2020 State of the Nation Address

A Virtual Gathering of Our People
Governor Bill Anoatubby
10/3/2020 9:00:00 AM

2020 State of the Nation

The transcription of the 2020 State of the Nation address has been edited for readability and clarity.

Thank you, Lisa. Ladies and gentlemen, Lisa has done a wonderful job as emcee, hasn’t she? She has done this for a number of years and she helps to make this Annual Meeting what it is. So Lisa, thank you very, very much for your work and your presence here. Thank you. And, Chokma!

Thank you to everyone for joining us for this special, virtual presentation of our Annual Meeting and State of the Nation Address.

For years, we have gathered in the great city of Tishomingo. Seeing everyone at this gathering of our people has become a tradition and a source of great joy. We miss seeing you in person.

Our gathering brings home the fact that each one of us is part of something greater than ourselves. Together, we are one, one family, one community, one nation, we are Chickasaw.

We are thankful we have the ability to gather together in this virtual format because it is important for us to connect. We are pleased you are joining us in the new way.

Thank you to those team members in the auditorium to make this virtual event possible. Thank you to the Chickasaw Princesses. We know this has been a challenging year for you. We appreciate the work you have done representing us so far and the willingness to continue in your services to the Chickasaw Nation.

And a special thanks to U.S. Congressman Tom Cole, Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives Charles McCall and Mayor of Tishomingo Woody Jumper for your kind words and your well wishes to our nation.

A special thank you to our tribal legislators and judges for the very important work that they do. Throughout this time, you have continued to meet virtually, and have adopted new processes and methods in the legislature and in the courtrooms.

And finally, congratulations to all of you who were reelected and sworn in during the oath of office ceremony. We look forward to our continued work together.

As you heard from the Lt. Governor this morning, there is much history behind that first Annual Meeting at Seeley Chapel six decades ago. During that time, churches like High Hill, Boiling Springs, Johnsons’ Chapel, Yellow Springs, Sandy Baptist, Sandy Creek, Red Springs, Pennington and, of course, Seeley Chapel - these were the epicenters of tribal communication.

Our people exercised great determination and perseverance, despite great uncertainty about what the future would hold. But just as we always have, our people went to work. They went to work advocating for our nation and working hard to adapt to ever changing circumstances.

Just as then, we are in a time of some uncertainty. And, as we did then, we have gone to work. We are adapting programs, services and communication. We are meeting this challenge with diligent effort, innovation and determination.

Our leadership team is dedicated to meeting the needs of our nation today and for generations to come.

In early March, we were actively monitoring the beginnings of what would later be declared as a global pandemic. Very early on as we watched the news around the world, our leadership team began discussions about the potential impact of this new infectious disease. We knew it was a serious situation and took decisive action to help minimize the spread of this new virus.

Based on the advice of our very knowledgeable team, on March 16, we made the decision to close many of our tribal businesses, offices and events to the public. While we knew this decision would have a significant impact on tribal revenues, our priority was, and is, the health and safety of our citizens, community and team members.

On March 17, we declared a public health emergency in the Chickasaw Nation and our team immediately began planning how we would maintain and deliver core services. And as we have come to expect, our team met the challenge.

Our goals were to keep our employees as safe as we could, while also meeting the needs of Chickasaws. We began a careful analysis and discussion about activities that included large gatherings of people.

Based on the best available science, we decided to discontinue those large gatherings as part of our plan to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

We expanded our use of technology so employees were able to work remotely. This allowed us the time that was needed to prepare our office buildings and facilities for the safety of our team and those we serve.

In order to continue to cover the expenses while our businesses were closed, our leadership team began looking at all opportunities to reduce spending.

Due to the hard work and dedication of the leadership team, along with the money that had been set aside for capital projects and other financial reserves, we were able to continue paying expenses and wages to all tribal employees without interruption.

Our team members approached these challenges with creativity and innovation making adaptations to many of our programs, services and communications as we continue to serve.

We already knew that we had a top-notch department of health and this public health emergency has reinforced that knowledge as they have surpassed our expectations time and time again. They adapted facilities and processes. They have been instrumental in developing the mitigation strategy that we have implemented across the Chickasaw Nation.

The preparations we made and the mitigation strategy we implemented have been tremendously successful. Through a combination of daily screenings, testing procedures, use of face coverings and numerous changes to our properties, we have virtually no spread of the virus within the workplace.

