Chickasaw Nation continues on path of strength, progress

This article appeared in the November 2021 edition of the Chickasaw Times

State of the Nation

ADA, Okla. - “We have always been a nation of strong people and, in turn, a strong nation because of our people,” Governor Bill Anoatubby said during his annual State of the Nation address Oct. 2.

Delivering the State of the Nation virtually for the second consecutive year, Gov. Anoatubby spoke directly to the Chickasaw people.

“Fellow Chickasaws, the Chickasaw Nation is the strongest it has ever been – and is still getting stronger,” he said. “History has shown us that our people and our nation have faced and overcome many challenges.

“We are pleased to report our financial position is excellent.”

In fiscal year 2021, Chickasaw Nation net assets increased 31.5%.

“Our financial outlook is strong, which allows us to continue to develop new programs while expanding and adapting current services to meet ever-changing circumstances,” Gov. Anoatubby said.

During the past 18 months, several tribal programs and services pivoted to virtual formats, while others have implemented extra precautions to serve Chickasaw citizens and the community safely.

Meeting the Mission

Strategic plans were formulated and implemented to continue to serve Chickasaw citizens regardless of the circumstance, including meeting health care needs.

“We expanded virtual visit capability across the Department of Health and developed plans to continue to offer high quality health care throughout this crisis and beyond,” Gov. Anoatubby said.

As a result, more than 46,000 patients were treated virtually in the past year.

During the pandemic, Chickasaw Nation Senior Centers delivered curbside meals for many months and Area Offices provided curbside services before reopening in June.

Chickasaw Nation Nutrition Services locations also offered curbside delivery, fulfilling more than 18,000 grocery orders at five locations.

The Impa’Chi (Let’s Eat) program shipped more than one million meals to more than 3,000 Chickasaw children living within Oklahoma.

The Chickasaw Nation, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, hosted 18 “Farmers to Families” drive-thru food distribution events in all 13 counties within the Chickasaw Nation.

“These events allowed the distribution of more than 500,000 pounds of food into our communities,” Gov. Anoatubby said.

Maintaining education as a top priority, the Chickasaw Nation awarded almost 4,900 Chickasaw students $26.3 million in higher education grants and scholarships.

Chickasaw Nation child care centers, Chickasaw Youth Clubs and after school programs were reopened following installation of air filtration systems, disinfecting and sanitizing machines and staff vaccinations.

Citizen and Community Support Programs

The Chickasaw Nation Emergency Citizen Support program was established to assist Chickasaw citizens nationwide, providing direct payment assistance for purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE), distance learning and telework needs for those negatively impacted by COVID-19.

Direct service assistance was available for Chickasaws nationwide who experienced a loss of income due to COVID-19. In total, the Citizen Support Program assisted more than 15,000 Chickasaw citizens with almost $10 million.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) provides rent and utility assistance to eligible households who have experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19. More than 2,000 Chickasaw citizens have been assisted to date with more than $4.8 million.

Immunity for the Community

Health care has been a long-standing top priority for the Chickasaw Nation. Because of its commitment to safeguarding public health, the Chickasaw Nation expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to everyone, regardless of tribal affiliation.

Chickasaw Nation Lt. Governor Chris Anoatubby detailed the months-long initiative to keep the community safe.

“To date, we have administered more than 68,000 total doses of the vaccine,” Lt. Gov. Anoatubby said. “We are happy to report that just over 80% of our employees have been vaccinated. Because of this, we have been able to continue offering vital programs and services as safely as possible.”

Several new facilities were built or remodeled to aid in testing and providing vaccinations, including an Alternative Care Facility, a 40,000 square-foot Emergency Operations Facility, laboratory expansion and nine caring cottages to be used for quarantine patients after a positive COVID-19 test.

The 2021 American Rescue Plan funds vital programs and the tribal Economic Assistance for Citizen and Households (EACH) program. Established Sept. 15, the EACH program provides direct assistance to eligible Chickasaw citizens living in households experiencing negative economic impacts due to COVID-19.

