
    • 3rd Place – Purchasing – 1,189 pounds
    • 2nd Place – General Fund – 1,635 pounds
    • 1st Place – Fixed Assets – 1,892 pounds

    The Fixed Assets team is comprised of only six members including Tracy Sikes, Karra Huffman, Patricia Lilley, Jeremy Loper, Willie Toombs, and Violet Wilson but surprised the Nation with its team contributions. Lori Taylor from the Finance Event Committee said, “We chose recycling as a group project to help encourage teamwork and boost employee morale and we think that we successfully accomplished that.”

    Senior Executive Director of Finance Ryan Garner said, “I was amazed at everyone’s enthusiastic response to the challenge and the amount of recycling turned in during the four-week period.”

    The 54,657 pounds of recycled goods were received and processed by the Choctaw Nation Durant recycling center located at 3108 Enterprise Drive in Durant. The center is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For additional information about the recycling and the Choctaw Nation visit Choctaw Nation and Going Green.

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  • 07/18/14--09:41: Going the extra mile
  • Choctaw member Bailee Hopkins accepted to Cornell

    Bailee_Hopkins This fall, many Choctaws will begin their first semester of college. It is an increasing trend for young Choctaws to seek higher education at some of America’s finest institutions. One such student is Bailee Hopkins of Douglas County, Colo., who has recently been accepted to Cornell University.

    Hopkins’ acceptance to such a significant institution can be attributed to her exceptional resume of volunteer work and community involvement. Also, utilizing services through the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) allowed her to make a personal connection directly to Cornell’s recruitment staff.

    Harboring dreams of becoming a medical doctor, Hopkins made ample effort to ensure she would receive a proper education. “I had no idea where I was going to be accepted, as most of the schools I liked had extremely low acceptance rates. So to be sure I could achieve my dream of becoming a medical doctor, I applied to many schools and was pleasantly surprised by the amazing and overwhelming outcome,” stated Hopkins.

    Because of her extensive efforts, she was accepted to a dozen institutions from New York to California and even Hawaii. Those efforts included a large amount of volunteer work and attendance to medical and nutritional seminars with her father, Dr. Paul Hopkins.

    “My knowledge of functional medicine, chemistry, biochemistry, genetics and epigenetics is ever expanding since I began attending these extracurricular classes,” stated Hopkins, who is certified in Level 1 Functional Medicine as a result of her dedication.

    “That’s what stood out to me,” stated Kathy Halbig, student development specialist for the Cornell American Indian Program, as she commented on Hopkins’ evident interest in her desired field of education. These extra efforts show that she has real interest and gives her talking points when interviewing, according to Halbig.

    “After listening to [Halbig’s] presentation and meeting with her personally, I was absolutely ready to attend Cornell that evening. She was very instrumental, kind and helpful in my decision to attend Cornell,” stated Hopkins, who had met Halbig at the 2013 Ivy League and Friends event hosted by CNO. “My favorite part about Cornell is their strong Native American program with many clubs, a Native housing building [Akwe:kon the Residential Native American Program House] and being able to acquire a minor in American Indian Studies.”

    Halbig went on to mention that Hopkins had done substantial research before meeting at the Ivy League event. Her prior investigation and knowledge of the particulars of Cornell had given her an edge. Students like Bailee ask the right questions, according to Halbig.

    Hopkins attributes her strong start in education to her homeschooling. “Homeschooling allowed me to take numerous advanced courses. I was able to tailor my education to my needs as a dyslexic and move more quickly through academia,” declared Hopkins as she praised the customizability of her education. “This also helped with time for extracurricular and volunteering activities.”

    Those volunteer efforts included work with churches, animal rescue, teaching local children baton twirling, tutoring French and mathematics and assisting the Chaparral Marching Band with their fundraising at a local pool snack stand and firework stand.

    Within her animal rescue activities, Hopkins organized a community outreach group in her youth to save and train homeless kittens. “This is a caring and fun group that has gradually grown into an important and giving experience,” mentioned Hopkins. “This is a very challenging, fun and rewarding activity that is close to my heart,” she continued.

