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Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB), the economic development and gaming arm of the Cherokee Nation, has announced a plan to repurpose personal protective equipment (PPE) facilities that the tribe stood up during the height of the pandemic.

The Oklahoma facilities, located in Stilwell and Hulbert, will be overhauled in support of artists and emergency services. The Stilwell facility will become home to space for art classes, an art gallery, and an art storage repository. The Hulbert facility will serve as a new Cherokee Nation Marshal Service and Emergency Medical Services satellite office. 

The reinvention of the two sites builds on both the Cherokee Artist Recovery Act of 2022, as well as the McGirt v. Oklahoma decision of 2020, which expanded tribal criminal jurisdiction to areas within reservation lands, per a report by Cherokee Nation’s newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix

The 15 employees currently staffing the two PPE facilities will receive assistance from CNB in locating new employment, either within the organization’s portfolio, with the tribe, or elsewhere. Some have already picked up work at the 1839 Cherokee Meat Company and processing plant, another product of pandemic-era developments, per prior Tribal Business News reporting. 

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“We are proud of the work to protect our citizens during the worst public health crisis of our generation,” CNB Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Cultural & Economic Development Molly Jarvis said in a statement. “Winding down these two operations is in the best interest of the tribe and tribal citizens at this time.”

The facilities opened in March 2021, just one year after the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the United States, per prior reporting in Tribal Business News. Both projects and their startup materials were funded with a portion of the Cherokee Nation’s funding through the CARES Act of 2020, when the tribe received $38 million in federal support. 

Todd Enlow, then Chief of Staff for the Cherokee Nation and its current Executive Director of Housing, said at the time that the widespread need for PPE amid nationwide mask mandates spurred the tribe into action.

“We felt we needed to help try to fill that gap,” Enlow told Tribal Business News. “One of the things we looked at was face mask production.”

Masks were first supplied to Cherokee Nation citizens, first responders, and tribal employees, and then to schools, nonprofits, and other tribes, Jarvis said in a recent statement. Over the course of their two and a half years in use, the facilities produced around 4 million masks. 

“Now that we are no longer in a declared pandemic, and we no longer face a global shortage of PPE supplies, we no longer have the same need to manufacture our own masks,” Jarvis said. “ We are thankful for those employees who helped us in this fight and look forward to the new prospects these facilities will bring the community.”

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