Recently, the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes gathered to collaborate and strategize on issues that will be beneficial to the sovereign governments of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and Muscogee (Creek) nations. The Inter-Tribal Council is one of the strongest tribal associations in the U.S. and was established to promote positive relationships among five of Oklahoma’s largest tribes.

Collectively, our governments represent more than 650,000 citizens. We are stronger as tribes when we share in one another’s success and support the efforts of our brothers and sisters from our partner tribal nations.

Tribal governments are a major force in Oklahoma. It makes sense that we work together whenever possible to advance the needs of our people and communities.

The need for a united front on a variety of issues, including sovereignty, economic development, health care, water rights, housing and elder care is more important than ever. It is the spirit of cooperation that fuels our mission. Together, we can better protect our sovereign rights and do more good for our people, our governments and our state.

Tribes are essential economic drivers in Oklahoma, and the governor’s office along with state policymakers in the Senate and House of Representatives are aware of the unique capabilities we can bring to the table. The Cherokee Nation, through our government and business endeavors, has an annual $1.5 billion economic impact in our great state.

When this year’s economic impact report is released in a few months, it will show that Cherokee Nation’s contribution to the Oklahoma economy has only gotten larger.

With 38 federally recognized tribes, Oklahoma is the heart of Indian Country in America. The role tribes have in Oklahoma as economic, infrastructure and social service partners will continue to grow, especially with the projected state budget crisis we are facing in the coming year.

That’s why the governor has made a standalone Secretary of Native Affairs position within her cabinet.

Sadly, Oklahoma is looking at another $900 million deficit in 2017 because of an inability to agree on proper funding for essential government functions, like education and public safety. In contrast, our businesses continue to thrive in northeast Oklahoma, which allows Cherokee Nation to reinvest locally.

Last week’s official grand opening of our newest entertainment facility in Grove is a good example of this commitment. This development means 175 permanent quality jobs in Delaware County, not to mention all the construction jobs that were created in the past year on this project.

You see projects like this popping up all over Oklahoma, led by dozens of tribal nations. We understand very well the positive and long-lasting effect jobs can have at the local level. These employment opportunities, which come with health insurance and retirement options, mean better lives for all our citizens today and for the future.

Beyond creating jobs in our communities, tribal nations continue to make a positive impact on the health and in the lives of all citizens, Native and non -Native alike.

Bill John Baker is the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.