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The Cherokee $1.3 Billion Impact: 'We're Here to Stay'

Tribes have gained recognition in recent years for contributing to the Oklahoma economy as a whole. On September 17, the Cherokee Nation released its own report showing that the approximately 320,000-member tribe impacts the Oklahoma economy alone by an estimated $1.3 billion. The study includes employment and payroll numbers: 14,000 jobs and $559 million in income payments.

The study, commissioned by Cherokee Nation, was conducted by Dr. Russell Evans of the Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute. The institute is part of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University.

Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker said in an exclusive interview with Indian Country Today Media Network that the study was conducted as a “scorecard” to inform its business partners—including the county commissioners and the school districts within its 14-county tribal jurisdiction—of the tribe's performance.

“It’s pretty easy to overlook the economic impact that tribes have in the individual communities and realize that, for the state of Oklahoma, the recession didn’t get as deep for us as it did for a lot of the rest of the country,” said Baker. “We’re coming out of it quicker than most of the rest of the country. I truly believe that one of the main reasons is not only the Cherokee Nation, but the other tribes here in Oklahoma that bring so much to the table, and it’s obviously in the billions and billions of dollars.”

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Baker said the largest locations of growth have been in Rogers County—the home of the tribally-owned Hard Rock Casino—and Cherokee and Delaware Counties. He also contributes the success of the Cherokee Nation to its business diversification and gaining of 8(a) contracts through the U.S. Small Business Administration. These businesses include construction, environmental services, defense contracts and a $100 million investment in health care. According to Baker, Cherokee Nation does $1 million per day in 8(a) contracts outside of gaming.

Another sign of success, Baker said, is the benefits package offered to employees, including 401k, health and life insurance. Jobs with the Cherokee Nation begin at $9.00 an hour-the tribe’s own standard of minimum wage.

Additional development includes plans to build an entrepreneur and job development training center in Tahlequah, where the Cherokee Nation’s tribal government complex is located. The center would be operated by the Cherokee Nation Commerce Department.

“It’s good to point out that we’re here to stay,” Baker said. “We’re not going to load up and move all of our business to Houston or to Dallas or to someplace else.”

For more information about Cherokee Nation’s economic impact on Oklahoma, visit