    Another form of volunteerism that has meant a great deal to Hopkins is her time dedicated to the Chaparral High School Marching Band, raising funds through work at the Snack Shack. Her work, which consists of stocking shelves, ordering new inventory, etc., has raised money the band has used for uniforms and travel expenses.

    “The most unique aspect of my community service for Chaparral’s marching band is that I am not a member of their band,” Hopkins declared. One week each summer while the band is at camp, Hopkins keeps the Snack Shack operational, which allows for continual fund generation and permits each band member to attend the camp. “I am honored to be a part of the Chaparral Band’s fundraising and to support our community.”

    Hopkins was raised by her father, whom she admires and accredits many of her traits. “He has taught me the virtues to be kind, work hard, use honesty and integrity, to study hard to be a success, and always help people with little means,” she stated.

    When Hopkins is not volunteering or attending medical seminars, her hobbies include baton twirling, dance and playing the violin and piano. She is excited to put her outgoing spirit and work ethic to use at Cornell as she pursues her goal of becoming a medical doctor with hopes to practice medicine at Native clinics.

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  • 07/23/14--09:37: An Unstoppable Attitude
  • Makerney_hero_imageSgt. Kisha Makerney atop Mount Kilimanjaro

    An Unstoppable Attitude

    Sgt. Kisha Makerney thrives, despite loss of leg

    Kisha prepares for a scuba dive
    in Guantanamo Bay

    A conversation with Army National Guardsman Sgt. Kisha Makerney is a motivating experience. In the face of seemingly detrimental odds, she has not only thrived, but accomplished more in a few years than many will in a lifetime.

    As a Choctaw who grew up in Fort Towson, Okla., Makerney excitedly began her military service with the Army National Guard at the age of 17 and subsequently embarked on her first tour at age 18, where she was stationed in Iraq.

    Returning from her inaugural tour of duty, Makerney was in a motorcycle accident that claimed her left leg at the age of 20. Due to her accident not occurring during service, Makerney was responsible for her rehabilitation.

    Fresh out of her teens and full of vigor, she was determined to return to active military service. She was taught basic physical therapy and fitted with her first prosthetic limb in October of 2005. “I pretty much had to teach myself how to walk, run and march… All the stuff that was needed to remain a soldier,” Makerney stated as she recalled the first steps to overcoming her adverse situation.

    In 2007 she returned to Iraq as the first female amputee soldier in a combat zone where she trained Iraqi correctional officers for the prison system. Her love for service aided in overcoming the obstacles created by the loss of her leg.

    That dedication stemmed from a strong family history of service and early admiration for soldiers. “I have been drawn to the military my whole life,” stated Makerney. “I just feel like I was made for it. I just know it.”

    Having both grandfathers serve in the military sparked a young Makerney’s interests. She recalls the captivating stories as a girl that inspired her to pursue a military career. These recollections of history and her natural zest drew her to where the action would likely be found.

    Returning to Iraq in 2007 for a second tour, various physical ailments associated with the accident continually beset Makerney. Upon returning stateside, she sought assistance in caring for those issues. She learned that the Center for the Intrepid (CFI), located in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, had recently opened its doors to assist servicemen and women and sought CFI’s assistance in improving herself.

    Upon arriving at CFI, Makerney was ecstatic to have ample resources available as well as the ability to connect with other soldiers who had similar experiences and situations. Spending approximately 18 months at CFI, she improved all her physical abilities, became increasingly motivated as she met fellow amputee soldiers and was fitted with upgraded prosthetics.

    Kisha and her brother SPC Tommy Makerney
    at Camp Cooper, Iraq in 2008

    “You tell them anything you want to do and they will probably teach you,” Makerney stated as she praised CFI for their assistance.

    The “anything” she mentioned turned out to be many things. Since her time at CFI, she has accomplished numerous notable feats. From skydiving to scuba diving with manta rays in Hawaii, Makerney is never left without an interesting contribution to a conversation.

    Following her time at CFI, Makerney earned a position in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit while competing in the 2010 Warrior Games hosted at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. She continued service as a member of the U.S. Army for a year, where she made the U.S. Shooting Team.

