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Road trips in the American Midwest can be long and, well – fairly boring sometimes. It takes about 12 hours to drive from Houston, Texas to Kansas City, the place I grew up, and the longest stretch is through the state of Oklahoma. The road seems endless and landscape is unremarkable most of the way, but as we drove up the highway from Texas this summer, we passed signs indicating that we had entered the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Cherokee Nations. These are not towns, mind you, but nations.

Many people don’t realize that within the United States of America there also exist other sovereign nations – federally recognized indigenous tribes with their own governments, schools, healthcare and social services. Through laws and treaties with the U.S. government, these “domestic dependent nations” are self-governing under tribal authority.

With more than 320,000 citizens, the Cherokee Nation is the largest Native American tribe in the U.S. and has jurisdiction covering 14 counties in the state of Oklahoma. The Cherokee Nation has its own Constitution and government, and its mission is to protect sovereignty, preserve and promote Cherokee culture, language and values and improve the quality of life for the next seven generations of Cherokee citizens.

In an effort to promote economic security and self-sufficiency, the tribe established Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB), a portfolio of 39 businesses and the economic engine for the Cherokee Nation. All of CNB’s profits – 100% – are either reinvested in training and job creation or social services for tribal citizens. In addition, all Cherokee Nation companies employ Cherokee citizens when possible and seek to do business with other Native American companies.

Cherokee Nation Businesses is by no means a small enterprise. The holding company owns enterprises in the gaming (casino), hospitality, information technology, healthcare, manufacturing, telecommunications and security industries, among others. The Cherokee Nation Businesses have experienced tremendous growth and citizens can clearly see the economic impact of CNB’s profitability. The tribe is able to build 300 homes per year for eligible families and provides assistance for elders and low-income residents. The Cherokee Nation also operates the largest tribal health system in the United States and recently announced a $100 million healthcare initiative in partnership with CNB. Other investments benefit the Cherokee educational system to ensure access to educational resources and the revitalization of the Cherokee culture and language.

Working with one of the Cherokee Nation companies has given me a glimpse of social enterprise in action. The mission of every business is clear, and every decision is guided by one question: “Will this benefit our citizens?” I admire the tribe’s commitment to integrity and real social responsibility, demonstrated through its dedication to the wellbeing of its citizens, self-sufficiency and the preservation of a unique way of life.

Social Enterprise may be a new concept, but leaders of the Cherokee Nation know it’s based on a timeless tradition of caring for one another. Cherokee Nation Businesses show that sustaining a community and strengthening its people are always a good investment.

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For more information about the Cherokee Nation, visit www.Cherokee.org or www.Anadisgoi.com. Anadisgoi is a Cherokee world that can be translated as “what people are saying” – a reference to the strong oral traditions that are an important part of the Cherokee culture. To learn more about Cherokee Nation Businesses and their impact in the community, please visit www.cherokeenationbusinesses.com.

Kim Montes is a Marketing and Communications Consultant based in Houston, Texas and has had the pleasure of working with Cherokee Nation Office Solutions on special projects. Kim has a strong interest in corporate social responsibility, social enterprise and small business development and enjoys writing, travel and lifelong learning.