Housing and Infrastructure

The Chickasaw Nation continues to invest in infrastructure and develop quality, affordable housing.

Sixty homes are currently under construction at Hilltop Meadow Addition in Ada.

“When completed, this housing addition will greatly reduce the waiting list for houses in Pontotoc County, and will provide the opportunity for many Chickasaw families to purchase a new home,” Gov. Anoatubby said.

An additional 15 houses in four counties were completed this year through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

More than three miles of roads have been rebuilt, and five miles of road reconstruction is currently under way within the Chickasaw Nation. In addition, 42 miles of roads in 11 counties and 35 facilities have been improved or repaired.

Significant Court Updates

A July 2020 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the Chickasaw Nation reservation boundaries and expanded the tribe’s criminal justice responsibilities.

“Prior to a historic United States Supreme Court decision in July of 2020, our primary criminal justice responsibilities included only 3.5% of the Chickasaw Nation treaty territory,” Gov. Anoatubby said. “Since that ruling, an Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals decision made those responsibilities now include all of our treaty territory. That is almost a thirty-fold increase in geographic area.”

These increased duties, he said, have fallen primarily to the Chickasaw Nation Lighthorse Police and office of Tribal Justice Administration.

“We also continue to work closely with leaders of the Legislative and Judicial Departments of Chickasaw Nation government to ensure proper implementation of the tribe’s responsibilities,” Gov. Anoatubby said. “Collaboration with state and local governments is also important.”

An Aug. 12, 2021, Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruling prevents appeals of sentences that were final prior to the July 9, 2020 Supreme Court ruling.

“That eliminates a concern that convicts may appeal cases that have been tried many years before,” Gov. Anoatubby said. “That is no longer a concern.”

The Chickasaw Nation has established a crime victims support hotline, tribal laws have been enhanced, and law enforcement partnerships have been strengthened.

“Our team is doing incredible work protecting public safety and maintaining law and order,” Gov. Anoatubby said. “While much remains to be done, we will continue to focus on developing solutions to challenges that arise while seizing the opportunities presented.”

Chickasaw Foundation

The Chickasaw Foundation celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Best known for providing scholarships, the Chickasaw Foundation has assisted disaster relief in Oklahoma communities, food pantries, emergency services, fellowships and more. It also helps Chickasaw families and employees in need.

“We look forward to 50 more years of the Chickasaw Foundation’s continued growth as they continue promoting the general welfare and culture of the Chickasaw people,” Gov. Anoatubby said.

Business Development

In June, ground was broken for a new 33,000 square-foot headquarters for Chickasaw Community Bank. Formerly known as Bank2, the bank has served Oklahoma City and First Americans across the U.S. for two decades.

“This new Chickasaw Community Bank will make an impressive addition to Oklahoma City and help us better serve our existing customers and aid in building new relationships,” Gov. Anoatubby said.

Culture and Humanities

To protect the Chickasaw language, a committee of fluent Chickasaw speakers was organized in the 1990s. A committee function is to create new Chickasaw terms, so the language continues to be a living language. Since 2008, more than 200 words have been added. Soon, several culturally-centered Chickasaw emojis will be released for mobile devices.

This year also marks the 15th anniversary of the Chickasaw Press, which has published 62 titles since its 2006 establishment. Five new titles will be released this fall. The Press also publishes the biannual Chickasaw Historical Society Journal and Chokma magazine.

“An Original Brand,” a Chickasaw Heritage Series’ documentary detailing the life of Chickasaw rancher Montford Johnson, is set to be released later this year and a documentary about early Chickasaw leader Piominko is currently in post-production.

“Our nation is strong because we are a united people,” Gov. Anoatubby said. “Just as these bonds have served us throughout history, we can be certain they will carry us long into the future. Today, as we celebrate our progress and look ahead to even greater heights, we can be certain the State of our Nation - the Chickasaw Nation - is strong and getting stronger!”