(The Center Square) - Tribes in Oklahoma are contributing to the state's economy significantly and have been for the past few years.
"The tribes are significant employers in the state, so the state benefits directly from the jobs provided by the tribes and by other businesses who either provide services to the tribes or exist in locales where tribes have properties," Dr. Kyle Dean, director of the Native American and Urban Studies Center at Oklahoma City University, said. "When combining each activity for individual tribes, the Chickasaw Nation becomes the third-largest employer in the state followed directly by the Choctaw Nation at number four, Cherokee Nation at number six, Muscogee (Creek) Nation at number 31, and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation at number 50."
Tribal activity is the ninth-largest industry in Oklahoma. The total financial impact for Oklahoma tribes in 2017 was reported to be approximately $12.9 billion, according to The Norman Transcript.
"The most interesting, and perhaps significant benefit to the state is the permanence of tribal impact and the distribution of those impacts across the state in rural and urban communities," Dean said. "Tribes will always have significant operations within the state, particularly in rural parts of the state that would otherwise be starving for jobs because of the location and permanence of their tribal boundaries, which are fixed by treaty."
Tribal outreach includes contributions to Oklahoma's public education system, government services, infrastructure and other capital projects.
Dean said tribes will always have a presence within their tribal boundaries, and Oklahoma doesn't have to compete with other states by giving these tribes the same tax incentives that corporations require. Their impact is significant, locally and permanently.
Tribes across the country received a total of $8 billion in C.A.R.E.S. Act funds and used them to fund programs and services that had shortfalls, meet payroll needs, invest in infrastructure and more. American Rescue Plan funds will likely be used similarly. The amount to be distributed to the state is yet to be determined.
"Different tribes offer different programs/services. Many tribes provide housing assistance, workforce development, burial assistance, healthcare, meals and other social welfare to citizens," Dean said. "Some tribes continued to employ and pay wages to their employees while shut down. In 2016, we found that 60% of gaming employees are non native. Also, tribes are providing COVID vaccinations to all Oklahomans."