Published October 2, 2016
TISHOMINGO, OKLAHOMA – Hundreds of Chickasaws and friends packed Fletcher Auditorium and adjacent overflow tents on the campus of Murray State College to hear the state of the nation address delivered by Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby.
Delivering his address to an enthusiastic crowd Saturday morning during the 56th Chickasaw Nation Annual Meeting, Gov. Anoatubby traced the success of the Chickasaw Nation back to the vision of those Chickasaws who met at Seeley Chapel in 1960.
Many in the audience were keenly aware the first annual meeting in the modern era took place when the government of the Chickasaw Nation was comprised of a single official, a governor who was appointed by the President of the United States.
“At that time, our people came together with a vision for the future – a vision of self-governance and self-determination – a vision of a thriving culture and a united people,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “And with that vision in mind, they took those first bold steps toward reasserting our sovereignty and ensuring our future progress.”
After setting the stage, he went on to state “I am pleased to report that the state of the Chickasaw Nation is strong – that we continue to prosper. And, that we remain vigilant in the protection of our lands, our culture and our sovereignty.”
Gov. Anoatubby declared that a recent water rights agreement between the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations, the state of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City is one example of the tribe’s ongoing efforts to protect and defend sovereignty.
The historic agreement, first announced in August, resolves long-standing questions over water rights and regulatory authority over waters in the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations.
“While we have been sovereign since time immemorial, sovereignty is something we should never take for granted,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “As tribal leaders, we have a duty to engage in this process and exercise our rights as sovereign nations to protect the interests of our people.
“Through this settlement process we were able to find a way to preserve and protect the water resources essential to economic growth and quality of life in south-central and southeastern Oklahoma while still providing water needed to meet the needs of the people of Oklahoma City, many of whom are Chickasaw and Choctaw.”
Under the agreement, the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations will have a meaningful and active voice in the management of water resources within the boundaries of the two tribes.
“This agreement is a win for the entire state, because it provides a foundation for a deeper relationship based on engagement, collaboration and cooperation and offers the best opportunity to manage those resources in a manner that will help ensure a strong economy and thriving natural environment for generations to come,” said Gov. Anoatubby.
Noting that revival of the language is one of the significant ways the tribe preserves its culture, Gov. Anoatubby announced that the first set of Chickasaw language lessons in the Rosetta Stone format will be complete before the end of the year. That first set will include 40 interactive video lessons.
“Our language team has been working diligently to produce these lessons so that Chickasaws everywhere will benefit from Rosetta Stone’s proven language-immersion model,” said Gov. Anoatubby, adding that a team of elders has been working to make this possible. “Day after day, these elders translated scripts, reviewed videos and developed the language material.”
Each Chickasaw citizen will have full access to the Chickasaw language Rosetta Stone program free of charge. An online version and audio version on CD will be available before the end of the year. A mobile application is under development and will be available in the summer of 2017.
“We are excited about this and other projects designed to make the Chickasaw language more accessible than ever, ensuring the state of our language remains strong for many generations to come,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “To fund important projects such as this, we continue to pursue proven business models, to diversify our portfolio and to be good stewards of tribal resources.”
Despite a downturn in the Oklahoma economy, due in large part to lower oil prices, the Chickasaw Nation has continued to experience significant growth in its business revenues. Business income has increased by almost 7 percent, while net assets of the Chickasaw Nation grew 10 percent.
Diversification is an integral part of the tribe’s business strategy. Chickasaw Nation Industries was established 20 years ago as part of those diversification efforts. More recently, Sovereign Medical Solutions was established to expand healthcare services to the larger community.
“Expansion of our core businesses and selective diversification into new markets has resulted in higher than forecasted growth and unprecedented commercial earnings,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “For several years, we have been working to diversify our business holdings and we are now involved in a number of industries – manufacturing, energy, health care, media, technology, hospitality, retail and tourism.
“Growing revenue and assets, however, is only part of the equation to our continued financial success. Not only have we balanced our budget every year since 1987, that budget has provided additional program funding each and every year. A very important part of the financial equation, however, is making the most of the dollars that we have.” One example of stewardship of resources is the repayment of bonds used to build the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center.
In December, 2007, the Chickasaw Nation issued $90 million in bonds to help finance construction of the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center. Total cost of the medical center was more than $150 million, with tribal business revenues used to fund the remaining costs. The balance owed on those bonds is less than $7 million and a sinking fund has been established to retire the remainder of that debt in December 2018, 14 years ahead of schedule.
“Our employees, across every department, are continually engaged in the conservation of tribal funds and expansion of stewardship initiatives,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “We call it ‘responsible stewardship.’ Tribal resources are put to work in very visible ways.”
Building for the future
Building new facilities is one of the most visible, and the tribe has more than a dozen construction projects underway in communities across south-central Oklahoma. In Purcell, an expansion of the health clinic, as well as construction of a new area office and wellness center are all nearing completion.
In Oklahoma City, the tribe recently broke ground on a senior center, as well as a community center on property previously owned by the Sportsman’s Club. The community center and senior center, which will serve hundreds of Chickasaws in the area, are the first such facilities to be built outside the boundaries of the Chickasaw Nation.
