Oklahoma Tribal Leaders Speak On Economic Contributions

Thursday, July 18th 2019, 7:01 pm
By: Storme Jones

A new study commissioned by Native American tribes in Oklahoma finds, together, they contribute nearly $13 billion to the state’s economy. 

The group Oklahoma Finance Consortium said for the first time the study is able to paint a picture of the tribes’ economic impact on the state.

The report comes as Governor Kevin Stitt is asking tribes to pay more in gaming fees. The current gaming compact is set to expire January 1, 2020. In a July 8 editorial, Stitt said Oklahoma’s gaming fees are the lowest in the nation and made the case for raising them.

The editorial drew sharp criticism from the state’s five largest tribes, who denounced the calls to renegotiate.  

Native American leaders said Thursday’s report shows tribes contribute a lot more to the state than gambling dollars alone.

“Instead of just saying that our impact is a lot or it’s really big, we are now able to attach a number to it to say we have a$12.9 billion investment in the state of Oklahoma,” Elijah McIntosh, Chairman of the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium said. “We represent $4.6 billion in wages and benefits to Oklahomans and 69,000 jobs are represented in Oklahoma because of tribal nations.”

The report, conducted by Dr. Kyle Dean from Oklahoma City University’s Center for Native American and Urban Studies, found tribes have invested $200 million in transportation infrastructure, with nearly 27,000 miles of highways and roads supported. It found they paid $213 million in Medicaid expenditures at tribal health care facilities.

“I don’t think there’ll ever be another industry that invest in health care, in transportation, in infrastructure and safety like tribal nations do,” McIntosh said.

Sittt’s secretary of Native American affairs said the governor is committed to working with tribes, as evidence of his creating her new cabinet position focusing on Native American issues.

“When you go to the state capitol, he’s kind of overturned all stones, state agencies, boards, how things are set up, and he’s doing the same thing about sovereign nations,” Oklahoma Secretary of Native American Affairs Lisa Jonson Billy said.