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Cherokee Nation signs first tribe infrastructure agreement with federal government

The agreement allows the Cherokee Nation to oversee its own road projects without oversight from the U.S. federal government.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — It was a historic moment in Tahlequah, Oklahoma on Tuesday, June 7, as the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Cherokee Nation entered a tribal transportation self-governance program.

"This is a new beginning, to a new chapter of government to government relationships with the United States," said a member of the Cherokee Nation. "It’s our hope that as all of Indian County looks on it’s the first of many."

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg and Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed the compact Tuesday after negotiations began in 2021, according to a news release by the Cherokee Nation. As the USDOT and Cherokee Nation went between back and forth negotiations.

During the signing ceremony, Trottenberg also announced that USDOT would be giving $120 million to invest in and improve road safety on tribal land.

"The fatality rate on roadways double in tribal communities, as it does in the rest of the country," Trottenberg said. "This is heartbreaking to all of us at USDOT and we’re looking for this funding to save lives."

The Cherokee Nation and USDOT are working together to reduce that statistic. The agreement allows the Cherokee Nation to oversee its own projects without oversight from the U.S. federal government.

"Cherokee people, this is about saving communities," Chief Hoskin Jr. said "We just don’t want to save these."

Shortly after signing the compact agreement, the Cherokee Nation showed members of the USDOT their investments in electric vehicles including, two electric transit buses, an electric school bus and electric charging stations.

"We’ll get some forward funding out of this," Chief Hoskin Jr. said. "It will allow us to plan farther into the future. So, that the community and all the people I talked about can have a safer future."

The Cherokee Nation bought the buses and charging stations by using a 2018 $1.5 million grant from the USDOT.

"This is the first agreement of its kind between a tribal nation and the government," Trottenberg said. "And we certainly hope, in the Biden-Harris Administration it is the first of many to come."

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