New Choctaw Chief Gary Batton and His Council of Wisdom
Gary Batton, 47, has seen tremendous growth in the Choctaw Nation since he began working for his tribe over 27 years ago. From a sovereign nation with 120 employees to more than 6,200 today, Batton’s role in this change has included serving as executive director of health and a seven-year appointment to the assistant chief position by the recently-retired Chief Gregory Pyle. Some of Batton’s accomplishments include the creation of the tribal hospital in Talihina, Oklahoma, as well as the creation of other health clinics throughout the Choctaw Nation’s southeast Oklahoma tribal jurisdiction.
Sworn in as Chief on April 28 due to Pyle’s retirement, Batton doesn’t see himself as diverging from the course of leadership already established by Pyle, sticking to the philosophy of “Do what is best for Choctaws.” This includes not only the continuance of tribal gaming and business diversification but also leading the way for tribal water rights within the state of Oklahoma.
However, Batton does see the future of the Choctaw Nation as looking deep into its past. The married father and grandfather is an avid stickball participant and enjoys expanding his knowledge of the Choctaw language. “I’m firmly involved in it,” Batton said about Choctaw culture. “I believe in it, but it’s a generation thing too, to make sure it stays alive.” Ultimately, his goal is that his grandchildren know more about traditional Choctaw ways than he does.
Batton will serve out the remainder of Pyle’s term, which ends in July 2015.
What have your first days in office been like?
For me, it’s been a bittersweet feeling. Chief Pyle and I have been friends for 27 years. At the same time, I’m excited about the future. I’m excited about the platform Chief Pyle and I have set.
The tribe is more stable financially than ever before, which allows me to have more opportunities in regards to getting services to our tribal members. It allows me more opportunity to expand our businesses so we employ our tribal members and create diversification off of gaming. It will allow us to be not so dependable on the federal government, which allows our tribal members to be independent.
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