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The conference room was fitted with a TV screen displaying the real-time number of COVID-19 cases reported across the country. But as the meeting began on March 19, 2020, the screen did not report any deaths in Oklahoma.
Senior Chief David Hill watched the data roll by as he met with an emergency task force to plan the Muscogee Nation’s response as the pandemic approached. And he remembers when the state number went from zero to one.
“I still have a photo of it,” said Hill. “I think we were all wondering how far that number would end up reaching.”
When the current chiefs were young men, the three main tribes of the Tulsa region would have played a minimal role in handling such a huge crisis, especially outside of their own populations. Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., for example, remembers when the Cherokee Nation purchased a recreational vehicle to provide health services to rural communities, which seemed like a huge investment at the time.
Now, the Cherokees run the largest tribal health system in the country with an annual budget of $ 924 million. And the Muscogee Nation has invested $ 40 million this year to buy a hospital building in southern Tulsa, where it has opened a COVID treatment clinic not only for tribal citizens but for all residents of Tulsa.
If there was any doubt before the pandemic, COVID-19 made it clear that the three tribes – Cherokee, Muscogee and Osage – now play a major role in shaping public policy in Northeast Oklahoma. . And as vaccines have become widely available this year, tribes have become indispensable partners with state and county governments in distributing the vaccines.