State, local and Tribal government leaders recently gathered in Tulsa to reflect on the $12.9 billion and growing annual economic impact of Tribal Nations on the state of Oklahoma. That figure for year 2017 from a Oklahoma Native Impact study, includes $4.6 billion in wages and benefits to Oklahoma and 96,000 jobs supported by Tribal governments and enterprises. Also on the discussion table at the September 10 gathering was Tribal involvement in rebranding Oklahoma, moving away from the state’s unofficial and lackluster slogan — “Oklahoma is OK,” a fixture on state license plates — and toward something more culturally rich and inclusive that will raise the profile of Oklahoma on a national scale. An enlightening article by Kristi Eaton on the Oklahoma Native Impact study, sponsored through the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium, sheds light on the substantial impact of Tribal Nations, quoting stakeholders across the state including numerous Tribal leaders. Continue reading her article, reprinted with permission of Eaton and the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium, below.
Gathering comes after release of report showing Tribes have nearly $13 billion economic impact on state
By Kristi Eaton
TULSA, Okla. — Tribal leaders, mayors, county commissioners and state representatives and leaders gathered together recently at Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa to share stories and insights about how Tribal communities positively affect all Oklahomans.
The September 10 event came a few months after the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium released a study called Oklahoma Native Impact that showed Oklahoma’s 38 federally recognized Tribes had a $12.9 billion economic impact on the state in 2017. This includes $4.6 billion in wages and benefits to Oklahoma and accounts for 96,000 jobs supported by the Tribes. The Tribes provide invaluable infrastructure, education resources, health care and more to all who live and work in Oklahoma.
“A few short months ago we released some very significant numbers — numbers that reinforce what we already know: Tribes are economic drivers of the state. We are reliable and permanent partners and provide critical services to all Oklahomans,” said Elijah McIntosh, Chairman of the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium and CEO of Onefire Holding Company.
Sean Kouplen, Oklahoma secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development, said there is no disputing the impact Tribal Nations have on Oklahoma.
“We appreciate it. We acknowledge it, and we want to say thank you so much for what you do,” said Kouplen, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
Kouplen discussed cabinet-level efforts to become a top-10 state in the country, particularly with Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell’s effort to rebrand the state and tell Oklahoma’s story.
“Our goal is to change the trajectory of Oklahoma forever,” Kouplen said, later adding: “We have seen tremendous marketing come out of the Tribes in this room, and frankly, we want to up our game.”
The event included a special performance from the Cherokee National Youth Choir as well as speeches from representatives of several Tribes: Absentee Shawnee Tribe, Cherokee Nation, The Chickasaw Nation, The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Citizen Potawatomi Nation and Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
Absentee Shawnee Tribe Gov.-elect John Johnson said the study shows how Tribal Nations are vital in supporting communities throughout the state.
“The Absentee Shawnee Tribe’s economic impact represents over 1,100 jobs in the Norman and Shawnee surrounding areas, of which 60% are non-Native employees,” he said, adding that the Tribal health system supports six counties. The Tribe provides critical safety nets and jobs for people in the Tribal jurisdictional communities, he said.
“We have to work together. We must work together,” Johnson added.
Bill John Baker, former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and current executive chairman of Cherokee Nation Businesses, noted the Tribe’s efforts to create and expand better infrastructure in northeast Oklahoma. The roads benefit all Oklahomans, regardless of Tribal citizenship, he added.
“We’re changing lives,” he said, ending his speech by saying: “We are like a corporate sponsor on steroids that is never going to leave the state of Oklahoma.”
Chickasaw Nation Deputy Secretary of Commerce Dakota Cole said the Tribe had a $3.7 billion annual economic impact on the state, employing more than 11,000 workers.
Cole took a moment to go off script during his speech, saying that without the health care system, his grandmother would not be alive today. Without the roads the Tribe has helped build, he would not be able to get to work every day.
Meanwhile, Tammye Gwin of the Choctaw Nation discussed the growth that the Nation has seen over the past 30 years.
“We are respected, and I say with pride, a debt-free Tribal Nation that takes care of our people and everybody else in southeastern Oklahoma,” said Gwin, senior executive officer of the Division of Strategic Development for The Choctaw Nation.
She noted that the Nation offers a summer school program available free of charge for Choctaw Nation members and non-members alike. The Nation’s Partnership of Summer School Education, or POSSE, partners with local school districts within its Tribal jurisdiction to provide a summer learning program for qualifying kindergarten, 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade students who are in need of extra support.It has been rolled out to 80 school districts within the Choctaw Nation, she said.
“These kids go to the schools to get a hand-up,” she said.
Citizen Potawatomi Nation Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett noted that it can be challenging to create jobs in rural Oklahoma, but that Tribes are able to accomplish that. CPN, in fact, has created seven out of every 10 jobs in its jurisdiction in the last 10 years, he said.
“We are making things better for rural Oklahoma,” Barrett added.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Chief James Floyd concluded the speeches from the dignitaries, detailing the accomplishments of the United State’s fourth-largest federally recognized Tribe.
He recalled how the Tribe has grown from 300 employees a few decades ago to having an economic impact of $866 million on the state of Oklahoma in 2017.
“The Tribal economies are the backbone of the state of Oklahoma, supporting those businesses supports your families, your communities, your Tribes in your areas, which in turn supports everyone in the state of Oklahoma,” Floyd said.
Victor Flores, president of the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium and chief of Staff/financial officer for the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, was the emcee for the event.
“It’s undoubtedly an exciting time in Indian Country. The strategic partnerships we have created within our communities have led to millions of dollars of investments and have generated significant economic growth,” Flores said.
Bacone College provided artwork for the gathering, which decorated the room and tables. Bedré Fine Chocolate, a Chickasaw Nation business, enjoys contributing to educational, health and wellness programs and also supports a number of philanthropic organizations. Bedré donated milk chocolate bars shaped as the state of Oklahoma bars for the event.
For more information on the Oklahoma Native Impact study, sponsored through the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium, visit oknativeimpact.com.
The Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium’s mission is to advance Tribal economics and strengthen Tribal finance within the state of Oklahoma.