Once our facilities were prepared and prevention procedures were developed, we began a return-to-work plan. On May 27, our tribal businesses began to reopen after being closed for nearly 11 weeks.

We are pleased to report that due to the prevention plan carefully crafted by our commerce and health teams, we have safely remained open.  Our patrons have returned to our businesses and have greatly appreciated the prevention efforts and safety precautions that are in place.

While we are doing well, due to a significant loss of revenue for that nearly 11-week period, our financial picture as shown on Aug. 31, is going to look different than it has in recent years.

We have come very far indeed in building a strong financial base. Always each year, we report via our financial report to you the status of the Chickasaw Nation for that particular fiscal year. That’s the latest audited financial report. In that report, it shows we had another great year.

Then we also include another financial statement, that is dated as of Aug. 31, 2020, in the packet every year. Even with all of our difficulties, it still shows an overall increase over fiscal year 19.

Our strong financial base and capital reserves are, and have been crucial in supporting our nation through this pandemic. Capital reserves supported more than 8,000 employees who were reassigned to shelter in place, as well as supported the continuation of core programs and services.

We took swift action on March 19 to freeze capital projects and discretionary spending. At the same time, we enhanced our cash management to ensure the nation’s financial liquidity and the sustainability of our core programs and services and thousands of jobs.

We are pleased to report the Chickasaw Nation continues to possess a strong financial base due to prudent actions, the responsible stewardship of many and reserves from past successes.

CARES Act is playing an important funding role in helping meet some of the financial needs of the people we serve. We have established a committee to ensure we use these funds following the rules and guidelines from the federal government so that we continue meeting current needs, while also preparing to meet future responsibilities.

We know many Chickasaw families across the United States have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to help address some of that financial impact, we have developed the Chickasaw Citizen Support Program.

The Chickasaw Nation COVID-19 Citizen Support Program is for all Chickasaws living in the United States who have experienced loss of income or other financial or situational impacts resulting from the current pandemic.

This new program introduces many different resources and assistance packages, including providing help to purchase needed PPE or devices needed for distance learning or homeschooling, telework packages, and support for Chickasaw citizen-owned businesses.

And, recently we began mailing packages of difficult to find items to Chickasaw elders. We hope that these items help as we continue to work together to stay healthy.

Across the Chickasaw Nation, our teams have responded well to this unprecedented event in many different ways.

There has been a dramatic development in the area of tribal sovereignty. As you have likely seen in the news or read about in the Chickasaw Times, the U. S. Supreme Court recently made a decision in the McGirt case.

In this very significant decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a reservation had been established for the Muscogee Creek Nation and further ruled that the reservation had never been disestablished, thus holding the federal government to its treaty obligations.

The ruling, which impacts criminal jurisdiction in the Muscogee Creek Nation, will eventually be applied to the Chickasaw Nation. Anticipating that, we are continuing our work to prepare.

Another recent court decision - this one affirming renewal of our gaming compact with the state of Oklahoma - this confirmed our position that the compacts renewed.

The United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma ruled that the tribal state gaming compacts in Oklahoma automatically renewed on Jan. 1 this year, for another 15-year term. Our gaming compact has served the Chickasaw Nation and Oklahomans, all Oklahomans, very well and we can now count on it going forward for 15 additional years.

Due to the ongoing concerns pertaining to COVID-19, for much of this fiscal year we implemented new processes and technologies to continue to operate vital programs and services. By modifying our operations, we have been able to safely and effectively offer programs and services to our people and the community.

Area offices have adjusted their hours. Our community health representatives have continued to operate by screening participants by phone, prior to completing a home visit. Our CHRs provided nearly 84,000 services to nearly 3,000 Chickasaws this year.

The Chickasaw Nation Department of Health pharmacy and pharmacy refill center filled more than 2 million prescriptions this year.

We expanded virtual visit capabilities across the department of health and developed plans to continue to offer high quality health care throughout this crisis and beyond. The department of health treated more than 52,000 patients virtually.

And, the department of family services provided more than 12,000 virtual therapy and counseling sessions, and had nearly 12,500 virtual program and service interactions.

Our department of aging displays a dedication to our elders which never wavers. They continued to provide meals throughout the pandemic, serving more than 11,000 meals per month in fiscal year 2020.

Transportation services provided nearly 28,500 rides to and from medical appointments for Chickasaws this year.

More than $21.6 million in higher education grants and scholarships were awarded to more than 4,600 Chickasaw students.

