Closed Cherokee Nation casinos donate to communities
A community member assists Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, right, with handing out food to community members in Hulbert. COURTESY
A volunteer prepares bags of foods to provide to needy community members at the West Siloam Springs Cherokee Hotel & Casino. COURTESY
A volunteer from the Spavinaw community loads food at the West Siloam Springs Cherokee Hotel & Casino for needy Cherokee people in his community. COURTESY
No-we-ta Cherokee Community Foundation members organize food to be given to need Cherokees. COURTESY
WEST SILOAM SPRINGS – Cherokee Nation leaders acted fast in mid-March to provide perishable food from three temporarily closed Cherokee casinos to community groups who distributed it to needy community members.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CN announced March 16 it was closing all of the tribe’s casinos and hotels, including the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, West Siloam Springs Cherokee Hotel & Casino and Tahlequah Cherokee Casino that donated the food. The next day the tribe’s administration reached out to CN Community and Cultural Outreach for assistance in distributing food from the three casinos.
“It was a team effort. There was a group of people, I’m not going to name them all because I would leave somebody out, within the Cherokee Nation that worked on this plan in a very short amount of time,” said CCO Community Outreach Coordinator Brad Wagnon. “I just happened to be the person that they designated to talk to the community groups because I already have a relationship with those community groups. So, it wasn’t just CCO and it wasn’t just me, it was several different people in the Cherokee Nation that came up with the plan.
He said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin and Secretary of State Tina Glory-Jordan notified him around 11 a.m. on March 17, and by 4 or 5 p.m. the next day the first community groups were picking up food from the Tahlequah Cherokee Casino. Community leaders also picked up food from the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa and West Siloam Springs Hotel & Casino on March 19 and 20.
Wagnon worked with 15 community groups from six counties to provide food to nearly 1,000 Cherokee households.
“We tried to space them out. We had some (community groups) in Sequoyah County, Cherokee County, Adair County, and then we also had Washington County, Nowata County and Mayes County,” he said. “So we had six counties. We tried to work with groups that responded to us quickly because the food was perishable, so we had to get it out quickly.”
He said the food provided was mostly vegetables, fruits, dairy, bread, lunchmeats and chicken.
On the ground, most of the people who helped prepare the food for distribution were casino employees.
“The community groups actually went to the casinos and got the food,” Wagnon said. “The community groups mobilized very, very quickly. CCO’s main involvement was getting in contact with them and working on the logistics for them to get the food.”
This distribution of food from the casinos may only occur once if the casinos are able to re-open soon, but Wagnon said he is looking for other businesses or groups to make food donations for Cherokee communities.
“We’re trying to keep our ears open for more opportunities,” he said.
Hoskin said the coordination to provide the food was “impressive.” He said Tribal Councilors also pitched in to help in their respective districts.
“I’m aware that not everyone in need got served. But we shouldn’t let perfection be the enemy of the good, especially in this moment,” Hoskin said. “We will keep looking for ways to safely bring resources to those in need. I’ve gotten a few inquires from individuals and communities asking how they can get help. In this particular crisis there is no easy answer, but the key to this effort is this: Long-standing community organizing by Cherokee citizens. When we exit this pandemic, I encourage Cherokee citizens to look around your communities and find ways to pitch in and organize.”
Hoskin has said says the 10 casinos are expected to remain closed through March 31.
During this time CNB employees will continue to be paid.
Hoskin also declared a state of emergency on March 16. This allows CN Emergency Management to respond appropriately to the COVID-19 pandemic and harness federal assistance.