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Beyond Casinos: Oklahoma Tribes Tackle Environmental Projects, Tourism Industry

Cory Moates, owner of Moates Excavating, left, and Tim Kent, environmental director of The Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, inspect ongoing chat disposal from a site near Quapaw. The pit is the top of a collapsed mine near Picher.
Rip Stell
The Journal Record
Cory Moates, owner of Moates Excavating, left, and Tim Kent, environmental director of The Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, inspect ongoing chat disposal from a site near Quapaw. The pit is the top of a collapsed mine near Picher.

Monday The Journal Record published itsTribal Economic Impact issue, a deep dive into how Oklahoma’s federally recognized Native American groups fund their services and contribute to Oklahoma’s economy.

It goes way beyond just casinos. A 2012 study by Oklahoma City University’s Meinders School of Business estimates the tribes have a $10.8 billion economic impact on the state, employing more than 50,000 people.

Quapaws Contribute To Contaminated Chat, Chemical Cleanup

The Quapaw Tribe has taken a leading role in the restoration of the Tar Creek Superfund site. The Northeast Oklahoma lead and zinc mines dating back to the 1800s have been largely inactive since the 1950s, but the town was considered one of the most toxic waste sites in the United States. Chat piled as high as houses, chemicals infiltrated the water, forcing the town of Picher to shut down entirely.

The Journal Record’s Sarah Terry-Cobo reports the Quapaws started working with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2002. Last year they signed a deal with the EPA to lead a cleanup at the Catholic 40 site.

“It’s about money. In 2013 they spent $5 million doing work on tribal land and on adjacent land,” says Journal Record managing editor Adam Brooks. “So this includes paychecks for about 35 truck drivers, which means having money in the area helps tribal members, and it helps local businesses.”

Cory Moates, the owner of Moates Excavating, benefits from contracts with the tribe, even though he isn’t a member. He has worked with the tribe since 2007 on general construction jobs like the Downstream Casino, convenience stores and community centers. Contracts with the tribe accounted for about 80 percent of his company’s workload in 2013, Moates said. He said he was excited for the opportunity to participate in the cleanup work, in part because the Quapaws are an excellent business partner. The latest project, which began moving chat piles on Dec. 9, will employ about 30 people. His employees will drive dump trucks that haul off the contaminated material, among other things. He expects to move 80,000 tons of waste in about two to three months, depending on the weather.

Once those piles are gone, the tribe wants to work with University of Oklahoma researchers who have been testing systems to filter and clean water in wetlands. Eventually the Quapaws would like to see the land returned to as close as its natural state as possible, able to be used for traditional tribal hunting and fishing.

Chickasaw Attractions Benefit Tribe, Communities

Between ubiquitous television commercials and billboards along Interstate 25 as it passes through tribal territory, there are no shortages of signs the Chickasaw Nation’s leisure and hospitality industry is thriving.

The Chickasaw Visitor Center in Sulphur.
Credit Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record
The Journal Record
The Chickasaw Visitor Center in Sulphur.

But the Journal Record’s Molly Fleming reports this is all a somewhat recent development.

The tribe’s first tourism-based business was the Chickasaw Motor Inn in Sulphur. It housed people coming to visit the Chickasaw Recreation Area in south central Oklahoma, but was razed in 2006 to make room for The Artesian, which opened in 2013. The tribe now has tourism stops in Davis and Tishomingo. In Sulphur, the tribe operates the Chickasaw Cultural Center; the Chickasaw Visitor Center; the Artesian Hotel, Casino and Spa; and the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center. In Davis, it runs the Bedre Fine Chocolate factory and Chickasaw Nation Welcome Center. It will soon open a Chickasaw tourism information center in Tishomingo. In 2013, these attractions drew more than 80,000 visitors.

“That’s going to be part of the revitalization of downtown Tishomingo,” Brooks says. “It's not just the tribe. Country music star has Miranda Lambert has a store there called the Pink Pistol, as well as a bed and breakfast. And that brings people into town. It's really a great example of how tribes and private entities can work together side-by-side to build an area."


The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

The Journal Record is a multi-faceted media company specializing in business, legislative and legal news. Print and online content is available via subscription.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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