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Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes Plan Bison Processing Plant With Vertically Integrated Business Model

Considering an eatery at the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum is currently under development in Oklahoma City, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma are seizing the opportunity to plan a meat processing plant with a built-in market. The plant will provide the eatery with its bison entrees.  

But that’s just the cusp of the Tribes’ herd-to-market vision. The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes will meet the needs of producers across western Oklahoma.  

“When we started this, we had a smaller processing facility in mind,” Nathan Hart, business director for the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, told the Associated Press. “But as we’ve stepped out and let more people know what we’re doing, the plan expanded up to 3,000 animals per year.”

A processing plant is currently under construction in El Reno, Oklahoma, namely for bison, though the 150-acre site will also process cattle and wild game. The U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected processing plant will pull from the Tribes’ 400 head of bison.

Tribal leaders are currently determining the legal framework to place the business unit under a corporate holding company.

The Cheyenne & Arapaho need look no further its Tribal neighbors in Oklahoma for a viable business model. When the Quapaw Tribe entered the agriculture business, it was sending cattle to Nebraska to be fed and to Colorado to be processed. “It was costing us over a dollar a pound in transportation,” said John L. Berrey, Chairman of the Quapaw Tribe. 

RELATED: Quapaw Tribe: A Model for Success in the Ag World

The Tribe built its own feed and processing plant to employ its own people, and assert total control of quality and cleanliness. Quapaw Cattle Co. became the first USDA-inspected processing plant on a reservation that’s owned and operated by a Tribe. As a USDA-inspected facility, meat can be shipped across state lines and sold in public markets.

“We looked at the opportunity to vertically integrate our businesses through agriculture, beef and bison, which we were already selling in our restaurants and at our large casino resort [Downstream Casino Resort],” Berrey told Native Business Magazine.

In addition to funneling bison meat to its five Tribal restaurants, the Quapaw Nation produces beef and bison jerky that “flies off the shelf” of Tribally owned convenience stores, Chairman Berrey said. “It’s got a long shelf life. It’s got about an 80 percent margin in terms of the economics of the stick.”

In addition to turning a profit, Quapaw Cattle Co. benefits the Quapaw people. The company provides about 20,000 pounds of beef and bison to Quapaw Public Schools, in addition to donating to area food banks and Tribal nutritional programs to support healthy, traditional and protein-rich diets.

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