TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Cherokee Nation officials recently joined community leaders of Native American Fellowship Inc. in South Coffeyville and Tri-Community Association in Briggs to celebrate the installation of rooftop solar panels to their community buildings to help lower utility costs as well as provide an eco-friendly energy source.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and other tribal officials met with community leaders to cut the ribbon on the energy-efficient projects as part of the $30 million Housing, Jobs and Sustainable Communities Act Chief Hoskin announced in August 2019.

“A fundamental principle of our Cherokee culture is that we should consider the impact of what we do today on the next seven generations of future Cherokees. We are answering this sacred responsibility by investing in strong communities and a clean and healthy environment, and one result of that investment is enabling Cherokee community buildings to install rooftop solar panels,” said Chief Hoskin. “I could not be prouder of these two organizations, who have served as the local leads for food storage and distribution to elders and Cherokee families in need. By reducing their energy costs, we free up dollars to help more citizens and feed more people. Our community organizations will be able to expand their reach, and we hope this is just the beginning of building similar cost-saving installations for other Cherokee community buildings.”

Under the Housing, Jobs and Sustainable Communities Act, 75 percent of the $30 million is helping Cherokee citizens with housing repairs. The other 25 percent is set aside to upgrade Cherokee community buildings with connectivity and sustainability projects such as solar power, HVAC systems and Wi-Fi connectivity.

The solar project is distributed through the tribe’s Community & Cultural Outreach sustainability grant, which is meant to fund green-friendly efforts and other cost-saving renewable energy technology in Cherokee community buildings across the tribe’s 14 county reservation.

NAFI, serving residents of South Coffeyville in Nowata County, was the first Cherokee community organization to receive the solar panels. NAFI received 11 solar panels with a 4.4kW system, which will offset approximately 70 percent of the community building’s energy costs, saving more than $23,000. The system is estimated to reduce emissions equivalent to nearly 10,200 miles annually in an average car, or 110,000 pounds of coal.

“This grant we received through Cherokee Nation is a true blessing. We are very fortunate, and the Cherokee Nation is very fortunate, that we have a Chief that is following through with the commitment to helping not only our community but all Cherokee communities,” said NAFI President Bill Davis. “Our electric bill is normally about $170 a month and with the solar panels it will lower our bill tremendously. We are just really happy to receive these solar panels.”

Tri-Community Association, serving residents in Welling, Eldon and Briggs in Cherokee County, received 66 solar panels through this project, making it the largest solar installation so far under the Act. The 26.4 kW system will offset over half of the community building’s energy costs and save over $100,000 in energy costs over the life of the system. The panels are estimated to reduce carbon emissions equal to about 60,500 miles annually for an average car, or about 650,000 pounds of coal burned at a conventional power plant.

“In three and half years, we’ve provided 60,000 meals and there have been times when our utility bills have been so high that we didn’t know how we were going to pay them, but we always managed to. That’s where we got the idea for the need for solar panels,” said Tri-Community Association President J.R. Sellers. “We couldn’t do what we are doing if it wasn’t for Cherokee Nation. We are getting things today that we couldn’t get any other way. To say thank you would be an understatement.”

The Housing, Jobs and Sustainable Communities Act is part of Chief Hoskin’s first 100 days initiatives.

Since his inauguration in August 2019, Chief Hoskin has worked with the Council of the Cherokee Nation to create the Career Readiness Act, doubling the tribe’s investment for training Cherokees in health, IT, construction and line work; made the tribe’s largest language investment ever through the Durbin Feeling Cherokee Language Preservation Act, which provides $16 million to the tribe’s Cherokee language program; increased the minimum wage at Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses to $11 an hour; announced his intent to send a Cherokee delegate to Congress; and created the cabinet-level position of Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

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