The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO), the third-largest Native American nation in the United States with more than 200,000 tribal members and 10,000-plus associates, has an oral tradition dating back over 13,000 years and a modern business mindset. It has transformed its 10,923 square mile reservation in the southeast corner of Oklahoma into a lucrative business focal point and innovative drone hub.
The CNO had a budget of $1.9 billion in 2020 and manages an array of businesses including 20 gaming sites, three resorts, restaurants, a multi-million-dollar printing company, travel plazas, and ranches and farms encompassing 65,000 acres and 2,100 head of cattle. This summer, a $600 million expansion project will position its casino in Durant to be one of the largest in the country.
The CNO has made also significant investments in emerging aviation technologies, with an emphasis on drones. The CNO’s drone journey began in 2016. Just a few years after the tribal government purchased 44,500+ acres of land in southeastern Oklahoma, it approached James Grimsley to explore creative ways to leverage the land, using advanced technology, for the good of the tribe. At the time, Grimsley was the Associate Vice President for Research at the University of Oklahoma, an aerospace and mechanical engineer with deep ties to the tribe, having grown up within reservation lands. He spent the next year generating a series of game-changing studies and reports on the regulatory, market and business landscape for emerging aviation technologies. Grimsley ultimately left his academic position to become the tribe’s Executive Director of Advanced Technology Initiatives.