MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

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November 19, 2013

Tribe adds Sonic carhops, tots to its portfolio

SENECA, Mo. — The grand opening of a Sonic Drive-In in this tiny city on the Missouri-Kansas border had the traditional red ribbon and giant scissors. It also had a smoke ceremony led by an American Indian chief.

Seneca's Sonic is the first in the chain owned by a Native American tribe.

Billy Friend, chief of the Wyandotte Nation, who conducted the traditional ceremony to bless the restaurant Monday, said the acquisition is part of an effort to diversify the tribe's holdings.

Since 2011, the Wyandotte have opened a machine shop and a recycling center, adding to the tribe's telecommunications, information technology, food service and entertainment businesses. The tribe recently announced a $30 million expansion of its Wyandotte, Okla., casino.

Residents of this city - population 2,348 in 2011, according to the Seneca Area Chamber of Commerce - said they are excited for the restaurant.

"I think it will bring a lot of activity to this area and will give us some variety," said Lesa Boyer, who was among several dozen people to turn out for the ribbon-cutting.

The tribe will use the Sonic's profits for scholarships, health care, housing and social services for tribal members, Friend said. Last year, for the first time, the tribe instituted national health care benefits, giving each citizen a $1,000 flex spending card.

There are about 5,500 citizens of the Wyandotte Nation. About 750 to 1,000 live within a 200-mile radius of Wyandotte - the Oklahoma city where the nation is headquartered, about 10 miles from Seneca. The rest of its members are scattered across the United States.

Andra Bryan Stefanoni writes for The Joplin, Mo., Globe.

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