New Prosperity and Old Problems: Native Americans in Oklahoma

Jan 26, 2017

There are over 330,000 Native Americans in the state of Oklahoma, with 38 federally recognized tribes - the second largest Native American population in the country second to California.

As history has shown, those numbers have not always translated to political power in the state, where fights for oil and water rights have often been dominated by U.S. government interests, at the expense of tribes.

But as some of the larger tribes in Oklahoma are becoming more prosperous, that power dynamic might be starting to shift.

Earlier this week, The Takeaway was broadcasting out of KOSU in Oklahoma City. While there, host John Hockenberry sat down with Logan Layden, reporter with State Impact Oklahoma, to discuss how tribes in the state are looking to finally have their voices and interests heard.

Nonetheless, struggles with misguided perceptions about their community persist, along with disparities in access to health care to address concerns like diabetes and mental health.

Alfreda Doonkeen, a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, knows these issues all too well. She vividly remembers life in Oklahoma City in the 1960s and 1970s, when the closest health facility was over 80 miles away. Witnessing her parents and other members of the community start a health clinic in their area molded her into an activist. Alfreda says taking on a dual role guided her radical approach to problem solving -- helping supply the demand for health services, while educating people on why these disparities exist.