The Choctaw Nation recently made a $12-million commitment to their citizens who reside in and near Poteau, Oklahoma on April 20, 2017 with the groundbreaking for three new service facilities. The new buildings that are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018 are a Wellness Center, Food Distribution Center and a Child Development Center. The three buildings will be near Poteau’s current Rubin White Choctaw Nation Health Clinic.
Poteau, a town of more than 8,000, lies within southeast Oklahoma’s LeFlore County and Choctaw Nation’s District 4. The district’s elected tribal representative, Delton Cox, said that at least 3,000 of Choctaw Nation’s 230,000-plus members reside within the District 4 boundaries. According to Cox, he has been advocating for the new buildings for at least six years, and considers himself to be the driving force of getting the construction of these buildings to this point.
“If I wasn’t [pushing for construction], it wouldn’t have gotten done,” Cox said. “Everyone else has their priorities too, but I’m speaking for our Choctaw people [in District 4].”
Much of the process of getting the buildings approved, Cox said, has to do with getting approval from both the administration and from the tribal council, as well as securing finances for the building projects through voting on budgets.
“Everybody wants something in their district,” Cox said. “Sometimes you have to wait until you can convince the administration and convince the other 11 councilmen to go along with it. Then there’s the process internally, then, of getting all of the paperwork of the concept through.”
Cox said that process includes input from the tribe’s commerce and construction departments, as well as tribal businesses such as the travel plazas and casinos. However, Cox said, “eventually, you get everyone aboard, and now we’re moving forward with it,” adding that “most all of the council showed up for the groundbreaking.”
The Wellness Center will be a total of 9,700 square feet. Facilities will include a half-court basketball and indoor walking track. Two thousand five hundred square feet will be dedicated to cardio and strength-training machines, and another 2,000 square feet will be reserved for yoga, spin and karate classes. Other features will include men’s and women’s showers and day-use-lockers.
The new Food Distribution Center will be an upgrade from their current Poteau facility, where they have been housed for at least nine years. The new building will be 6,500 square feet and will accommodate the 600 families in the area who use food distribution services. In addition to being a warehouse, a kitchen for food demonstrations will also be on site, similar to the food distribution sites at other Choctaw Nation communities such as Durant and Broken Bow. While the Choctaw Nation does implement the federal government’s USDA commodities program, the tribe also has their own program called “Next Step.”
“Some of the folks are not eligible for the commodities program,” Cox said. “They’re just a few dollars over, but they’re having difficulty getting by. [Next Step] is about helping those who are on the verge of being eligible [for Commodities].”
Cox said that the Food Distribution program in Poteau began as the “Food Distribution Market” over 10 years ago, when the Choctaw Nation’s Food Distribution program would set up in a parking lot and distribute commodities to eligible tribal members.
The Childcare Center will house both the tribe’s Head Start and a Child Care program. While Head Start is already in the district, tribally-owned child care will be new to the area. Plans for this center include Smart Board technology and the teaching of Choctaw culture through language, art and hands-on activities.
“The center will have four classrooms for child care and accommodate up to 66 children from six weeks old to five years old,” said Amanda Johnson, the director of the Choctaw Nation Child Development program.
Cox, who also serves as tribal council speaker, said that these buildings are still going through the bidding process for both design and construction. Once the three buildings are completed, a total of 100 additional jobs would be added. Other developments include discussions on the building of new community centers in Poteau as well as Broken Bow.