Study highlights Native American tribes’ impact on Oklahoma economy

08/06/2019 04:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – The 38 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma had a $12.9 billion impact on the state in 2017, according to a study released July 18.

The study found the tribes directly employ more than 50,000 people and support more than 96,000 jobs to tribal citizens and non-citizens, accounting for more than $4.6 billion in wages and benefits to Oklahoma workers in 2017.

“This study shows that Oklahoma tribes are providing valuable jobs and employment to Oklahomans throughout the state,” Oklahoma Native American Affairs Secretary Lisa Johnson Billy. “We look forward to continued growth and cooperation that benefits all Oklahomans.”

The study, sponsored through the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium, was released during a press conference at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. More information can be found at

“Unlike corporations that move based on the economy and population migration, tribal nations are permanent and invested in the long-term growth of their jurisdictional area as well as the state as a whole,” Neal McCaleb, Chickasaw Nation ambassador at-large to the United States, said.

Thirteen percent of Oklahoma’s population is Native American.

In the health care realm, tribes paid $213 million in Medicaid expenditures at tribal health care facilities, saving the state $88 million in 2018 by requiring no state matching funds.

The tribes have also invested a total of $200 million in transportation infrastructure, with nearly 27,000 miles of highways and roads supported. Oklahoma is first in the nation for federal dollars contributed through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Tribal Transportation Program.

“Oklahoma tribes have invested greatly in the state, and we are proud that our investments are benefiting all Oklahomans in a variety of service areas, such as public transportation, cross-deputization with law enforcement and community centers,” Elijah McIntosh, secretary of the Nation and Commerce for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and chairman of the OTFC board, said.

Through gaming compacts between Oklahoma-based tribes and the state, tribal nations submit a percentage of their respective Class III gaming revenues for the exclusive right to operate casinos in the state. Oklahoma tribes have paid more than $1.5 billion in exclusivity fees since 2006.

Oklahoma sends the first $250,000 of these fees to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Of the remaining funds, 88 percent is earmarked for public education supporting all Oklahomans. More than $1.3 billion have been earmarked for public education. In 2017, $198 million was paid to support Oklahoma education.

“Tribes provide critical services for rural communities,” Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes Gov. Reggie Wassana said. “We are proud to provide monthly assistance to more than 2,100 Cheyenne and Arapaho elders for subsidies such as food, utility, medical and other basic needs. Additionally, we support non-tribal entities such as public schools, school activities, fire departments, EMS services, city utility projects and numerous civic organizations within our tribal jurisdiction that spans across 12 counties in western Oklahoma.”

Kyle Dean, associate professor of economics and the director for the Center for Native American and Urban Studies at Oklahoma City University, analyzed data from 15 tribal nations based in Oklahoma and prepared the study.


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