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Economic development survey: More economic growth desired on Osage Reservation

In partnership with the Institute for Nonprofit News and Indian Country Today, the News is taking a critical look at the economic state of Osage County and the Osage Reservation and what its citizens want for its future.

When it comes to economic development on the Osage Reservation, people would like to see more growth in sectors including small businesses, renewable energy, tourism, agriculture and more Osage Nation jobs, according to an online survey.

In late December 2021 through early January, the Osage News conducted an online survey known as the “Standing Together for Economic Opportunities Questionnaire.” The News asked 12 questions in a first-of-its-kind newspaper survey that serves as Osage County/Osage Reservation citizen input on the economic development in the area.

In partnership with the Institute for Nonprofit News and Indian Country Today, the News is taking a critical look at the economic state of Osage County and the Osage Reservation and what its citizens want for its future.

According to the survey results, 44 individuals responded to the questions with anonymous responses. Of those surveyed, 36 identified as citizens living in the Osage county/ reservation area and eight said they do not reside in the area. A total of 30 survey takers identified as Osage Nation tribal members and 14 are non-Osage tribal members. Not all survey takers responded to every question, so some were left blank.

  • What type of economic opportunities would you like to see more of within Osage County/Osage Reservation? Choices given were tourism, agriculture, casino, renewable energy, small business, Osage Nation jobs, county/ city government and other.

According to the results, 42 responded to the question and small business drew the most selections with 29 (69%) followed by renewable energy with 25 (59.5%), tourism 19 (45.2%) and both Osage Nation jobs and agriculture were each selected by 15 respondents (35.7%). The remaining question results are: Other received seven selections (16.6%), county/ city government jobs received five selections (11.9%) and casino received three (7.1%). 

  • In your opinion, what’s working in terms of job opportunities within Osage County/Osage Reservation?

A total of 36 people responded with written answers that included casino jobs, the Nation’s ranch and hydroponic garden, and ON government jobs. Others opined there are little job opportunities outside of the government and gaming and some jobs offer low salaries. One respondent wrote: “I think more and more small businesses are succeeding in Osage County because people are supporting them over large chains and I would like to see more opportunities for small businesses to come into Osage county/reservation.”

  • In your opinion, what’s not working in terms of job opportunities within Osage County/Osage Reservation?

Thirty-five people responded with answers including renewable energy, entertainment (aside from shopping), pay levels for non-ON government jobs, lack of a quality hospital and doctors, lack of state jobs and difficulty finding county employment opportunities, and lack of reliable internet for teleworking opportunities.

“What is needed is more opportunities to promote small Osage businesses, help those that aspire to help themselves with funding/backing,” wrote one respondent. Another commented: “Tribal investment into Hominy and Fairfax economies. Diversification of the Tribal economy into federal contacting and other enterprises. Developing Osage entrepreneurship. Tribal infrastructure for new small business investment. Need Osage Reservation reaffirmed to be able to take advantage of tax, regulatory, and jurisdiction opportunities.

  • What type of businesses would you like to see come to Osage County/Osage Reservation? Please explain.

Thirty-eight responses included more green energy businesses, small businesses, more tourism opportunities, more grocery stores and more entertainment opportunities for families.

One respondent wrote: “I would like to see some more manufacturing jobs ran by or somehow a part of the Nation. Metal, wood, machine making, etc. That don’t require a such a high level of skill to be able to even be considered for the job. I also would like to see more medical dispensaries, cultivators, growers, etc.” Another wrote: “Family event center for jobs for Osages helping bring families together with things for kids and families to enjoy together like the one Chickasaw Nation has (with) bowling, skating, laser tag, and employs Chickasaws to help run it, it’s a win-win for everyone great ideas! We are also the biggest county in Oklahoma. We should have some type of trade school in our county (to) bring growth and education to the community!”

  • In your opinion, what is the biggest issue facing people trying to start a business within Osage County/Osage Reservation?

Thirty-seven responses included issues including lack of support, capital, start-up funding opportunities, land, education, as well as motivation, locations and the current COVID-19 pandemic situation.

One responded commented: “Capital and the rural nature of the county. Can’t use that million-dollar business center; bays or office space runs $400 a month to start and steadily increases over time so it’s really not cost effective when you are trying to start (a business) … Livability – rents are too expensive and there is limited decent housing here, groceries are too expensive in Pawhuska, heck even funerals. But think beyond the county; if you were to create a casket making company and sell to anyone you would have (a) tribally-owned enterprise employing some folks; under-cut the competition for a change.”

  • Do you feel Osage County/Osage Reservation needs to offer more educational opportunities for adults? This includes trade school opportunities.

Forty-one (93.2%) voted “yes” and three voted “no” (6.8%) to this question.

  • What is your dream job within Osage County/Osage Reservation?

Written responses from 37 individuals varied including: self-owning businesses, agriculture, tourism, and positions to help fellow Osages and to grow the Nation.

Some responses indicated they had their dream jobs, were retired and one individual stated they would like to serve on the ON Congress. One individual wrote: “To work for the Nation at a manufacturing job. I want to know the hard work and sweat I do for eight or more hours a day is helping the company and my Osage Nation at the same time.”

  • Would you like to see more County/City/Osage Nation economic partnerships? Or not? Please explain.

Many of the 38 responses said yes and elaborated including: the desire to see more job opportunities available, to see the Nation benefit from those partnerships and a few “no” answers believing there is lack of communication already between the entities and partnerships could be costly.

“Many times there is a disconnect between the city and county governments versus the tribe. We all live here, so need to work together on economic partnerships and government,” wrote one respondent.

  • Do you know how to apply for jobs at the Osage Nation? If no, why not?

Many of the 40 respondents replied yes, while others voiced concerns about the Nation not hiring non-Osage individuals, being previously hired/ fired from the Nation and other said they are retired or are employed elsewhere.

  • Is there anything you would like to add about economic opportunities within Osage County/Osage Reservation?

Twenty-eight responded with some writing simply “no” while others elaborated on the topic.

“We need to strengthen what we have at this point, not expand. Our clinic is in dire need. We don’t have enough doctors or nurses. The salaries to hire credible, qualified, well-trained employees are not adequate. We are paying less than surrounding area facilities,” wrote one person. “We need to take responsibility and accountability and manage what we have before starting another project that we can’t finish or improperly manage. We don’t need any more money pit empty buildings either or huge lodges.”

Another respondent wrote: “Need more job/career training for youth, need to start students thinking about college/career at least in middle school! Prepare, look ahead. Skilled labor is necessary, not just college education.”

Another commenter wrote: “The tribe should work to support small businesses in Osage County. Small businesses are the economic engine that can fuel any growth in Osage County.”


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Benny Polacca
Benny Polacca started at the Osage News in 2009 as a reporter and has covered various stories and events impacting the Osage Nation and Osage people. Polacca is part of the News team awarded the Native American Journalist Association’s Elias Boudinot Free Press Award in 2014 and other NAJA Media Awards and SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter awards for news coverage and photography. Polacca is an Arizona State University graduate and participated in the former American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. He previously worked at The Forum newspaper covering the Fargo, N.D. region as the weeknight reporter.

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