Batton: Big wins, but Choctaw Nation's work far from finished

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Sep. 6—Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton highlighted the tribe's COVID-19 vaccine rollout and "big wins" for tribal sovereignty during his State of the Nation Address.

Batton said in the video posted Monday he was most proud of the tribe's vaccine rollout and progress toward tribal sovereignty following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma.

"But our work is far from finished," Batton said.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2020 Congress never "disestablished" the reservation status of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and overturned the state conviction of Jimcy McGirt, who was retried in federal court and sentenced to life in prison this month. OCCA in 2021 applied the ruling to the Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw and Seminole nations.

The ruling gives the federal government exclusive prosecutorial power in cases involving Native American defendants and victims within tribal lands under federal jurisdiction as per the 1885 Major Crimes Act.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Attorney General John O'Connor consistently voice opposition to the ruling and the state is fighting to overturn it.

Batton said the tribe's Sovereignty For Strong Communities Commission is identifying all aspects impacted by the McGirt decision and is working with community partners on jurisdiction challenges.

The chief said he is most proud of the tribe's COVID-19 vaccination rollout that partnered with municipal health authorities to administer more than 38,000 vaccines.

Choctaw Nation Director of Pharmacy Cpt. Clinton Bullock said the tribe received vaccines through native health services to stay ahead of the state's vaccination rollout.

The tribe offers free vaccines regardless of insurance.

Vaccines do not give someone COVID-19, nor do the vaccines interact with DNA. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states mRNA vaccines help cells make a protein that triggers an immune response to protect against infectious diseases.

"The vaccine is very safe and very effective, and we want to make sure that we are able to vaccinate any individual that wants to receive the vaccine," Bullock said.

Brittany Mazey, Choctaw Nation Health nurse, said the rollout helped tribal members and non-members protect themselves against COVID-19.

Choctaw Nation administering more than 38,000 doses through four mobile units and at tribal medical facilities.

"I am so proud to be a part of the Choctaw Nation and their quick rollouts of the COVID vaccines, their quick preparations and their capabilities and providing such and important service to not only our tribal members but all of our community members as a whole," Mazey said.

Officials said Choctaw Nation also increased focus on treating mental health issues stemming from the pandemic.

Choctaw Nation medical facilities totaled 801,631 patient encounters over the past year, filled 1.1 million prescriptions, and had

more than 250,000 wellness center visits.

Batton also highlighted the tribe's increased higher education funding to $9.1 million to serve 5,457 tribal members over the past year.

"We know people are happier healthier and more successful when their most basic needs are met," Batton said. "That's why the Choctaw Nation works so hard to lift our tribal members out of unsafe, substandard housing."

The tribe installed 320 storm shelters and completed 1,214 home repairs while building new LEAP program homes, elder housing and more.

Tracey Turner, elder independent housing property manager, said the elder housing in Durant and Calera provides residents independence and shows them respect.

Batton discussed many more aspects and highlighted the tribe's opening of a new state-of-the-art Choctaw Nation Cultural Center.

Contact Adrian O'Hanlon III at aohanlon@mcalesternews.com

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