A Chickasaw Nation community program was honored with an elite award by a national organization for achievements in the field of public safety.
The Chickasaw Nation Division of Education Car Seat Program received a 2020 Lifesaver Public Service Award presented by the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) during a July 29 ceremony.
The Lifesaver Public Service award is the highest public award that NHTSA presents to recognize and honor individuals and organizations for achievements in the field of traffic safety.
The Chickasaw Nation Car Seat program creates a safer environment for Chickasaw citizens and community members, said Brian Jones, deputy regional administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Mr. Jones, who presented the award, manages federal highway safety programs for Region 6, which includes Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and First American Nations.
“The Chickasaw Nation Car Seat program is widely-regarded across the state of Oklahoma and beyond as a respected child safety seat program and advocate for the Native American community in road safety issues,” Mr. Jones said.
“Of the car seat program’s many accomplishments that merit this award, one is its ability to work across boundaries with local government, state government, federal programs and other safety partners. Another is leadership in establishing a safety coalition and promulgating best practices that can be shared across Indian Country to ensure the children of the Chickasaw Nation, and other Native American Nations, are safe while walking, bicycling and riding in vehicles.”
Motor-vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death among children in the United States and First American children are disproportionately affected at a higher rate than other populations, according to NHTSA.
Mr. Jones described the program’s development as a proactive initiative to help keep the community safe. “It addresses a big problem that exists in Indian Country and it can be replicated by other organizations, as well.”
Chickasaw Nation car seat program technicians perform a wide-array of tasks, all designed to keep children safe, such as: teaching soon-to-be parents about the importance of car seats during prenatal classes; community outreach at tribal facilities, and educating additional safety technicians.
The program provides free inspections of child passenger seats and parent education regarding proper fit of car seats, laws and regulations and vehicle safety. Car seats are available for Chickasaw citizens who have recalled, outdated or wrong-sized seats.
Car seat checks are performed by certified passenger safety technicians who have completed training and earned certifications specific to Oklahoma state vehicle safety laws.
The Chickasaw Nation currently has 65 certified car seat technicians in an array of departments such as child care, area offices, medical facilities, WIC offices and Lighthorse Police.
During the pandemic when child care facilities were closed, staff partnered with the Chickasaw Nation Department of Health and conducted car seat checks at the drive-thru pediatric tent in Ada, as well as the Purcell Health Clinic.
Between February and April 2021 technicians checked 170 car seats and replaced 88 seats for reasons such as: the child had outgrown the seat, no child restraint in the vehicle, or the seat had been involved in a crash or recalled.
During a February event, car seats were provided to 25% of families and an overwhelming majority required a seat adjustment to safely secure the child in the vehicle.
“This reiterates the life-saving impact that car seat checks have for our patients,” said Dr. Tangra Broge, Chickasaw Nation Chief of Pediatrics. “I am so thankful that they are providing this service and look forward to working toward maintaining it going forward.”
Michelle Key, Chickasaw Nation child care director, said the car seat program helps meet the tribe’s mission, to enhance the overall quality of life for Chickasaw citizens, as well as lives of the entire community, by keeping children safe.
She credits the child care staff and other car seat technicians for the program’s success and honored the staff for working diligently in all types of weather to ensure children’s safety.
“The staff have taken this program and have gone above and beyond to make sure our children are safe. I can’t express how proud I am of the child care team,” she said.
Key accepted the award, along with Sarah Hayes, Chickasaw Nation master teacher, and Sandra Manuel, child care assistance manager.
“It is such a prestigious honor to be recognized for a National award. This award wouldn’t be possible without our team of amazing Child Passenger Safety technicians and Instructors.” “I am beyond proud to be able to accept this award on behalf of our technicians and instructors,” Manuel said.
The Chickasaw Nation program was nominated for the national award in 2020, but the pandemic forced the cancellation of the Florida-based national conference. The award was presented during the annual Oklahoma Traffic Safety Summit in Oklahoma City.
For more information about the Chickasaw Nation Car Seat program, visit chickasaw.net or call 580-421-7711.