The importance of advancing Native leadership

Collaborator: VNN Content Studio
Published: 05/16/2023, 2:19 PM

Native Commerce News is sponsored by the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma (AICCO), dedicated to expanding Indian Country commerce across the globe.  

(TULSA, Okla.) Native people have lived on American soil for at least 20,000 years. Despite repeated attempts to dismantle and eradicate Native communities and culture, Native people continue to thrive and excel in both community and business leadership today. And there is no place that demonstrates that fact quite like Indian Country.

Oklahoma’s 39 tribes contribute billions of dollars to the state economy every year, directly employing more than 50 thousand people and supporting over 100,000 jobs.

The Cherokee Nation recently announced they injected more than $3 billion into the Oklahoma economy in 2021, in addition to doling out $16.6 million in scholarships to students and providing $7.4 million to public schools across northeastern Oklahoma in 2021. The Chickasaw Nation reported an annual economic impact in the state of Oklahoma of $5.5 billion last year, supporting more than 34,400 jobs and $1.8 billion in wages and benefits. In 2019, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes said they had an economic impact of over $261 million.

Financials aside, Native perspective, also known as Indigenous worldview, has long been applauded as an asset to community and business growth, as well as the optimal approach to existing in harmony with the world around us.

Forbes magazine said this approach not only recognizes relationships take time to form and generate mutual responsibilities, but also that the past, present, and future are connected through concerns of equal importance.

As Oklahoma’s Native population continues to grow, advancing Native leadership is more vital than ever.

By The Numbers

In Oklahoma, nearly 15 percent of the state population identified as American Indian or Alaskan Native in 2021. That’s more than half a million people, and up nearly one percent compared to 2019.

And those aren’t the only insights able to be gleaned from the latest Census data.

The education and income levels of Oklahoma’s Native people need to grow to catch up to those of the total population, and beyond that if they want to surpass nationwide levels.

Just 17.1 percent of Oklahoma’s Native people were enrolled in college or graduate school, compared to 22.2 percent of Oklahoma’s total population and 26.7 percent of the US population.

Oklahoma’s Native people had a lower percentage (22.4) of having a bachelor’s degree compared to Oklahoma’s total population (27.9 percent) and the US population (35 percent).

Oklahoma’s Native people also had a higher unemployment rate (8.2 rate) compared to Oklahoma’s total population (5.9 rate) and the US population (6.3 percent).

While Native people were more often employed as government workers (21.3 percent) compared to Oklahoma’s total population (17.8), they were also slightly less likely to be employed as private wage and salary workers (72.1 percent) compared to Oklahoma’s total population (75.2).

Native families had both a lower median household income ($49,853) compared to Oklahoma’s total population ($55,826) and the US population ($69,717), and lower individual median earnings compared to Oklahoma’s total population and the US population.

Native men in Oklahoma earned $45,368 compared to Oklahoma men overall earning $51,289 and US men overall earning $60,428.

Women earned less than all of their male counterparts. Native women in Oklahoma earned slightly less ($38,018) compared to all Oklahoma women ($39,781) and both earned less than US women overall ($49,263).

Oklahoma’s Native people also were much less likely to have health insurance. 20.8 percent of Oklahoma Natives had no health insurance, compared to 13.8 percent of Oklahoma’s total population and 8.6 percent of the US population overall.

It is clear that tribal nations have a far-reaching impact on Oklahoma’s economy, improving the lives of current and future generations of all Oklahomans. But opportunity and prosperity must expand with Native population growth across all sectors in order for Native perspective to reach its full potential.

Leadership Native Oklahoma

Community and business trailblazers who recognize both the impact and growth opportunity in Indian Country have been joining with tribal governments for the last several years to advance Native leadership in Oklahoma.

Put on by the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma (AICCO) since 2016, Leadership Native Oklahoma (LNO) is an annual program that equips business owners and other stakeholders in Indian Country with the tools and resources to succeed in the constantly evolving commerce and trade ecosystems.

LNO also emphasizes the unique values and needs of Native people that must be considered when planning for future generations.

“Supporting Native Oklahoma plays a vital role in contributing to the social, health and sustainability of the economic landscape,” said AICCO President Bailey Walker. “And it all begins and ends with local business. More investment in our tribal communities equals more jobs, more resources, and more generational wealth for all.”

While applications are no longer being accepted for LNO’s Class of 2023, there is still a way for more businesses, organizations, and governments to be a part of the unique interactions and learning opportunities provided by LNO through class sponsorship.

Sponsorship options range from Wolf ($1,000) to Eagle ($7,500) and are accompanied by a variety of LNO promotional benefits.

All sponsorship levels also include admittance to the LNO Graduation Banquet, a distinguished networking event with tribal leaders, state leaders, and participants. This year’s banquet will be held on August 3 at the Choctaw Casino and Resort in Durant.

AICCO’s membership is currently more than 400 strong and growing, and includes Native and non-Native businesses and individuals as well as Native students.

To learn more about LNO programming and sponsorship opportunities, visit

For additional information, you may also email or call 918-624-9382.


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