In city after city across Oklahoma, tribes are establishing partnerships with local governments and organizations to help grow and advance the communities. The impact these tribal nations are having is readily visible — from the transformation of Oklahoma City’s riverfront to Shawnee’s rising status as a tourism destination.
When Chickasaw Nation announced plans for development of an expansive resort-style destination adjacent to First Americans Museum, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt was thrilled. “It’s really unprecedented in city history,” Holt enthused. “The caliber of this development is world-class and truly worthy of America’s 22nd largest city.”
The $300 million OKANA Resort, which is expected to be complete in 2024, will offer a riverfront hotel, spa, outdoor adventure lagoon, amphitheater, indoor waterpark, restaurants, Native American marketplace and retail outlets. The development will connect with the heart of the city and boathouse district.
OKANA’s economic impact will be significant — it’s projected at $97 million in year one, with 10-year estimates looking to exceed $1 billion. Full-time employment will start at 400 people, expanding to 700-800 over the first few years.
Outside of OKANA, tribes are very active and impactful in other areas throughout Oklahoma City. From the investment in the horse industry through Remington Park, plus generous donations to organizations across the spectrum, tribal collaboration with cities continues to flourish.
In September 2021, leaders from Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the City of Shawnee announced a historic cooperation agreement. Shawnee Aligned is an initiative in which tribal and city governments pledged to work together to improve the community. As Citizen Potawatomi Nation Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett noted, “they are the best city government that we’ve worked with for decades.”
Credit Shawnee Mayor Ed Bolt with recognizing the contributions the tribe had long been making. “It wasn’t maybe five or six years ago at we were at a total roadblock [with the tribe] and that was a situation that just couldn’t continue,” recalls the mayor. “We get a lot more done with everybody pulling on the same rope, that’s for sure.”
It’s very easy to see the impact that tribes make in Oklahoma. I’m really excited about what we can get done in the next few years in Shawnee working with our tribal partners.
Citizen Potawatomi Nation is the largest employer in the region and a key economic partner. They tribe’s annual Balloon Fest attracts thousands of spectators each year and, in 2021, the Potawatomi Fire minor league basketball team made their debut. As Bolt notes, “They make a very dramatic impact.”
I just couldn’t imagine Oklahoma City succeeding at the level that it is now without our partnerships that we have with our Oklahoma tribal nations.
It doesn’t matter what part of the state you go to, you can see how tribes are involved. They make a very dramatic impact.
I’ve been just amazed at the level of visibility and generosity and the interaction of the tribes throughout all spheres of life in Oklahoma.
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