The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) is a federally recognized Native American Tribe located in Southeastern Oklahoma. The CNO has been designated as the first federal tribal Promise Zone in 2014 and was designated a USDA StrikeForce region in 2015. These federal designations indicate social and economic disadvantages present in the 10.5 county tribal service area (TSA). Highly distressed areas of the CNO’s TSA face extreme poverty, low educational attainment, high crime, unemployment rates, and other significantly detrimental factors which directly impact the health and well-being of residents. The Choctaw Nation’s TSA is home to 53,764 Native Americans with 47,413 of those identified as Choctaw. In total, there are currently 196,223 enrolled Choctaw tribal members scattered throughout the United States and abroad. CNO is located within rural Southeastern Oklahoma and is comprised of 10.5 counties: Atoka, Bryan, Choctaw, Coal, Haskell, Hughes (the southern half), Latimer, Le Flore, McCurtain, Pittsburg, and Pushmataha. This vast and extremely rural service area spans a geographical land base covering 10,922 square miles. The CNO is home to the second largest tribal service area in the lower 48 states, second only to The Navajo Nation.
Per 2018 statistics provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Oklahoma ranks eighth (16.7 automotive deaths per 100,000 citizens) among states with the highest motor vehicle occupant death rate, which is almost one and a half times the national average rate (11.18 per 100,000 citizens). Studies from 2016 show that more than half of teens and adults who died in crashes in 2016 were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash. Data also supports that motor vehicle restraint usage reduces the risk of critical injury or death by a staggering 50%. Unfortunately, a very low percent of Oklahoma’s population actively wears seatbelts; in fact, the state falls in 39th place out of the 50 states. Over the course of 2011-2015, Choctaw’s Injury Prevention Program documented seat belt usage in observational surveys conducted in towns throughout the Choctaw Nation: the average seat belt usage was 78.38 percent, falling well below the state average of 85.6 percent. In addition to the dangers of extreme rurality, CNO tribal members and other American Indians and Alaska Natives within the TSA face the risk factors of distracted driving and drunk driving. The CNO TSA accounts for 14 percent of Oklahoma crashes due to distracted driving, 11 percent due to drunk driving, and over 17 percent of total crashes in the state.
Due to these challenges, the Choctaw Nation’s Injury Prevention Program will focus efforts in 2020-2021 on targeting the education and implementation of the safe use of seatbelts and child restraints. The program will conduct evidence-based educational instruction for eligible families on the safe use of seatbelts and child restraints. Additionally, the program will provide car seats to tribal and native families in the 10.5 county TSA. The program will also serve as the contact for participating families with questions on the use of seatbelts, child restraints, and/or Oklahoma’s relevant traffic safety laws. The program intends to conduct visits to the homes of eligible families and deliver child restraints to mitigate strain and stress on families. The Choctaw Nation Injury Prevention Program proposes to expand services by educating and providing car seats to all Native Americans requesting services in the TSA. Further extension will happen through the program’s provision of appropriate car safety/restraint equipment to disabled youth and prematurely born infants. The funds from this grant, if awarded, will also be used to onboard an entry-level Restraint Specialist to assist with the implementation of the 2020-2021 program activities and services across the TSA.