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A Place for Healing
By Morgan Gray
San Antonio, TX


Born into the rich cultural tradition of the Chickasaw Nation, I have born witness to the countless initiatives implemented by the Chickasaw Nation that have inspired and facilitated positive change. More recently, the establishment of the Aalhakoffichi' Adolescent Transitional Living Facility has proven to be both innovative and inspiring. Created with the intention of providing assistance and guidance to at-risk youth and their families, its name Aalhakoffichi translated from the Muskogean language, imparts the intended atmosphere, “a place for healing.” After years of accumulated research, it was determined by Chickasaw Governor Bill Annoatubby that a treatment facility for young people would prove essential to completing a “circle of care” for families of all backgrounds.

The facility focuses on assisting individuals between the ages fourteen through nineteen in discovering appropriate ways to cope with substance abuse, mental health, and family relation ship dynamics. Specially trained professionals from the Chickasaw Nation offer twenty-four hour monitored care, and services specially tailored to the needs of each individual and family. These services include counseling, medical treatment, and even Native American cultural education classes. Ultimately, the services are not limited to those within the walls of the facility, but continue to provide positive change for those transitioning beyond the need for services from the facility. The goal is to assist each particular family in creating appropriate ways to establish good mental, physical and relational health, as well as maintaining these gains once they re-enter the community.

Established February 28, 2013, the facility’s efficacy is still emergent, and its impact on the community as a whole has yet to be fully realized. However, the progress that has already been made in this short time proves hopeful for the greater community. The Chickasaw Nation truly values its youth, and invests time and energy into ensuring all youth have ample opportunities to become all they aspire to be. This treatment facility is only one of the numerous ways that the Chickasaw Nation has initiated positive change and guidance for adolescents. Cultural education through school programs and camps imparts meaningful elements, such as societal values and shared beliefs. Positive reinforcement is provided by recognizing and rewarding academic excellence by giving gift cards yearly and awarding a variety of scholarships for those who wish to continue their education on a collegiate level.  Additionally, programs that assist students in completing their school work and provide tutoring sessions are offered at various learning facilities. The amount and array of guidance facilities and programs specifically designed to assist in the education and positive development of youth continues to grow. These initiatives not only show faith in the Chickasaw youth, but in all youth. Governor Annoatubby and all other ground-breaking leaders within the Chickasaw Nation adamantly and rigorously work to ensure these opportunities. The Chickasaw community recognizes that change begins within their youth. By offering guidance, assistance, and opportunities, positive change is realized. Through the actions of Aalhakoffichi, as well as other youth assistance programs, future generations of the Chickasaw Nation are provided with the opportunity to fulfill short term and long term goals. These initiatives unveil a future of bright promises, and instill a sense of hopeful progress regarding the near future.

Listening to stories of struggle and perseverance of my great-great grandfather, Simon, who was a full-blooded Chickasaw Citizen, one can only imagine how his path may have changed in his early years had he had such outreach services, like those provided by Aalhakoffichi (Lisa Everly, personal communication, March 21, 2013).  Simon, along with his two brothers, was orphaned at an early age.  As a result of his parent’s untimely death, he was separated from his brothers and placed with a family who allowed him to live amongst them.  While this family provided him a roof over his head and food to eat for which they received financial compensation, he was never treated as a family member.  This became blatantly clear when the family forced Simon out after they were informed that they would no longer receive financial compensation for his care.  As a result, Simon was forced to move out and live in the basement of the high school he attended.  While Simon was able to overcome such adverse effects, one can only imagine the mental anguish that he must have felt being left alone to navigate the world ahead of him.  To some extent, Simon was most likely the exception to the rule.  He found within himself the fortitude and determination to reach his educational goals, eventually graduating from college. Later, he took a job with the Bureau of Indian Affairs where he committed his time and strength to assisting others until he retired.  While I never had the pleasure of meeting Simon, there are many stories that I have heard through the years that touch my heart and soul.  Simon was a proud father of one. He frequently was known to say that his daughter’s birth overjoyed him because she was the first thing in his life that no one could take away.  Such statements would make anyone realize that Simon continued to be affected by his early years of struggle.

Given the opportunity to act as a tribal leader, my actions would center on public policy as a whole.  My initiatives would allow facilitators to act as advocates to assist in bridging the gap between the educational process and mental health. With student dropout rates continuing to be a significant concern for most communities, my focus would be on how to provide support to all students that encompass not only academic encouragement, but nurturing students' mental health as well.  This multifaceted approach to assisting the next generation in becoming active and productive members within our community allows guidance in arenas that are most often forgotten in reference to personal health.  The question of why some students never complete their education is one that I have pondered over the last few years as I have watched students around me disappear from classes.  Often, these students do not appear to struggle academically in class.  Therefore, one can only assume that there are other struggles within their personal lives.  I strongly believe that if my great-great-grandfather, Simon, were still alive today, he would champion the initiative of a holistic approach to guiding our youth to a successful life as an adult.  I plan to make it my lifelong mission to assist this process from the political arena.  Change must begin first through policy and procedure within our government.  Personal stories, like Simon’s, in conjunction with the overall progress that facilities like Aalhakoffichi are able to make in each individual’s life will act as the platform that will guide my path to help build the capacity to improve our community and enhance the overall quality of life for all.



Chickasaw Nation Opens PV Facility For At-Risk Youth. (2013, March 3). The Ada News Sunday

Miranda Elliott. (2013, January 1). Tribe To Open Transitional Treatment for Adolescents in Pauls Valley. Chickasaw Times, pp. 1-3.

Tony Choate. (2013). Chickasaw Nation Opens Transitional Treatment Facility for Adolescents. Chickasaw Nation Media Relations.



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