STILWELL, Okla. — “We’re in a state in which the vaccination rate is far too low. So, these things continue to be important,” said Cherokee Chief Chuck Hoskins.
It’s been just over a year since Congress passed the $2 trillion Cares Act. It helped the Cherokee Nation fight the worldwide mask shortage with funds to build its PPE facility in Oklahoma.
In October 2 News saw how the tribe used part of its Cares Act funding to turn an old Walmart property in the heart of the Cherokee Nation into a medical-grade mask-making facility.
“To me, it’s one of the most innovative things that we have done, and probably many have done with CARES ACT funding,” said Todd Enlow, Cherokee Nation chief of staff.
$2 billion of that funding went to 39 tribes in Oklahoma. Nearly a year after the tribes received funding, a team inside the Cherokee Nation’s mask-making facility is training to make surgical and N95 masks.
“It feels good. As long as everyone is taking care of it doesn’t matter where I work at-- a part of this facility--as long as it’s taking care of everybody,” said worker Dakota Fixin.
Despite restrictions being lifted across the country, Hoskin said this facility would be a long-term asset to the tribe and the community.
“It’s about economic development. It’s about the safety of masks, but it’s also about changing the lives of the folks that are in this facility, and to get to do that right there in the heart of the Cherokee Nation is really, I think important,” said Hoskin.
That’s why the tribe is already shipping masks to help India with the COVID-19 case surge.
“We’re all optimistic. We’re all hopeful that things will get better, but you look at the headlines. You look at what’s going on in India right now,” said Hoskin.
Hoskin believes there will always be a need for surgical masks, and the federally certified facility will continue to help.
“I think it not only has a local impact, but a global reach, but it hits hometown for these folks that will be working here,” said Enlow.
“We’re getting a job--hopefully more at another site in Hulbert. Hopefully, we get these masks out, not only to the Cherokee people either,” said Fixin.
“But speed was the order of the day and when you look at the facility and where it was and where it is now its completely transformed into a manufacturing facility that’s creating jobs and creating something very important, which are these masks, which will continue to be a vital part of protecting ourselves,” said Hoskin.
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