Tribes add billions to state economy

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Although casinos get the most attention, Native American tribes in Oklahoma are also involved in many other industries that collectively contribute billions of dollars to the state’s economy each year. (Photo by Kaysha on Unsplash)

OKLAHOMA CITY — With an economic impact of nearly $15.6 billion a year on Oklahoma’s economy, Native American tribes are the best friends the state can have, tribal leaders said Wednesday. The Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium released a study that clarifies the extent of tribal contributions for state leaders who may not know how state and tribal economies are intertwined.

The report was released at an event held at the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City.

The study showed that the 38 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma directly employ more than 54,000 people and support a total of 113,442 jobs, providing $5.4 billion in wages and benefits to Natives and locals. non-natives in 2019. Tribes have also contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to education, health and infrastructure projects that benefit the state as a whole, the study notes.

“There’s just a lot of confusion; I think there is a misunderstanding about how the tribes and we as the Choctaw Nation are trying to impact and help all of our tribal members and help Oklahoma as a whole,” said Gary Batton, Chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, the third largest Indian tribe in the United States.

“All of these things are critical to Oklahoma’s success, and sometimes I don’t think our governor understands that significant impact,” Batton said.

“Two years ago we invested $600 million that created 1,200 jobs in southeast Oklahoma,” Batton said. Durant’s Choctaw Casino & Resort held its grand opening in August 2021, with a 1,000-room luxury resort expansion. “There was no mention, there was no discussion. But there was an Amazon factory coming to Tulsa, $350 million, that was state bragging.

“Unlike businesses that move based on economic conditions, our tribes are here to stay,” said Victor Flores, president of the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium. “Oklahoma is our home, and we will continue to reinvest in our communities through job creation, provision of essential services and infrastructure development.”

Bailey Walker, president of the Oklahoma Native American Chamber of Commerce, said there are now more than 11,000 Native-owned businesses in the state. Tribes contributed $15.6 billion to the production of state goods and services and provided $84 million to local school districts, municipalities, counties and the state to support community initiatives .

Tribal health facilities provided care that saved Oklahoma State $231.7 million from reduced Medicaid matching payments that would otherwise be the responsibility of the state.

Gambling pacts — which Gov. Kevin Stitt has tried to change, saying Oklahoma could get a ‘better deal’ — have generated $1.8 billion in exclusivity fees for the state since 2006, according to the ‘study.

Glenna Wallace, chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma in Ottawa County, said there were about a dozen casinos in the area known as the 4-state corner, attracting visitors from around the ‘Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas.

“That means we’re bringing revenue from many other states to Oklahoma,” Wallace said. “The impact of this game is huge on Oklahoma.”

The report shows that tribes spent more than $45 million on roads and provided $530 million to Oklahoma state and local governments in 2019, the report said.

“This study shows how important tribes are to Oklahoma’s economy,” said Neal McCaleb, the Chickasaw Nation’s ambassador to the United States. “We help create sustainable economies through our many valuable jobs and make other substantial and impactful investments in our wider communities. This is our home and we look forward to continued growth, growth that benefits all Oklahomans.

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