We have also instituted a new mental health initiative for Chickasaw citizens and employees that focuses on “thinking Chickasaw,” and explores what it means to think Chickasaw and help each of us live healthier lives.

The first of these virtual panel discussions was designed for parents with children returning to school in a COVID-19 environment. More discussions and presentations are planned in the coming months and will be broadcast on the Chickasaw Nation’s Facebook page.

Continuing to provide programs and services in a safe and responsible manner is our top priority.

We celebrated several milestones in July. We commemorated the 10-year anniversaries of both the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center and the Chickasaw Cultural Center and the 100-year anniversary of the McSwain Theatre.

In an effort to continue connecting during this time, our teams began a number of new virtual communications as well as transitioned programs to an online format.

Using CARES Act funds that were allocated specifically for projects that help prepare, prevent and respond, we are able to build several new facilities needed to assist in combating the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Currently, construction is underway for a Chickasaw Nation Alternative Care Facility on our Ada South Campus. This alternative care facility will allow for increased capacity to care for patients during health emergencies. It will also expand our ability to provide testing and training critical to improving COVID-19 mitigation measures.

At almost 12,000 square feet, this facility will have a large, open space. Temporary walls and partitions will easily convert the space for additional inpatient beds, space for employee education and patient simulation training. The open side of the building will be large enough to accommodate 36 additional beds that can be used during emergencies.

Also, when a COVID-19 vaccine is readily available, this facility will be used to facilitate immunizations for our citizens and the community.

We are also working to convert a building that we already owned into a new multiuse facility. Once complete, it will serve as a unified incident command center, a COVID-19 drive-thru testing and vaccination site, and an optional personal protective equipment storage facility.

The facility will be a point of distribution for our strategic stock pile of supplies during times of emergency. The site will also serve as a base of operations for emergency management activities among local, state, tribal, federal and other emergency management systems, when needed.

In addition, at Hina Chokma, the men’s residential treatment center, we are constructing six private units to be used as isolation rooms in the event they may be needed due to a positive COVID-19 test at the treatment center.

We are also expanding several areas at the medical center, including the laboratory, the inpatient pharmacy and storage for needed medical supplies.

There have been many other accomplishments and advancements this year. Some of those include the expansion of KCNP Chickasaw Community Radio Station to serve the Garvin County area, opening of a new Chickasaw Nation Wellness Center in Ada and a new food distribution program site in Tishomingo.

We broke ground in Ada for a new Chickasaw Nation Honor Guard facility, and this is very near completion. A dedication ceremony for a new and expanded pharmacy was conducted on the Ada South Campus.

And, Chickasaw Nation-owned Bank2 was rebranded Chickasaw Community Bank to better reflect its values and commitment to those it serves.

We have exciting news regarding our language and culture. More than 7,000 users are currently engaging in Chickasaw language through Rosetta Stone.

Language lessons are also available on social media. The AYA fitness app, which teaches users about Chickasaw history and historical sites as they walk, has been downloaded more than 33,000 times on Android and 14,000 times on Apple devices.

And the award-winning and state-of-the art Chickasaw Nation Cultural Center, welcomed more than 850,000 people since it opened.

Thankfully, there are so many achievements that it is simply impossible to list them all, but the information will be included in the upcoming Chickasaw Nation Progress Report, which will be mailed to you.

Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Chickasaws, our nation is strong. Throughout history, in the face of many challenges and unknowns, our people, our nation has always remained strong.

Today, we celebrate 60 years of our Annual Meeting. Sixty years ago, the Chickasaw people believed in the strength of our nation even though at that time our government consisted of only a Governor that was appointed by the president of the United States.

Those Chickasaws who gathered at Seeley Chapel believed they could restore our government and they worked to make that dream a reality. Little more than 10 years later, the Chickasaw people elected the first Chickasaw Nation Governor after Oklahoma statehood.

Since that time, much has been accomplished. Today, our nation is strong, we are strong because of sound fiscal stewardship and planning for a situation like the one in which we unexpectedly found ourselves.

Our nation is strong because of the thousands of dedicated employees working to meet our mission to enhance the overall quality of life of the Chickasaw people.

Our nation is strong because of dedicated legislators and judges who support opportunities for Chickasaw people, who support programs and services.

Our nation is strong because we are one, we are united in our efforts to build this nation. Chikasha Poya – we are Chickasaw. The Chickasaw people are strong and the state of the Chickasaw Nation is strong! Yakoke!