Cherokee Nation begins $25 million in new construction, part of COVID-19 response

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(L-R) Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., Tribal Councilor Joe Deere, Deputy Chief Bryan Warner, Tribal Councilor Keith Austin and Chief of Staff Todd Enlow on Sept. 8 toured a former school facility that is being renovated as office space to allow for social distancing of tribal employees.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (KFOR) – The Cherokee Nation has broken ground on a $25 million construction plan that includes building eight new facilities and remodeling four others in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leaders of the tribe broke ground Tuesday on the Respond, Recover and Rebuild projects, which range from PPE manufacturing and space for social distancing, to food outreach sites and a new employee health care facility, according to a Cherokee Nation news release.

The projects will be located across the Cherokee Nation, including Tahlequah, Belfonte, Stilwell, Kansas, Jay, Vinita, Catoosa, Pryor, Muskogee and Hulbert.

“We went where the needs are and the need is all over, and different for different communities,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “There is an ongoing need for PPE manufacturing, so we are having Cherokees produce them in the Cherokee Nation. Other facilities are going to be used for food security efforts. As we continue the largest emergency food distribution program in the history of the Cherokee Nation we need strategic locations to store and distribute food. Other locations are a way to spread staff and the citizens they serve out through social distancing.”

The PPE manufacturing site in Stilwell will be at the former CNI building on Highway 100. Around 20 employees will be staffed there. It will serve as a drive-through public health outreach facility. The Hulbert PPE manufacturing site will have two to three employees.

“We are finding ways to put Cherokees to work here by manufacturing equipment that will make a difference in our community and across the country,” said District 7 Tribal Councilor Canaan Duncan. “COVID has certainly taken a toll on all of us, but by having a site to manufacture PPE and test for COVID in our community, we will make a huge difference.”

Facilities in Vinita, Kansas, Belfonte and Jay – each approximately 4,000 square feet – will be used for food outreach space.

“Our main goal here is to build a food distribution site where we can supply this area, and take a strategic look at the 14 counties,” said Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner. “This is one of the areas where they can reach out to the individuals a lot faster than we can as a whole, but they are still part of our umbrella and part of our family and it’s a big part of ga-du-gi, to come together and work together.”

The projects also include a 6,000-square-foot new employee health center next to the Cherokee Nation W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex and additional office space for social distancing in Catoosa and Muskogee.

“The Cherokee Nation is putting our CARES Act funding from the U.S. Treasury to great use in our Cherokee communities by investing in this $25 million project that will provide jobs and ongoing needed safety equipment, ensure our elders do not struggle with food insecurity through this pandemic, add space for employee safety and provide a new health center for our Cherokee Nation employees that is close to our tribal complex and can treat for a range of illness as well as test for COVID-19,” Hoskin said.

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