In Ada, five new facilities are under construction on the campus of the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center. These include a new violence prevention center, women’s recovery center, Emergency Medical Services building, Veterans Lodge and Apila Center.
The Apila Center will house administrators and staff responsible for organizing the day-to-day operations of the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center. More than 100 employees will move from the medical center to the Apila Center.
This will free up about 29,000 square feet of space in the medical center that will be used to expand medical services, including family practice, internal medicine, optometry, mental health and pediatrics.
“We have been building medical support facilities and expanding medical services for good reason,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “Patient visits to the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center and clinics continue to increase. This year alone, we have already had more than 815,000 patient visits to our health care facilities.”
In Tishomingo, six construction projects are scheduled for completion within the next two months. These include a new community center, senior center and Head Start building. The building formerly used as a health clinic is being remodeled for a new Tishomingo Area Office and a Youth Club.
An information center nearing completion in Tishomingo is part of the tribe’s tourism initiative. The information center will serve as a gateway for the many attractions in the area, including the Chickasaw Capitol Building and Council House Museum, Chickasaw White House, Tishomingo Wildlife Refuge and Blue River.
“We are proud of Tishomingo, our historic capitol,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “We want visitors to the Chickasaw Nation to explore our history.”
The Adventure Road campaign is an integral part of the tourism initiative. Now entering its second year, the campaign generated 385,000 new trips in 2015, resulting in approximately $647 million in visitor spending from March to September 2015.
Gov. Anoatubby noted that the Adventure Road campaign continues drawing visitors to Chickasaw Country attractions such as the Artesian Hotel and the Chickasaw Cultural Center. The Artesian has hosted more than 180,000 visitors since it opened three years ago, while the Chickasaw Cultural Center reached the milestone of 500,000 visitors since it opened in 2010.
Several projects in the area are designed to enhance tourism. A new 65,000 square foot convention center was recently completed at WinStar World Casino in Thackerville.
“This convention center will usher in a new era of international conference and convention hosting that will draw more people to Chickasaw Country than ever before,” said Gov. Anoatubby.
A large suspension footbridge connecting the Chickasaw Cultural Center with the Chickasaw National Recreation Area is also nearing completion.
“This bridge will be an important symbol of the partnership and connection between the park and the tribe,” said Gov. Anaotubby. “And will become a destination in its own right.”
Partnerships are also an important aspect of the Chickasaw Nation strategy to offer educational opportunities from early childhood through adulthood.
“We continue to foster partnerships with institutions of higher education,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “The Chokka’ Kilimpi’ Recruitment and Retention program, for instance, works with the University of Oklahoma, the University of Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma City Community College to assist Chickasaw students with finding funds, developing strong study habits and attaining employment after graduation.”
The Chickasaw Nation also partnered with Oklahoma State University to develop the Center for Sovereign Nations, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. The center promotes the success of Native American students by connecting them to scholarships and resources and promotes the understanding of sovereignty with monthly Sovereignty Speaks luncheons.
University of Oklahoma President David Boren recently announced the Native Nations Center, which will be led by Chickasaw citizen Dr. Amanda Cobb-Greetham. As Chair of Native American Studies, Dr. Cobb-Greetham will promote curriculum in tribal governance, indigenous arts, and Native language, history and culture.
Another important development is the foundation of the Chickasaw Nation Native American Law Chair at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. This is the first Native American Law Chair to be held by a permanent faculty member at any law school in the United States.
Early childhood education is also a high priority for the Chickasaw Nation. A new child development center will open soon in Ardmore, bringing 70 new jobs.
“Our children and grandchildren are our future, and we want to ensure they succeed,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “For that reason, we continue to build early childhood education and child development centers.”
In addition to offering education opportunities to youth, the tribe also offers a variety of active learning environments after school and during the summer months.
“We continue to develop camps, clinics and academies that inspire our youth and provide them with the opportunity to pursue their interests and develop important skills,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “This year, more than 2,000 youth attended different camps and academies where they learned a diverse range of skills, from business entrepreneurship to athletics, and from art to the sciences.”
More young people are participating in youth programs, such as the Summer Youth Program, which saw participation almost double. Summer Youth provides workforce training and experience to youth ages 14 to 21, with the goal of enabling participants to acquire new skills in a workplace environment and encourage interest in education in specific career fields.
“As more and more young people continue to participate in these camps, academies and programs, and continue to engage, learn and grow, we are confident our people will do greater things than we ever imagined,” said Gov. Anoatubby, adding that “the strength of our youth is the result of the strength of Chickasaws that have come before.”
Gov. Anoatubby also updated the audience on “Te Ata,” the feature film produced by the Chickasaw Nation, which has played to sold-out audiences at several film festivals across the U.S. and will be showing at more film festivals this month.
Te Ata, was a Chickasaw storyteller who earned international fame presenting a unique one-woman show of Native American culture to audiences across the United States and Europe. She performed at the first State Dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Gov. Anoatubby closed his address speaking directly to Chickasaw citizens.
“We have seen tremendous progress in every area. Through hard work by thousands of employees and with your support, much has been accomplished. But there is still more we can do and we are doing. We work every day to enhance the overall quality of life of Chickasaw people – all Chickasaw people. There is much for which we should be, and are, truly thankful.
“The state of the Chickasaw Nation is the strongest it has ever been – and getting stronger.”
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