TISHOMINGO — A huge crowd erupted in applause when Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby announced, "the state of the Chickasaw Nation is great and getting better every day."
Addressing a crowd which spilled out of Fletcher Auditorium into an overflow tent on the campus of Murray State College, Anoatubby said that assets of the Chickasaw Nation have grown to nearly 200 times its 1988 level, and the tribally funded budget has grown even more significantly in the same time period.
He went on to list numerous examples of exponential growth, which placed the recent success of the Chickasaw Nation into historical context during the address delivered Saturday.
"When you look at the overall changes that have taken place, we find ourselves in very good shape financially, and that status allows us to do more," Anoatubby said. "It allows us to fund more programs, operate at a higher level and make a greater difference for our people."
History of Success
Anoatubby explained that the recent success is consistent with the perseverance displayed by the Chickasaw people throughout history.
"In the long history of the Chickasaw Nation, our people have been focused, resilient and determined," Anaotubby said. "Even after European explorers disrupted our way of life, our tribe persevered and adapted to the changing times.
"Even after we were uprooted from our homelands in Mississippi, we re-established our Nation and set about making a life in a new territory. Even when the territory we occupied and owned was broken up into allotments ... we held on to our hope that one day we would again be self-governing and self-determined."
That hope was realized with a newly established Chickasaw Constitution in 1983.
"We were in a new age for the Chickasaw Nation — a time of self-determination, self-governance — a time to correct decades of paternalism and do for ourselves," Anoatubby said. "This was a time of change — a time to embrace our freedom — but, more importantly, take responsibility for our future."
Government officials began to set priorities and develop a plan to offer opportunities for education, health care, housing and employment.
"Our tribal government needed to be placed on a firm financial base. Our people needed to be unified. All of these goals, along with others, would shape the direction of the Chickasaw Nation for decades," Anoatubby said.
In 1987, the Chickasaw Nation operated just over 30 programs with more than 90 percent of the funding coming from the federal government. The budget for federal programs was more than $7 million.
Today, the Chickasaw Nation offers more than 60 federally funded programs and more than 200 tribally funded programs. The tribal budget has grown exponentially, funding services from education, health care and nutrition to housing and family services.
"Services are our highest priority, and the budgets from federal sources and tribal sources have grown significantly," he said.
In 1987, the Indian Health Service operated Carl Albert Indian Health facility in Ada, along with two health clinics, one in Tishomingo and one in Ardmore.
Today, the tribe compacts with the federal government to operate the entire health system, which was formerly under the Indian Health Service.
The 370,000-square-foot Chickasaw Nation Medical Center in Ada, which replaced the Carl Albert Indian Health Facility, is the centerpiece of the system. Opened in 2010, the $150 million medical center was constructed with tribal funds under the Indian Health System Joint Venture Construction Program.
Under the program, the IHS provides additional funding for staffing and operational costs to tribes who fund construction of health facilities.
A 53,000-square-foot health clinic was opened in Tishomingo this year. That follows the opening of a 66,000-square-foot health clinic in Ardmore in 2012. Both were constructed under the program.
The health clinic in Tishomingo has increased the number of employees from 26 to 82, and now offers numerous additional services.
The Chickasaw Nation Department of Health includes six health facilities, which provided more than 514,000 patient visits and filled more than 1.2 million prescriptions in FY 2013. That equals an average of 1,400 patient visits each day and more than 3,200 prescriptions each day.
In July, the Chikasha House was opened on the campus of the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center. The Chikasha House was designed to offer convenient housing to family members of patients who are far from home, while relieving them of the costs associated with travel and lodging.
"We believe the Chikasha House can help bring peace of mind to patients and their loved ones facing this difficult situation," Anaotubby said.
Thirty years ago, higher education funding was about $200,000 and provided scholarships to 157 students.
In FY 2013, more than 4,000 students received a total of $15.6 million in scholarships, grants and other support for educational needs.
In 1988, the Chickasaw Nation employed about 260 people and operated four businesses.
The tribal budget has grown exponentially, funding services from education, health care and nutrition to housing and family services.
The Chickasaw Nation is also making a significant impact on tourism in Oklahoma.
The Chickasaw Cultural Center, which opened in 2010, recently surpassed 200,000 visitors from around the world. This year alone, the Chickasaw Nation also opened the Bedré Fine Chocolate Factory, Welcome Center, Artesian Hotel, Chickasaw Travel Stop, Chickasaw Conference Center and Retreat, and Salt Creek casino.
Those businesses employ hundreds of local residents, and attract numerous visitors to the area.
"We are experiencing a true renaissance in almost all aspects of our tribe," Anoatubby said. "Whether it is on the level of an individual citizen, or the tribe as a whole, we have made significant progress in education, government, the economy, health care and social welfare.
"The state of the Chickasaw Nation is the best it has ever been, and we will continue striving to make things even better."