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Native American tribes aim to expand broadband internet during pandemic

Posted at 11:00 PM, Dec 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-04 13:13:06-05

PAWHUSKA, Okla.  — Pawhuska, Oklahoma is known for the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve downtown tourism.

”We were closed almost, I’d say close to two months," said Jackie Wilcox, an Osage citizen and downtown Pawhuska store owner of Spurs & Arrows. "It hit us pretty hard. It was pretty devastating.”

It’s also the nerve center and headquarters of the Osage Nation.

”We are a sovereign nation. We are a sovereign government," said William Fenton, Osage Nation. "People depend on the services that we provide. We have an obligation to our tribal members and our people."

Tribal governments are supporting remote workers and facilities spanning the size of Rhode Island. Some federal CARES Act funds are helping the Osage Nation build a fiber optic network to connect its critical infrastructure and services. Fenton is responsible for the tribe’s network and for making sure employees can work from home.

"These projects that we’re using the CARES Act funding for and this broadband project in particular are getting us in a much better place to be prepared should we need to go all back home again,” Fenton said.

They’re also bringing a free and robust WiFi network to downtown Pawhuska where Osage citizens own and operate business. Wilcox believes this project will benefit everyone.

”I think it will not only benefit businesses here, but the whole community, the school, like I said the people who live here, the tenants and the businesses as well the community as a whole will benefit,” Wilcox said.

Tribes are also deploying mobile WiFi hot spots and the Cherokee Nation is working with the federal communications commission to expand 5G cell service to rural areas.

”I think this is one of those, once we take a look and once we mapped out areas, we know these high points, we know these low points," said Deputy Chief Bryan Warner, Cherokee Nation. "We’re working not only the FCC on this piece of it, but we’re taking local entities that also have an interest in fiber to the home, into broadband and we’re working together, and it’s really a collaborative effort."

And because the federal CARES Act funding for tribes has a spending deadline, these projects are in overdrive.

"Normally, a project like this and we have other similar projects that are similar to this that we’ve been working on for over two years, and this project is going to be completed by December 30th," Fenton said. "So, we’re talking a matter of months."

Is the CARES Act funding working for you? If you're an enrolled member of a Native American tribe in our area, let us know by emailing NativeAmericaRecovery@kjrh.com.


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