Cherokee Nation Businesses Follow Tribal Government In Raising Minimum Wage

SEP 25, 2019

Cherokee Nation Businesses announced that it will raise its workers’ minimum wage to $11 an hour, effective Oct. 1. The announcement comes after pay raises were approved last month for Cherokee Nation government workers. Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses the specifics of these raises and how profits from Cherokee Nation Businesses help the tribe.

Drew Hutchinson: You’re listening to the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I’m Drew Hutchinson, and as always, joining me is Russell Ray, editor of The Journal Record. So this week, I’d like to discuss a story by Journal Record reporter Steve Metzer. He reported last week that the Cherokee Nation’s business division, called Cherokee Nation Businesses, would soon issue a formal announcement of minimum wage increases for its employees. We now know that announcement has been made, and that many hourly workers are now entitled to an $11 minimum wage. For those who don’t know, Cherokee Nation Businesses is the holding company for the tribe’s for-profit businesses. Russell, could you tell the listeners a little about the types of businesses owned by the tribe, and the actual scope of the Cherokee Nation’s for-profit holdings?

Ray: Absolutely. Cherokee Nation Business employs about 7,000 people and owns companies in several industries, including gaming, hospitality, manufacturing and health care. These businesses are in 49 states and they directly or indirectly support nearly 18,000 jobs. The tribe and its businesses have an estimated annual impact of more than $2 billion in northeast Oklahoma.

Hutchinson: So this latest move by the tribe mirrors an announcement last month concerning tribal government workers. Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. announced a pay raise for these employees. It begins in October, and it will bring the tribe’s government workers’ minimum wage from $9.50 to $11, which is the same as the business side’s new pay. And if these tribal employees are already paid above the minimum wage, there’s a system for that.

Ray: Well that’s right. Those who currently earn more than the minimum wage will see their pay rise by anywhere from 2.5% to 8%. Hoskin told us those making the least will be getting the biggest pay increases. Hoskin also said those earning minimum wage will get an 18% increase. People earning $11-15 an hour will get an 8% increase. And those at the top of the pay scale will get a 2.5% increase.

Hutchinson: And it’s worth mentioning that these tribal government raises were what prompted Cherokee Nation Businesses to take a look at its entry-level pay and make some changes. And Hoskin seems genuinely enthusiastic about this endeavor. He said in the Journal Record story that one of the perks of the government worker pay raises was that they’ll infuse the area’s economy with another $9 million or so per year.

Ray: Yes, Hoskin said he wants to share the prosperity of the Cherokee Nation with its citizens. Hoskin said pay increases represent not only investments in the tribal workforce but also in the economy of Oklahoma. The mission of the Cherokee Nation Businesses is to grow the economy of the Cherokee Nation through diversification and the creation of jobs for Cherokee citizens in Oklahoma and other states.

Hutchinson: And for those who don’t know, Cherokee Nation Businesses funnels money back into the tribe. In fact, it pays a direct dividend of 37% of its profits to the tribe. And this money is used to provide services for the Cherokee Nation, like housing, education and social services.

Ray: Yes, that’s right. The remaining 63% is reinvested into jobs, wages, business development and special projects, such as new health care facilities.

Hutchinson: Russell Ray is editor of The Journal Record. Thank you so much for your time today, Russell.

Ray: My pleasure, Drew. Thank you.

Hutchinson: KGOU and The Journal Record collaborate each week on the Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us both on social media. We’re on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @journalrecord and @KGOUnews. You’ll find links to the stories we discussed during this episode at And this conversation, along with previous episodes of the Business Intelligence Report, are available on our website, While you’re there, you can check out other features and podcasts produced by KGOU and our StateImpact reporting team. For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I’m Drew Hutchinson.