TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (KFOR) – U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg visited Oklahoma Tuesday to sign a compact with the Cherokee Nation.

Trottenberg and Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed a Tribal Transportation Self-Governance Program compact and funding agreement, an unprecedented act between a tribe and the USDOT. 

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg could not attend the event after testing positive for COVID 19, but signed the compact from Washington D.C. Trottenberg signed during the event as a witness, according to Cherokee Nation officials.

The USDOT and Cherokee Nation have negotiated a compact and funding agreement for the Cherokee Nation’s right to self-determination and self-governance since 2021. 

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Front Row (L to R): U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg and Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., shake hands after signing a compact and funding agreement under the Tribal Transportation Self-Governance Program. Back Row L to R: Eldridge Onco, Senior Tribal Affairs Adviser U.S. DOT, Arlando Teller, Deputy Assitant Secretary of Tribal Affairs for the US DOT, Cherokee Nation Secretary of Natural Resources Chad Harsha, Council of the Cherokee Nation members Mike Dobbins, Candessa Tehee, Rex Jordan, Secretary of State Tina Glory Jordan, Cherokee Nation Delegate to Congress Kim Teehee, Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner and Cherokee Nation Director of Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Michael Lynn. Photo provided by Cherokee Nation.

The compact empowers the Cherokee Nation to plan and oversee its own road construction planning and transit projects without having to obtain federal permission and oversight.

“We were honored to have U.S. Deputy Transportation Secretary Trottenberg visit the Cherokee Nation, which has led a sophisticated transportation program for several years helping our tribal communities, state and federal partners with safer, well-maintained roadways in the reservation,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “Signing this compact with the USDOT will mean having oversight for the first time to plan, lead and oversee the finance of our own road projects and mean more and better investments in terms of travel and infrastructure in the Cherokee Nation to the benefit of thousands of citizens.”

Trottenberg also visited the Cherokee Nation Rocky Top Road project near Fort Gibson and discussed the tribe’s EV initiatives.

“We’re proud to stand today with the Cherokee Nation to announce this first of its kind Self-Governance Compact that gives the Tribe much-deserved decision-making authority and flexibility over federal funds for transportation projects,” Trottenberg said. “The Biden-Harris Administration and our Department are firmly committed to honoring Tribal sovereignty and codifying Tribes’ right to self-determination through agreements like this one.” 

The Cherokee Nation built one of the first solar canopies in the state at its Tahlequah headquarters; has two electric transit buses and new charging stations, purchased through a $1.5 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant awarded to the Cherokee Nation in 2018; and has an electric school bus, according to tribal officials.

The tribe’s Transportation and Infrastructure Department improved 67 miles of roadway in fiscal year 2020 through a $12.1 million investment, 88 miles of roadway in fiscal year 2021 through a $19.2 million investment and 50 miles of roadway so far in fiscal year 2022 through a $10.3 million investment, tribal officials said.

The compact agreement now heads to the Council of the Cherokee Nation for ratification.