Oklahoma tribes claim billions in economic impact in new report
The report detailing the state of tribal economies was prepared by the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium and shows an increase of more than $2.6 billion in economic activity from 2017 to 2019, the latest available tribal economic data. were collected.
The tribes employed more than 54,000 people and supported a total of 113,442 jobs for tribal citizens and non-citizens, representing more than $5.4 billion in wages and benefits for Oklahoma workers in 2019.
Tribes participating in the study include: Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town, Cherokee Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Delaware Nation, Eastern Shawnee of Oklahoma, Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma, Muscogee Nation, Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma, Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, and Wichita Affiliated Tribes.
According to the report, tribes are investing in local communities by leveraging federal transportation money to build roads and bridges. The jobs created by these construction projects have a short impact of one year. However, the new roads have a long-term impact for tribal and non-tribal citizens who use them to commute to work or shop nearby. The report says this helps by increasing revenue for local businesses.
Another key investment that tribal nations make in the state is in health care. At a time when many hospitals in rural Oklahoma are closing or understaffed, tribal nations have continued to invest millions of dollars building new facilities and providing care to Native and non-Native systems. Tribes operate 45 health facilities statewide, and tribal employers — government and businesses — provide health care for their workforce, which includes both Native and non-Native Oklahomans.
“Health care is one of the most important pieces of infrastructure because it is one of the key elements in the location decision“, said Kyle Dean, who prepared the report. He is an associate professor of economics and director of the Center for Native American and Urban Studies at Oklahoma City University.
In August 2020, Oklahoma State University and the Cherokee Nation established the first tribe-affiliated college of medicine in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine in the Cherokee Nation was launched with a class of 54 first-year medical students.
According to the report, “When health care is provided to Native Americans in tribal health facilities, the entire cost of care is paid for by the federal government, saving the state money. In 2019, tribes paid $232 million in Medicaid expenses.”
Tribal nations can take third-party money from programs such as Medicaid and Medicare and receive their primary care through the Indian Health Service. Savings to the state amount to approximately $86 million.
In 2019, under the compaction agreement that allows tribes to operate Class III gaming operations, exclusivity fees paid to the state totaled $148 million. More than $130 million of that amount went to the state education fund.
On top of that, another $78.2 million went to scholarships and tribal education programs. An additional $20 million was given to Oklahoma communities and universities. Cherokee Nation, for example, donates a portion of its tribal car tag fund to schools located on the Cherokee Nation reservation.
Matthew Morgan, president of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, said the report was telling in terms of the tribal impact on the state of Oklahoma.
“I think that really helps tell that narrative, that story that tribal leaders have been really focused on over the last couple of years,” Morgan said. “And that story is really that they are full partners in building this state no matter what. what industry you’re talking about, what segments you’re looking at.”
Dean compared the investments of tribal nations to those of companies moving into the state, except that companies have the flexibility to move at any time, while tribes will remain in the state.
The tribes, he said, are having a positive impact in rural Oklahoma at a time when those communities are declining in other parts of the country.
“We couldn’t have had a chance in a better situation and especially in rural Oklahoma communities that we have,” Dean said. “And it’s all based on this happenstance of geography and the fact that the tribes are willing partners in providing the things that they do to these communities.”
Dean, who has worked with tribal communities for more than 13 years, says the data collected for this report didn’t surprise him, but other things did.
“What surprises me as an Oklahomer is the general lack of understanding or appreciation on the part of citizens and the state for the fact that we have such great partners that benefit all Oklahomans.” said Dean.
See the full report below: