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Oklahoma’s Native American tribes combat hunger amid pandemic

Posted at 2:00 PM, Nov 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-27 11:40:23-05

TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma’s Native American tribes are working behind the scenes to ensure no one is left hungry during the pandemic.

Tribes are spending millions of dollars of federal CARES Act money to make sure there’s a food distribution network.

“We get out here every week at 3 o’clock, and the line already starts. We’ve had to hire off-duty officers just to control the traffic,” said Kevin Harper with Food on the Move.

It’s a local charity trying to eliminate food deserts in Tulsa. Their efforts became more critical once the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“It is amazing to be able to just partner with different people to make a difference because it is heartbreaking," Harper said. "It’s funny because we do a low touch to prevent a lot of contact with people, but over the last few months, I’ve gotten to know these people… people are just very, very thankful for what we’re doing."

Since the pandemic started, Food on the Move served more than half-a-million meals and delivered nearly 2.6 million pounds of food.

All of it is made possible through partnerships, and a major one is with the Cherokee Nation.

“We have about 16,000 [Cherokee citizens] just in this area, just in this district in Tulsa,” said Joe Deere, Cherokee Nation Tribal Council.

The tribe provides some of its federal relief dollars to help Food on the Move buy prepared food from local restaurants.

“There all with partnerships throughout Tulsa and so with all the families and communities coming together, the volunteers we’ve been able to feed millions of meals to these people,” Deere said.

And the tribal food relief efforts go beyond communities like Tulsa.

“We tried to blanket in strategic areas that way that when we get food in and when we need these distribution efforts that we can send this stuff out they can be equipped,” said Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief Bryan Warner.

At the Tri-web Community Center near Tahlequah.

“We are already starting to fill it up,” said J.R. Sellers with the center

The CARES Act funds from the Cherokee Nation helped build a freezer.

“Right now, we’ve already butchered two beef and put in there, and we’ve six or seven turkeys, and we are going to fill it up. We help the Cherokee Nation in distributing boxes to families and things, and this will help us preserve it in case we get more than we can hand out in one day. It will help us save our food to serve people the next day, even,” Sellers said.

And 90 minutes down the road in Eufaula.

“It’s great that we can give back to the community to help out so many people who have been affected by the COVID,” said Eufaula Indian Community Chair Selina Jayne-Dornan.

The Eufaula Indian Community Center became a drive-thru for many Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizens to get a meal before the holiday.

“The one thing about creek people is that they are very communal, and I think that kind of helps because it gives us the feeling that we are sharing… we are sharing a dinner even though we may not be sitting down together,” Jayne-Dornan said.

The hardest part for any tribal member helping during these trying times is running out of food and having to turn people away.

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

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