    After her year with the U.S. Army, Makerney returned to the National Guard and remained on the shooting team where she competed in the Olympic Trials. After a couple years of service, she returned to CFI to be fitted for an updated prosthesis in 2013.

    While there, her physical therapist Mark Heniser, who was an instructor for her past scuba adventures, had recently been asked to journey to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Knowing the challenge of climbing a mountain would pique Makerney’s interest; Heniser encouraged her to join the hiking team, The Kilimanjaro Warriors. This group consisted of six soldiers who would use prosthetics to conquer the quest and five “Wingmen,” to accompany the hiking party.

    “Physically, it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life,” stated Makerney. Telling of the journey, she recalled bouts of altitude sickness, complications with her prosthetics and other difficulties. As the trek became harsh, Makerney did what she had learned to do in every tough situation – lean on her faith.

    “You can reach down and you can find God and He can give you the strength to overcome anything,” Makerney stated as she remembered how she found faith through the struggles of not only Kilimanjaro, but of the many other mountains she had to conquer in her life. “I didn’t lose my leg in the war, and because of that, I kind of fell in the cracks and was on my own.”

    In the time following her amputation, Makerney recalls a depressed state. “I fell into that pit and didn’t know how to get out of it,” she stated. In her distress she turned to God, learning what it really meant to have true faith. She spoke of always believing in God since childhood, but finding real, life-changing faith in the face of her trials.

    Since finding that faith, she has gone on to accomplish the aforementioned feats, as well countless others. In Makerney’s eyes, her ascension of Kilimanjaro was not for herself, but was a testament to all soldiers who have lost something, telling them that there is still hope for a full life. “We need more hope in the world,” declared Makerney.

    Following her excursion, she entered the “Where Have Your Legs Taken You?” promotion hosted by Nair, in which participants were asked to submit a picture of a notable life accomplishment along with a short essay about the experience. Her photo atop Kilimanjaro and strong support from Makerney’s family, friends and fellow soldiers allowed her to clinch the $10,000 prize. “They came together and helped me win. I wouldn’t of even came close to winning if it weren’t for them.

    This award, meant to assist the recipient in reaching future life goals, will help fund Makerney’s current endeavor of becoming a pilot. Presently, she is enrolled in the aviation program at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Okla. The award from Nair, accompanied by her involvement with Choctaw Nation programs such as the Higher Education and Career Development Programs are making it possible for her to attain an aviation degree.

    As a guest of the television show,
    Veteran Outdoors, Kisha was invited on a
    world-class hunting trip.

    With this flight education, Makerney hopes to apply the skill to either a military or emergency response career. This decision falls in line with her adventurous personality. “I am an adrenaline junk,” stated Makerney as she recalled her past experiences and love for anything that gets her blood pumping.

    As she pursues her degree from Southeastern, she is still active in the National Guard with the 3120th Engineer Support Company based in Muskogee where she is a heavy equipment operator. She spends her leisure in the outdoors hunting, fishing and camping, and attends Believers Church in Durant. She aspires to be a continual motivation to those around her as she seeks to overcome new and exciting challenges.

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    Choctaw Elder Curtis Pugh
    Curtis Pugh (Photo by Choctaw Nation)

    Poteau resident visited over 300 churches, founded Christian school, and founded his own church

    Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    DURANT, Okla.–- While many descendants from the Choctaw removed from Mississippi to Oklahoma still live within the state, the majority have relocated throughout the years all across the United Sates and internationally.

    Poteau resident Curtis Pugh, while currently living only a few miles from his birthplace of Heavener, has traveled thousands of miles sharing the Gospel as a missionary in the United States and internationally. He was born to Lois McAlvain and Jerome Pugh in 1944. As a youngster, his mother, Lois McAlvain Pugh, worked at the Sequoyah Indian School in Tahlequah. Pugh would have preferred to attend Sequoyah but at that time children of employees were not allowed to attend the boarding school.

    He began his service of ministry at the young age of 16, by traveling once a month to a small community near Quinton called Palestine. He describes his first congregation as fine and patient people and states, “I felt sorry for them because I didn’t know much back then and still don’t know much.” After he would finish preaching, someone would usually take him home to feed him and he would drive back home to Tahlequah after Sunday service.

