If the needs of Oklahoma’s Choctaw Nation exactly mirror those of the United States, then Choctaw Chief Gregory E. Pyle has every reason to be proud of the Nation’s accomplishments during his tenure. The 2007 Oklahoma Hall of Fame inductee cites vast improvements in health care and in employment as his administration’s most noteworthy achievements even while the U.S. struggled addressing those issues.
“It was a big thing in my family, when you come into something, leave it better off than before,” Pyle says in regard the question of his legacy. “I’m very proud that we were able to build and expand a hospital and to build and operate the clinics that we have.
“Also when I started here, there were 1,200 employees. Now there are 6,000. These jobs also permit people to stay in rural Oklahoma.”
Pyle grew up shuttling between California and Oklahoma. His parents had sought better opportunities in California but regularly returned to Oklahoma. They made their home in Durant permanently a half-century ago. Pyle was elected Chief in 1997 after serving more than 13 years as assistant chief. He says his call to public service is an extension of his values.
“I think it’s because of basic values passed down from my parents,” Pyle says. “I grew up in a small town that didn’t have a church. My dad and a few men remodeled this big house into a church, and then my dad took his bulldozer and made a parking lot. When you’re 6 or 7 years old, which I was, those are big, important things.”
Big, important things are just what Pyle has accomplished. Under his leadership, a new hospital was built in Talihina as well as the Diabetes Wellness Center; clinics in Stigler, McAlester, Atoka and Idabel; a new Hospitality House, new Recovery Center and a new Women’s Treatment Center.
The Poteau Clinic has expanded to include additional health care professionals and a mail-pharmacy refill center. Other successful advancements include independent living facilities for the elderly in six different towns, several new and refurbished community centers, four child development centers and a score of new tribal businesses.
Pyle is also proud of the progress made in employment. In addition to expanding employment at the Nation, hundreds of people have benefitted from expert training, ranging from six weeks to two years. The result: An average improvement in income of $12,000 annually.
“This past year we increased employment by about 400 jobs and provided training for another 800 people,” Pyle says.
Also key this past year was progress in discussions with relevant parties about the vital issue of water in the region as well as ongoing relationship building with OU and OSU in regard to medical issues. Pyle was also the impetus behind the development of the Choctaw Language Program that is present in some 30 area schools today.
Pyle, who is a national Native American figure today as well, points out the irony of the language program.
“Generations ago, my mom went to a girls academy where she was not allowed to speak Choctaw,” says Pyle. “Things have changed.”
For the thriving Choctaw Nation, much has changed for the better, and Pyle has been a lynchpin.