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Extension Has "83rd" County For Choctaws
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The state didn't expand its borders, and no county lost size, but Mississippi is now home to 83 counties, at least on paper.
On July 1, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians became the state's newest "county," as identified by the Mississippi State University Extension Service. While not an actual location, the 83rd county includes eight Choctaw communities in six counties.
Al Evans, area Native American extension agent, said before becoming organized as a county, extension services to the Choctaw Tribe were provided by the Neshoba County extension office.
"With the way the eight communities are spread out, the time required to work with all of them was a full-time job, so the tribe was phased into a separate extension entity," Evans said.
The 83rd county includes the communities of Pearl River, Red Water, Standing Pine, Crystal Ridge, Bogue Chitto, Tucker, Conehatta and Bogue Homa. These communities are found in Leake, Winston, Neshoba, Kemper, Newton and Jones counties.
Kirk Morgan is director of the Department of Agricultural and Rural Development for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. He said the extension service has become important to the Choctaw people.
"Extension is providing services that tribal members haven't had in the past," Morgan said. "The programs have contributed to the resurgence of home gardening and a renewed interest in landscaping."
Federal funding for the 83rd county continues to come through the Extension Indian Reservation Program. Evans is the only extension employee, but the Choctaw Tribe funds a home extension agent and two program assistants, who perform the jobs of extension home economists and 4-H agents.
Headquarters for the 83rd county extension service is in the Pearl River community, which is also the tribe headquarters.
Virginia Willis, home extension and 4-H agent for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, has seen the number of 4-H clubs jump from four to nine since the 83rd county was created.
Willis also works with the seven homemaker clubs organized among the Choctaw Indians. She hopes to start an eighth club soon in the Pearl River community.
"People are becoming aware of what we're trying to do and are participating more," Willis said. "Homemaker clubs are learning more about nutrition and crafts, such as sewing, and hope to learn food preservation soon."
Willis said the 4-H clubs, too, have seen changes since the 83rd county was formed. Rather than focusing on just arts, crafts and cultural activities such as beadwork or social dancing, the clubs are becoming more organized and pursuing typical 4-H projects. They also hope to expand their involvement in district contests and 4-H Congress.