- By Chuck Hoskin Jr
Oklahoma has a rich legacy of innovation and success in the aerospace industry. Cherokee Nation citizen Will Rogers was one of its earliest promoters almost 100 years ago. Today, aerospace and aviation continue to help propel the Oklahoma economy, and Cherokee Nation plays a key role in this business sector,
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oklahoma Commerce Department reports that our home state continued to draw in more aerospace and defense companies to create new quality jobs, with an average annual salary over $86,000. Statewide, it is one of the fastest-growing industries.
Cherokee Nation is helping to educate and train workers to fill those quality jobs. We are preparing Cherokees and Oklahomans to become the engineers, manufacturers and maintenance technicians that are in demand by this industry. Leading this effort is our Deputy Chief Bryan Warner, a former math and science educator.
Recently, Cherokee Nation and the Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology launched a formal partnership. Spartan will work directly with Sequoyah High School, introducing Cherokee youth to the wide range of possible aviation careers and preparing them to succeed.
Education and career opportunities for tribal citizens remain a strategic priority for the Cherokee Nation. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education is essential to growing our place in the global economy. STEM education fosters adaptability and complex analytical skills that are critical to the success of Cherokees in today’s evolving technological world.
Cherokee Nation is also working with Oklahoma State University and NASA to create curriculum that includes Native American culture. While the primary objective is to create educational programs that incorporate tribal histories and values, we can also introduce students to concepts that will excite and inspire the next generation of Cherokees in STEM-related fields. These ideas can help Cherokee and other Native children realize that many of their hobbies are already related to STEM careers. Popular video games, for example, are the result of engineering, which is also the basis of what it takes to get a rocket into orbit or an airplane wired and ready for flight.
One Oklahoma City-based company, Delaware Resource Group, is collaborating with the Cherokee Nation to begin an annual summer retreat for Native students interested in aviation careers. Owner Phil Busey, a Cherokee Nation citizen, knows success in the aerospace sector will bring a brighter future for Oklahoma, but finding qualified employees can be difficult. Without contemporary role models, many Cherokee youth do not see themselves in a STEM career. That’s where individuals like Phil are helping change the landscape. We are partnering with him and others to build out relevant curriculums and increase student awareness across our reservation. Real statewide workforce development begins in elementary school and continues through high school and beyond.
Cherokee Nation does not only prepare workers for aerospace industry; our tribal businesses have long been recognized as one of its most prestigious suppliers. For more than 50 years, we have provided aerospace, technology and defense services, including system sustainment and integration, manufacturing, engineering, program management, and aviation and facility support to both private industry and government agencies. At our facilities in Stilwell and Pryor, our staff manufacture a diverse range of products, including aerospace wiring harnesses, electromechanical assemblies, aviation sheet metal and machined parts, and ground support equipment.
We aren’t just looking at the past and the present. As a tribe, we are building programs and making strategic investments that will benefit Cherokee citizens, families, communities and neighbors for generations to come. Just as Will Rogers took to the sky nearly 100 years ago, we are looking to emerging technologies to keep us moving forward.
Our businesses include teams of scientists, technicians, weather and climate experts, flight crews, and others who are on the cutting edge of using unmanned systems, better known as drones, in land, air and sea operations. These exciting projects range from deep sea exploration to disaster relief, military support, emergency response, hazardous weather forecasting and environmental monitoring.
Cherokee Nation includes some of the best and brightest minds in America. From our youths just learning what is possible through STEM education to our brilliant and hard-working industry professionals, we are fueling the growth of the aerospace industry in northeast Oklahoma and developing technologies that could change the world.
Chuck Hoskin, Jr. is principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
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