Press Release

Release Date: April 23, 2024
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

In many ways, 16-year-old Tony Carter is just like his Ardmore High School classmates. He loves to attend sporting events and rodeos with his family and sit under a shade tree with his grandpa when the weather is nice.

In some ways, Tony is exceptional.

Diagnosed with autism at age 2, Tony is nonverbal. Large crowds occasionally overwhelm him, and he sometimes is made to feel unwelcome by peers and adults unfamiliar with autism.

Because Tony cannot speak, Ucona Carter relies on a mother’s instinct and Tony’s nonverbal cues to help her son communicate and engage with the world.

Tony, a Chickasaw citizen, took a large step into a new world last summer by participating in his first Chickasaw Nation youth camp, the 2023 Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Youth Academy. Carter said Tony attended this camp for the same reason many children do, because they admire heroes who serve the community.

“When you ask any normal kid ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ usually they want to be a police officer, firefighter, doctor or someone else they look up to as a hero,” Carter said. “Since Tony is nonverbal, he can’t tell us what he wants, so as his mother and his voice, I try to pick things I think he’ll be interested in doing.”

Carter was also drawn to the unique youth academy as a way to teach her son about law enforcement and ease any apprehension he has about interacting with police officers.

“Tony is nonverbal, but he understands everything he sees and hears,” Carter said. “There can be negativity about police in the world, but I didn’t want that to be the impression for Tony. The Lighthorse youth academy was my way of showing Tony he is safe around law enforcement.”

In the four-day camp at Chickasaw Lighthorse headquarters in Ada, Oklahoma, students learned about careers in law enforcement and explored safety topics relevant to teenagers, including dating safety, cyberbullying and mental health awareness.

Carter arranged time away from work so she could attend each day of the camp with her son.

“He is a teenager, but I still call him my baby,” said Carter. “As a mother, I always have fears when it comes to Tony. I fear he is not going to be welcomed or accepted. What people don’t understand can be scary to them, and a lot of people do not understand autism.”

Fellow students quickly included Tony in the academy’s many team building exercises and hands-on activities.

“Tony enjoyed the team activities most, because he got to interact with the other youth,” Carter said.

“Tony felt comfortable and allowed other students to touch and help him. Tony will only let a person touch him when he feels safe.

“The staff and police officers were also so warm and welcoming. They were patient and accommodating to Tony’s needs without taking away from the other youth,” Carter said.

Chickasaw Lighthorse Assistant Chief of Police Terrance Bush observed students throughout the week as they participated in activities ranging from fingerprinting and forensic analysis to marching drills and demonstrations conducted by the Lighthorse dive team and SWAT team.

Assistant Chief Bush said Tony’s spirit was contagious.

“Everyone, from staff to students, could see when Tony was excited, and they fed off his energy,” Bush said.

“It took him a minute to come out of his shell, but once he did that wonderful personality of his really shined,” Bush said. “It soon became obvious to all of us, Tony gets that personality from his mother.”

Helping Tony share his infectious personality was among the many reasons Carter sought out a Chickasaw Nation youth camp for her son.

“Being around other children helps Tony’s social skills,” Carter said. “The Lighthorse youth academy was also a way to challenge his mind and show him there is no limit to what he can achieve.”

Helping students achieve new things and develop important personal skills is a priority of the Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department.

“Lighthorse youth academy is more than just seeing the cool gear law enforcement uses,” Bush said.

“Our goal is to teach valuable life skills and education about key societal topics teens need to be aware of, such as dating violence and bullying.”

For his achievements throughout the academy, Tony earned the 2023 Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Youth Academy Courage Award, an honor given to a student who confronts fear and difficulty to accomplish their goals.

Chickasaw Lighthorse Chief of Police Chris Palmer presented the award at the academy’s closing ceremony. Participants, friends, family and Lighthorse staff attended the ceremony to celebrate.

“I have been doing the Lighthorse youth academy for a long time, but Tony really put an exclamation on 2023 for me and for our department,” Bush said.

With the goal of attending his first youth camp completed, Tony has his sights set on new opportunities, including martial arts.

“The Chickasaw Nation Martial Arts Program has been great about working with me to get Tony ready for classes,” Carter said. “Hopefully this spring Tony will begin martial arts.”

Tony has also been accepted in the Chickasaw Nation’s Toksali SMART workforce training program. This summer he will join his peers in developing workforce skills through job shadowing and training in a job that accommodates his needs.

Carter encourages fellow Chickasaws to explore the many programs and services offered by the Chickasaw Nation.

“I have my bachelor’s degree because of college assistance programs and the youth clothing grant helps with Tony’s school clothes every year,” Carter said. “The Chickasaw Nation has a lot of great resources for their citizens that have been a big help to myself and my family.”

As the Lighthorse police department prepares for the upcoming 2024 youth academy, Tony remains an inspiration, and Bush has no doubt Tony will succeed at martial arts or any other activity he puts his mind to next.

“It was heartwarming to see Tony’s enthusiasm throughout the entire academy,” Bush said. “By the end, both Tony and his mother became our heroes.”

About Chickasaw Lighthorse

The Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department has served Chickasaw Nation communities for 20 years. Reestablished in 2004, its officers strive to protect the lives and property of the people served, reduce crime, preserve peace, and provide a safe environment while working in partnership with local communities to enhance their quality of life.

Chickasaw Lighthorse police use innovative methods and state-of-the-art technology to provide exceptional law enforcement services to people residing within the Chickasaw Nation treaty territory, which encompasses 7,648 square miles and includes all or parts of 13 counties in south-central Oklahoma.

The Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department has three precincts. They are located in Ada, Newcastle and Thackerville. The department has 105 full-time sworn law enforcement officers serving the Chickasaw Nation. For more information, visit

For information about the Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Youth Academy and other Chickasaw Nation camps, clinics, and academies, visit