    He met his wife, Janet Killian, while attending Bible College in Memphis, Tenn., and first introduced himself by telling her he was going to marry her, but admits that is probably not the best way to acquire a date. He chuckles and shares that many of the young female students attending Bible College would attend so they could “get their bachelor.” Janet finally agreed to go on a walk with him, which led to more walks, and they were married on January 29, 1966. They were blessed with two daughters, Anna Cattemull of Auckland, New Zealand, and Ruthie McLellan of Poteau and have eight grandchildren. The Pughs were married for over 45 years until Janet passed away in July 2011.

    Pugh freely admits he has not always done what God had instructed him to do and instead drove a truck for many years to support his family. After many years, God “broke my heart and brought me back so I spent 26 ½ years doing mission work.” He spent 15 years in Canada and 11 ½ years in Romania.

    In Ontario, he pastored the Six Nations Indian Reserve, which had 10,000 Indians on their band list, for five years. He and his wife started a Christian school at the reservation that is still operating after 27 years. From there, he and Janet went onto the Yukon Territory, but before they could make the journey they would travel to different churches to share the next journey God was leading them.

    Pugh estimates they ended up visiting close to 300 churches until they were located with the Tlingit people in a village about 50 miles south of White Horse, in the far northwest corner of the Yukon Territory near Alaska. Next stop was Romania, but would require him and Janet to visit churches for support for approximately one year before they could make the journey.

    While in Romania, they were able to learn about the different levels of communism throughout the country, but also realized the people were among the most generous they had met, and relished anything from the United States. Pugh pastored at a small, country church where they could fit in approximately 150 people. Eventually he was able to start his own church. The building had no air-conditioning, and only a wood-stove for heating in the winter. Nonetheless, people would travel by foot to attend services.

    While in Romania, Pugh was able to witness how simple tasks in the United States would be tiresome and complex in the every day life of Romania, such as waiting in long lines to buy bread, milk, and on occasion, fruits and vegetables. Even though life in Romania is very tough and rugged, Pugh shares that if his health allowed him, he would be back in Romania or traveling back and forth. He is a 7th generation LeFlore County area Choctaw and was one of the contributors of the book, “Touch My Tears” by Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer.

    Pugh may have spent almost half his life outside the borders of the United States, but the love and labor as a missionary sharing the Gospel in remote and foreign areas is truly reflective of the Choctaw history of serving others.

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    Choctaw Firefighters 1
    Choctaw Nation Forestry Department Prevention Tech, Joshua Bates.

    Uniquely trained Choctaw forestry team travels to aid U.S.

    Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    DURANT, Okla.– Recently, two forestry team members returned from a 16-day stent in Arizona battling an intense fire on Apache lands. Prevention tech Joshua Bates and Wallace Kitchel, dozer operator, were dispatched to the fire due to the need for special fire fighting techniques.

    The Choctaw Nation Tribal Forestry Services Department is a unique forestry wild land fire-fighting unit within the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma departmental services covering the entire tribal lands of the Nation. The highly specialized forestry team is comprised of a 6-man crew whose certifications include very dangerous and arduous physical task achievements along with unique skill sets required to be in the department. Some members have mechanical training, some are prevention officers but all can be called for a specific position within forest fires.

    The Choctaw Nation Forestry Department is nestled within the Talihina city limits and is one of the few departments on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and always ready to respond anywhere within the 10 1/2 county stretch. The team is also ready to respond to other area dispatches from the Oklahoma Forestry Department whom can pull them into any Oklahoma forested area, as well as other heavily forested states, specifically if tribal lands.

    In addition to fighting forest fires, the team also responds to calls for help during or after natural disasters such as with Hurricane Sandy. Areas the team has been called to include Arizona, California, Oregon, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Louisiana.

    According to the Director of Forestry, Tom Lowry, “In order to be a forestry firefighter you must be highly trained and motivated to help, but also be able to function during unimaginable stress. These guys have the toughest job in the worst conditions and there are lives at stake.

