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Oklahoma Tribes Receive Millions In Stimulus

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The Cherokees built ramps in Mary Sisk's home with stimulus money. The Cherokees built ramps in Mary Sisk's home with stimulus money.
Some Oklahoma contractors hope to have two to three years worth of work because of tribal stimulus money. Some Oklahoma contractors hope to have two to three years worth of work because of tribal stimulus money.
Ted Foster of TedCo Builders says his contractors are working on 17 stimulus-funded jobs. Ted Foster of TedCo Builders says his contractors are working on 17 stimulus-funded jobs.
Some Oklahoma casinos profit hundreds of millions of dollars from their casinos. Some Oklahoma casinos profit hundreds of millions of dollars from their casinos.

By Jennifer Loren, Oklahoma Impact Team

UNDATED -- Mary Sisk has had trouble getting around since suffering a stroke ten years ago. She was forced to quit her job and her home was in desperate need of repairs. After two years on the Cherokee Nation's waiting list, stimulus money made all the repairs possible.

"Oh, it was a relief. I was so thrilled and happy. I just thank God. I mean If you'll be patient enough he'll come to you. And I've been really patient," said Collinsville Resident, Mary Sisk.

The stimulus money paid for new siding, new windows and doors, a ramp into her utility room and a shower she can get in and out of. It's more than $22 thousand worth of work, some of it done on Mary's birthday.

"And I said this was my birthday present. I was so happy." Mary Sisk, Collinsville Resident.

TedCo Builders is working on 14 other homes like Mary's, all paid in stimulus dollars. The company's contractors have already built a quarter of a million dollars worth of projects.

"It assures them that they're going to have a job well down the road, maybe two or three years down the road and that's wonderful. That's wonderful for everyone," said Ted Foster of TedCo Builders.

But many Oklahoma tribes like the Cherokees are making millions of dollars off their casinos.

The Cherokees operate The Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Catoosa. That has a lot of people asking why they need stimulus money to fund their tribal projects.

Ted Foster says someone asked him that very question over coffee this morning.

"I said you know if the U.S. government would go back and honor all of its treaties that it's broken with the Indians all over the United States we wouldn't need stimulus money nor would we need anything else," said Ted Foster of TedCo Builders.

So far the stimulus has paid the Cherokees $42 million dollars. But last year their casino business profited $116 million dollars.

At their headquarters in Tahlequah administrators admit the casinos are profitable. But by tribal law 70 percent of those profits must be reinvested into the business to ensure a successful future for the tribe. That's why tribal leaders believe they deserve the stimulus money.

"Because, unlike many governments, tribes don't have the land base any longer after statehood to generate taxes and to generate revenues as most governments typically would. And so our option then is to create successful businesses that both create jobs and create the revenue to sustain the government," said Melanie Knight, The Cherokee Nation's Secretary of State.

And the Cherokees are not alone. Other profitable tribes receiving money are the Muscogee Creek Nation which received $18.8 million stimulus dollars; the Choctaws received $23 million and the Chickasaws $11 million.

The bulk of the money is going toward community infrastructure like housing and rehabilitation, roads, water, energy efficiency projects and healthcare. The roads and water projects the tribes plan to build with their stimulus money, in the end, will become county property.

"I think one thing that people don't know about tribal government is that when we invest in projects like roads and water it benefits not only Cherokee citizens but it benefits everyone in the community that lives there," said Melanie Knight, The Cherokee Nation's Secretary of State.

The Chickasaw's own two of the state's largest casinos in central and southern Oklahoma, the Riverwind Casino in Norman and the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville. The tribe's net income, or profits, so far this year total more than $259 million. The tribe currently employs 10,500 people and, including their casinos, operates more than 60 different businesses.

10/20/2009  Related Story: Chickasaw Tribe Makes Millions, Received Millions In Stimulus

For tribal members like Mary Sisk, who can't say enough about the help she's received, Oklahoma tribes are more than deserving of the money.

"It's been a blessing," said Mary Sisk, Collinsville Resident.

President Obama is trying to strengthen what he calls the Nation to Nation relationship with tribes. He'll hold a tribal summit in November at the White House. 37 Oklahoma tribes are invited.

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