OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma – The Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium released findings on the 2019 economic impact of tribal nations on the state at a press conference held at the First Americans Museum on March 23.
“Tribes are an economic engine as well as a consistent and dependable partner,” said Victor Flores, Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium President and Director of Tribal Services, REDW and LLC.
The study reports that in 2019, tribes impacted the state by more than $15.6 billion while directly employing more than 54,000 people and supporting a total of 113,442 jobs for tribal citizens. and non-tribal citizens; representing more than $5.4 million in wages and benefits for Oklahoma’s workforce.
“Unlike businesses that move based on economic conditions, our tribes are here to stay,” Flores said. “Oklahoma is home and we will continue to reinvest in our communities through job creation, the provision of essential services and the development of infrastructure.”
This new report shows a $2.6 billion increase from the last Tribal Economic Impact Study in 2017.
In 2017, the total economic impact of Oklahoma’s 39 tribes was $12.9 billion. Direct employment was approximately 52,000 jobs.
Kyle Dean, associate professor of economics and director of the Center for Native American and Urban Studies at Oklahoma City University, analyzed data from 16 OK-based tribal nations and prepared the study.
“Verified data for some tribes is available later than others,” Dean said. “Therefore, we chose to use 2019 as the study year to ensure that we could obtain audited data from participants to ensure data consistency.”
He said that from the aggregated estimated profile he was able to estimate the direct contribution and create inputs into the economic model from which the impacts were estimated.
Wednesday’s report includes only economic activity generated or administered by tribes and the Indian Health Service (IHS), according to Dean.
“They exclude the direct contribution of many related Native American entities and the direct contribution of tribal citizens and many self-identified Native Americans.”
The tribal health system collectively reportedly paid more than $322 million in Medicaid expenses, saving the state more than $86 million in 2019.
With more than 45 facilities across the state, Tribes serve communities by providing care in most locations to Natives and non-Natives alike.
“In 2019 alone, there were 3.5 million patient visits to tribal health facilities in Oklahoma,” said Nicholas Barton, executive director of the Southern Plains Tribal Health Board.
Gambling contracts between state and tribes, a percentage of gambling funds are submitted and the state sends the first $250,000 to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, leaving 88% reserved for Oklahoma public education.
Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association President Matthew L. Morgan said the impact of the tribes on the state has been overwhelmingly positive. The gaming industry alone employs over 75,000 people in the whole of OK.
“We are building roads and hospitals, investing in our public schools and universities, and creating programs to serve those who need help,” Morgan said. “We’re proud of our past, excited about the things happening right now, and determined to leave the next generation with an industry and an Oklahoma they can be proud of.”
Tribes have paid more than $1.8 billion in exclusivity fees since 2006, and more than $1.5 billion for education. In 2019, an additional $84 million was donated by tribes to support schools, municipalities, and other community initiatives.
Senior Chief David Hill said the Muscogee Nation has helped provide more than 45,000 vaccinations to Oklahomans, including non-tribal members, at no cost, helping the state save on healthcare costs.
The Muscogee Nation held the Miss USA pageant at the River Spirit Casino, which had an economic impact on tourism for the state and the tribe, according to Hill.
The Nation will hold its annual festival this year after two years of cancellations; and according to Hill, it is expected to attract around 40,000 tourists over a three-day period.
Another way the Nation has recently boosted Oklahoma’s economy is through the filming of Reservation Dogs which has helped generate a local, tribal and state economy.
In agribusiness, the Nation bought a ranch and built a meat processing plant that opened in November, adding to the economy in several current and future ways.
“We’re still here,” Hill said. “We’re not going anywhere.”
The mission of the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium is to advance the tribal economy and strengthen tribal finance in the state of Oklahoma.