Oklahoma’s American Indian tribes have been awarded more than $135 million in federal stimulus dollars and are hastily developing projects ranging from housing construction to Head Start programs. The stimulus money has come so fast and unexpectedly to the tribes that at least one Oklahoma tribal official admitted being a bit bewildered. When asked how many jobs the Apache Tribe had created with a $31,372 child care and development grant, a tribal representative told the federal government, "I have not created any jobs with the stimulus money. I don’t know what to do with the money.” Most tribes, however, seem to have detailed plans for the windfall.
Cherokee Nation receives mostThe Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma’s largest tribe, has been awarded nearly $37.7 million — more money than any other state tribe, according to a federal government quarterly report released Oct. 30. Additional stimulus grants have since pushed the Cherokee Nation’s total to about $43 million, said Vickie Hanvey, the Cherokee Nation’s self-governance administrator. The bulk of the Cherokee Nation’s stimulus funds will be used for housing, water, road, child care and energy conservation projects, Hanvey said. Two housing grants totaling more than $16.8 million will be used to modernize and improve the energy efficiency of 500 Cherokee Nation rental apartments, rehabilitate more than 150 private homes, make infrastructure improvements to 20 low-rent and mutual-help housing units, build 15 energy efficient homes in Sequoyah County and make improvements for housing sites in Adair and Sequoyah Counties. About a dozen Cherokee Nation grants will be used to help rural water districts develop water distribution systems and treatment facilities. Funding also has been received for road projects, Hanvey said. "These water, sanitation and road projects help everyone in the community, not just Cherokee citizens,” she said. Jobs will be created for both tribal and nontribal members, she said. "To me as a taxpayer, one of the things I’m most proud of is an infrastructure is being created that will last far longer than two years when the money runs out,” Hanvey said.
Other top recipientsJoining the Cherokee Nation in receiving more than $10 million each in stimulus grants are the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Choctaw Nation and Chickasaw Nation. They have been awarded $15.3 million, $15.2 million and $13.4 million, respectively. A review of grant awards shows that many tribes plan to use stimulus funds for housing, Head Start programs, water projects, summer youth employment and to upgrade health care buildings. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation plans to use $139,867 of its stimulus money for a "green initiative” that will include geothermal retrofits and conversions. The Choctaw Nation plans to use $899,999 to improve its response to women who are the victims of violence. There are 39 tribes in the state, 38 of which are federally recognized, according to the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission. Some tribes have received little or no money during the initial stages of the stimulus awards process, while others have received awards that amount to thousands of dollars per tribal member. For example, the Miami Tribe had only received $26,626, or the equivalent of $17 per in-state tribal member, by the close of the most recent reporting period. The Tonkawa Tribe, on the other hand, had received more than $2.6 million, or the equivalent of about $5,849 per in-state tribal member. Don Patterson, president of the Tonkawa Tribe, said his tribe is small and small tribes often get shortchanged when it comes to federal funding, so it’s nice to come out on top for a change. The tribe’s largest grant — about $1.9 million — will be used to refurbish about 130 homes, some of which are more than 25 years old, he said. Other grants will be used for things such as subsidizing child care, improving energy efficiency at the tribal administration building, establishing a program to combat domestic violence and funding a summer youth program, he said.