    Lowry explained the rigorous training that is involved for every wild land firefighter, “because mistakes can cause lives to be lost, forestry crews are continually updating, adding to or perfecting their skills. They each have personalized planning programs for achieving better knowledge. Many of the tasks they strive to perfect have to be successfully completed three times to get certified in the skill set, and once certification is acquired for this job, they will keep up with retraining efforts to stay up to date.”

    Choctaw Firefighters 2

    Wild land firefighters are different from traditional fire fighting teams in that they are focused only on the lands and individuals within those areas. If a house or building is on fire, the forestry team will focus more on the land that the structure is on and the lands relative to it versus the building. Also, the methods for fighting land fires vary greatly from structure fires. Clearing the path of a fire, digging fire lines, and burning out fires are the most common ways these unique firefighters use.

    Lowry added that he is proud of the team and they all possess unique talents or gifts that allow them to work well as a team. He says, “This crew, they never even blink an eye at what has to be done, they just do it. They have been together for many years and they function more as a family than as coworkers and this is what makes them great.”

    Bates says everybody on the team has the same set of goals within the department, “We just want to protect lives and property and then to come home safely.” Bates has been with the department and has seen many trips throughout the country along with many other fires on home ground and describes fighting fires by saying, “Good communication is important and every fire is different. You have to do whatever you can to get a fire stopped to keep people and places safe.” Bates also stated that forestry fire crews are all very talented individuals and he appreciates the opportunity to meet such amazing people.

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  • 07/25/14--06:40: Haileyville leading the way
  • Haileyville Teachers
    Haileyville teachers Brian Weaver and Louise Mitchell are at the top of their game – instructing high school students to create children’s books in the Choctaw language. (Photo by ZACH MAXWELL)

    High school students win awards at Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair

    Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

    DURANT, Okla. - Brian Weaver and Louise Mitchell have won it anonti. (That’s Choctaw for “again.”) The Haileyville High School teachers have led their students to a pair of projects which have earned awards at the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair. Weaver’s class took the blue ribbon for a third time with Opa Yvt Yakni Moma Nitak I Nowa (Owl Visits Day World). Mitchell’s class wrote and illustrated Okak Iskitini (Little Swan), an adaptation of Cinderella, and it took the second-place statewide prize at the April fair hosted by the Sam Noble Museum Department of Native American Languages.

    Their students work with Choctaw language instructor Virginia Espinoza via IETV distance learning. Espinoza is one of many teachers offering Choctaw to high schools throughout the Choctaw Nation via televised distance learning. “I tell students that by the end of the second semester, they will have to write a story (in Choctaw),” Espinoza said. “Haileyville has been the leader. They are the first ones who wrote a book and drew the pictures. I’m very proud of these classes.”

    Between them, Weaver and Mitchell have gathered six awards at the language fair over the last several years. “We’re serious about our Choctaw language,” said Weaver. “I like to do books that involve animals because a lot of stories and legends involve animals. The pictures hook you too, as well as the story.”

    His goal is to publish some of the children’s books to pass on the knowledge and effort of his current and former students. Mitchell’s class turned in an illustrated storybook 12 pages in length - and that’s just in Choctaw, not including English translation. “It’s not something you can throw together in a couple of days,” she said. “The girls enjoy it, and they’re talkers so that helps them stay in context. We knew what our theme was and we looked for pictures which could go with it.” In addition to the book, Mitchell’s class sang in Choctaw at a holiday pageant, choosing Christmas carols as well as “The Star Spangled Banner” translated into Choctaw. The class also performed at the School of Choctaw Language 2013 program finale.

    “I’m learning every year. Mr. Weaver talks to me all the time in Choctaw,” Mitchell said. “But I’m retiring in two years and I’ve got to beat him (to first place) before I leave!” Weaver enjoys learning new languages and passing that gift along to his students, both Choctaw and non-Choctaw.

    “You see a lot of town names and creek names which you didn’t know before, and now they have meaning,” Weaver said. “I look at Choctaw as a gift. They learn a lot about the culture. It’s been a fun experience.” Weaver’s students this year included Cheyenne Downum, Kensey Davidson, Victoria Cole, Desiree Rhodes, and Kevan Stidmon. Mitchell’s class included Breanna Dalpaos, Shelby Drake, Hailey Gorden, and Megan Rich.

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