Choctaw Chief Gary Batton
Chief Gary Batton is the 47th Chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, the third largest Indian tribe in the United States. Chief Batton assumed his current position with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma on April 28, 2014, upon the retirement of Chief Gregory E. Pyle.
Gary Batton began his career with the Choctaw Nation in 1987 as a clerk in the Purchasing Department while he was attending Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Upon graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management in 1989, he accepted the position of Deputy Director at the Choctaw Nation Housing Authority. While at Housing, he was responsible for the management of Housing Authority operations and established several programs including the Choctaw Nation Drug Elimination Program, Family Investment Center Program and the Choctaw Nation Boys and Girls Club.
In 1997, he was appointed to the position of Executive Director of Health. His first undertaking after stepping into the role was replacing the Choctaw Nation Hospital, a former Tuberculosis Center constructed in the 1930s, with the state-of-the-art Choctaw Nation Health Care Center, the first tribally funded health facility in the United States.
He continued to expand and improve the Choctaw health system by adding clinics in Idabel, Stigler and Atoka and replacing or expanding outdated, inadequate clinics in Hugo, Broken Bow and McAlester. He constructed a new facility for adult inpatient alcohol and drug treatment and a hospitality house for patients traveling long distances for appointments at the health care center in Talihina. Concerned by the fact that some tribal businesses were not profitable and impressed with the growth and improvements to the health system, Chief Pyle appointed Gary to the position of Assistant Chief in May 2007. Gary immediately took action to grow the businesses and improve the profitability for the benefit of Choctaw members.
As the Assistant Chief, Gary’s focus changed from improving the health system for tribal members to growing and improving the entire Choctaw Nation for the benefit of tribal members. Among his numerous duties, he served as Chairman of the Choctaw Nation Business Committee where his first initiative was the development of an economic plan that consisted of $385 million in construction to expand the gaming facilities in Durant, Grant, McAlester and Stringtown. This plan was a boost to the economy in the 10 ½ counties and created more than 700 jobs for the area. Under Gary’s guidance, the profitability for all Tribal businesses improved with an overall increase of 69%.
After being sworn into office, Chief Batton set a clear direction in his inaugural address indicating a specific vision for his administration. He spends countless hours in the communities with the tribal members he serves. He believes his main purpose it to create a better future for the Choctaw people. He works to protect their culture, provide opportunities for education, employment, improved healthcare, and ultimately, do what is best for Choctaws.
Chief Batton and his wife, Angie, make their home in Clayton, Oklahoma. They have two children, Stacy and David, and two grandchildren.
Assistant Chief Jack Austin, Jr.
Assistant Chief Austin has had a long career with the Choctaw Nation, beginning employment at the Choctaw Nation Health Care system in 1991 soon after being honorably discharged from the Army. He holds a Master of Education. He began his journey with the healthcare system in the Material Management department – and just prior to being selected as Assistant Chief, Austin was the program director for the Choctaw Nation Recovery Center.
He and his wife, Philisha, have been married 24 years. They have three children. Clark, 18, is attending Carl Albert State College. Malacha, 16, will be a senior next year at Talihina High School. “Sam is our youngest blessing at the energetic age of 4,” said Assistant Chief Austin.
“I feel I was raised in the midst of the tribe during most of my youth. Both parents were, and are still, serving Choctaw people. I have been to many events throughout our Choctaw Nation growing up. I can still remember the State of the Nation address being given by the Chief of that time under a brush arbor on the Council House grounds,” continued Austin.
Attending the Lighthouse Cathedral Church the past 30 years, Austin has served as a board member there the past ten years and enjoys work as a youth pastor, teaching weekly youth classes.
The new Choctaw Chief, Gary Batton, was present as Austin was administered the Oath of Office. According to the Choctaw Constitution, ratified in 1983, the Assistant Chief is appointed by the Chief, and approved by a vote of the Tribal Council.
“Our goals moving forward will align with the tribe’s philosophy to ‘do what is best for Choctaws’,” said Chief Batton. “Assistant Chief Austin, the Tribal Council and I are all looking forward to working together!”