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From Site Selection magazine, May 2024

An Oklahoma  Story

Native tribes contribute more than $15 billion.

Cherokee Film Studios in Owasso, Oklahoma
Image courtesy of Cherokee Film Studios

by Gary Daughters

fter breaking ground in August 2023, Cherokee Nation Businesses is nearing completion of a major expansion of its Cherokee Film Studios in Owasso, Oklahoma, just north of Tulsa.

By providing new jobs and creating a platform to tell the Cherokee story, Cherokee Films has emerged as a major component of the Cherokee Nation’s business strategy, which also includes gaming and hospitality and Cherokee Federal, an outsourcing service to the federal government. The studio expansion is adding a second soundstage to the Owasso Campus.

“Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People,” the Cherokee Film Commission’s documentary series, is being distributed by more than 250 PBS member stations as well as on FNX, an all-Native programming network. The series, says host Jennifer Loren, the commission’s senior director, brings “authentic Cherokee stories into the living rooms of millions of people, many of whom have likely only known inaccurate accounts of Cherokee history. It is really incredible to see our series become nationally syndicated.”

A New Vision for Tulsa

According to the most recent Oklahoma Native Impact report, Native American tribes in Oklahoma have contributed more than $15.6 billion into the state, while generating billions more from companies that operate there.

Supported by Oklahoma’s Muscogee Nation and the Indian Nations Council of Governments, the long-awaited South Tulsa Dam Project is expected to begin in earnest this summer. The project got the green light in late 2022 when the Muscogee National Council pledged to contribute $8.1 million toward the projected cost of close to $100 million. It’s to create a lake within the Arkansas River, which currently flows haltingly through a series of sandbars south of Tulsa toward the city of Jenks.

“The river,” says Jason Salsman, spokesman for the Muscogee Nation, “is Tulsa’s greatest environmental feature. Getting water in it opens up the possibility of creating an entirely different atmosphere” modelled, he says, on San Antonio’s River Walk. “It’s a way to stimulate economic development activity.”

Upon the project’s completion, the Muscogee Nation plans to invest several hundreds of millions of dollars into riverside development, contingent upon agreement with the City of Tulsa on a tax increment financing district. Salsman says the Nation envisions water taxis running between two of its signature properties, the expanding River Spirit Casino and Resort and Riverwalk Crossing, which lie on opposite sides of the Arkansas.

The Nation also is supporting a plan announced in November by Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt to allow in-person sports betting at gaming sites operated by federally recognized tribes.

“We just have to get on the same page,” Salsman says, “as to how all of that happens.” 

The Muscogee Nation plans to invest several hundreds of millions of dollars into riverside development contingent upon agreement with the City of Tulsa on a tax increment financing district.
Image courtesy of the Muscogee Nation

Gary Daughters
Senior Editor

Gary Daughters

Gary Daughters is a Peabody Award winning journalist who began with Site Selection in 2016. Gary has worked as a writer and producer for CNN covering US politics and international affairs. His work has included lengthy stints in Washington, DC and western Europe. Gary is a 1981 graduate of the University of Georgia, where he majored in Journalism and Mass Communications. He lives in Atlanta with his teenage daughter, and in his spare time plays guitar, teaches golf and mentors young people.


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