TAHLEQUAH — The Cherokees’ historic commitment to natural resources and ties to their land took a step into the future recently.

Last month, the Cherokee Nation became the first Oklahoma tribe to open a solar canopy car-charging station.

“It is only a first step but a first step worth celebrating in regards to conservation of our natural resources,” said Sara Hill, Cherokee Nation secretary of natural resources.

For tribal citizen and employee Ben Phillips, it was an early Christmas gift. Phillips, of Fort Gibson, works at the tribal complex in Tahlequah and has driven a hybrid car for four years. He chose the vehicle for its technology and low maintenance and now uses the tribe’s charging station daily, which saves him time and money.

“When I heard we were doing this, I was very excited,” Phillips said. “It is great that our tribe is doing something about renewable energy for the good of the environment.

“I think anything you can do to help the environment is great. I’m so happy the Cherokee tribe is committed to green, renewable energy.”

The car-charging station is in the main parking lot at the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex. It is capable of charging eight electric vehicles at one time and provides about 58,000 kilowatt hours of electricity to the tribal complex. That is enough to power three or more homes for an entire year.

“I have a charging station at home and now one here at work,” Phillips said. “One of the things this has done is get a lot of my friends and co-workers to ask me about my car and how it works.

“I look at it as an opportunity to educate people about renewable energy and what a great thing it is for all of us.”

Cherokee National Principal Chief Bill John Baker made it clear that the project is aimed at promoting a “green” environment for generations to come.

The Cherokees have embraced recent initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and promote environmentally friendly projects.

“When Chief Baker appointed me two years ago to this Cabinet-level position, it was with the intention of spreading these initatives,” Hill said. “Our mission is to work on these sort of issues, and Chief Baker has made it a priority.

“We are working on a strategy of how to bring these charging stations all over our 14-county area in northeast Oklahoma. We would like to see the day when people could travel throughout the Cherokee Nation and have charging stations available.

“Northeastern Oklahoma is our home and will always be home. We want our home to thrive, and this is one way to preserve what we have.”

The new conservation initiatives include leasing land to a company for the development of a wind-energy farm on Cherokee Nation trust land in Kay County in north-central Oklahoma.

“Embracing solar panels and adding electric vehicles to our fleet is consistent with Cherokee Nation’s leadership in clean-energy and footprint reduction,” Baker said.

“We have always been a good steward of the land, and this is another example of exceptional natural resource conservation, a legacy established by our ancestors.

“Additionally, the structure’s design enhances the beautification efforts we have made at the tribal complex.”

The solar canopy was a joint project of the Cherokee Nation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It was built by Francis Renewable Energy of Tulsa. Construction costs were about $300,000.

In addition to the station, the tribe has purchased two 100 percent electric-powered autos. Each of its two Nissan Leaf compact cars can travel about 107 miles on one charge and produces zero emissions.

Plus, at a recent event, tribal employees were invited to drive electric vehicles owned by OG&E and Auffenberg Chevrolet of Muskogee.

“No question the canopy charging station has gained people’s attention,” Hill said. “People might be intimidated by the new technology.

“However, by providing this charging station, it has generated so much attention. People are asking questions and seeing how it works.

“People are getting the information they need to access the technology. We hope this expands as people become more comfortable with it.”

John Klein

918-581-8368

john.klein@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @JohnKleinTW