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Interview: Chief Gary Batton of Choctaw Nation shares philosophy

Gary Batton. Photo from Facebook

The Durant Democrat interviews Chief Gary Batton, who is rounding out his first term as leader of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and is running for election in July:
I know you don’t wake up every morning and say, ‘I’m the Chief,’ but when you do have one of those moments where you realize the magnitude and the responsibility on your shoulders and you’re leading the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, that’s a lot of people. How many are in the Choctaw Nation?

About 200,000, but I think for me it’s a greater responsibility for me other than the tribe, meaning that me in Southeastern Oklahoma that I think that I feel the weight on my shoulders because I feel like the Choctaw Nation, if we don’t lead and grow Southeastern Oklahoma, nobody else is going to make it grow.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think there’s other people, I’m meaning who will look locally, individually in a community but they won’t look collectively at all of Southeastern Oklahoma and the unemployment rates we are dealing with. It’s kind of sad, the drug abuse, the domestic violence and if you look at all the indicators in Southeastern Oklahoma, is really facing some tough things. Of course it’s me who always said if you provide people with good opportunities, they will choose those instead of taking the other path.

Where there are drugs, people will take a good paying job over drugs, if it’s fulfilling and worthwhile. To me when I do have those ‘chief moments,’ it is one of the things of, I don’t know, I’m one of those eternal optimists because when I do, I see nothing but opportunity too. I think we live in a wonderful part of the state of Oklahoma.

We have many wonderful things we can build on. I mean, our wonderful scenery, our people. I think the people and the landscape are two things that we have nobody else has. I shouldn’t say no one else has, because, I think of northwest Arkansas and different places but with our lakes and our streams and all the things that we have and our hunting, I just think we have a great opportunity and like I said, with our people, I think we have a good-hearted people. We have good people and that means a strong workforce. To me, I’d probably approach it from an opportunistic perspective than a pessimistic perspective.

There are those concerns but I think we can overcome them. What’s the coolest ‘chief moment?’ I mean you wake up and tell yourself, ‘I get to go do this today.’ This is exciting. Probably for me, it’s our elders and our young. Meaning that our elders, I always revered them, and respect them and they have such wisdom. Whenever we can honor them, one way or another, whether it’s through service. For example, I give blankets away to our elders. It’s just one of those ‘Ahhh moments’ because, I don’t say anything as chief. I’m the listener.

Get the Story:
Choctaw chief speaks (The Durant Democrat 6/7)

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ICT interview with Gary Batton, new leader of Choctaw Nation (05/22)
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