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Shawnee Forward hosts tribal forum

Vicky O. Misa
Shawnee Forward hosted a tribal forum Friday afternoon.

More than 120 residents gathered to hear from local leaders at a tribal forum held at Gordon Cooper Technology Center Friday afternoon; OG&E served as a sponsor for the event hosted by Shawnee Forward.

Four area tribes were represented at the table — Absentee Shawnee Tribe (AST), Citizen Potawatomi Nation (CPN), Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma and Sac and Fox Nation.

Absentee Shawnee Tribe (AST)

Representing the AST, Gov. John Johnson began the panel discussion, sharing accomplishments and information with those who attended the lunchtime event.

He said among its 4,430 registered members, most reside in Oklahoma; the 74.1 percent here are spread across Cleveland, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie Counties.

The Absentees have had a $145,162,638 impact on the state, Johnson said.

Across the state, AST supports 1,131 jobs in a number of sectors, including health care, banking, gaming and a number of other commercial enterprises and tribal programs, Johnson said.

The Tribe serves healthcare needs of Native Americans, SoonerCare members and American Indian Veterans, as well as insured AST employees; annual patient visits exceed 180,000.

“More than $55 million has been paid in wages and benefits to Oklahoma workers in 2017,” Johnson said. “This number continues to grow.”

AST has invested in the infrastructure of more than 400 miles of state highways and roads, he said.

“Recently we have met with ODOT and the County Commission in our jurisdiction to discuss longterm transportation plans,” he said.

Citizen Potawatomi Nation (CPN)

The next speaker at the lectern was CPN Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett.

He said the Citizen Potawatomi Nation is the largest employer in Pottawatomie County.

“We have 2,460 employees this morning,” he said.

He said CPN is very proud to support local schools.

“We give a percentage of each of our car tag fees to the local schools,” he said. “In 2019 we paid our largest contribution ever — more than $60,000 to schools right here in this community.”

Barrett also said the tribe voluntarily gifts a percentage of its sales tax to Pottawatomie County for the schools to use.

“Since that tax began in 2015, we have gifted more than $650,000,” he said.

Barrett said as a tribal government CPN serves all the residents of the county — $17 million in Federal Highway Administration funds over the last decade brought into the community; street lights along Hardesty and South Gordon Cooper Drive were all paid for by CPN; and 911 Dispatch service to many emergency responders in Pottawatomie County, basically all but Shawnee and McLoud.

“This service, which is free to these county agencies allows for a backup system,” he explained. “So, having two makes a difference in the event of an emergency.”

He said the cost savings to those agencies also means they can update their equipment and add more personnel.

“CPN health services serve more than 8,000 Shawnee households, which keep our community healthy,” he said.

CPN continues its economic development efforts with the Iron Horse Industrial Park; it recently held a groundbreaking for its first tenant, Barrett said.

Many events in the area are hosted by the tribe.

He said CPN has 33,400 members — the ninth largest tribe in the U.S.

Barrett encourages improvements to be made along Hardesty Road, which is the only road that runs from Moore into the southern end of Shawnee, as well as the work CPN is currently doing to the former Mission Hill hospital building. At the Grand, a childcare center and storm shelter are being built.

He spoke briefly on the lawsuit between area tribes and Gov. Kevin Stitt over a gaming compact.

Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma

Chairman David Pacheco shared some about how the Kickapoo Tribe came from the Wisconsin area, moving south.

In time, his people were brought back to Oklahoma, were they are today, he said.

Pacheco said the Kickapoo Tribe covers Pottawatomie, Lincoln and Oklahoma Counties.

“We have over 2,600 tribal members,” he said.

Pacheco said the tribe operates a health center, with 120 employees, 23 of those work in behavioral health.

He said recently a couple grants were awarded that will allow for expansion to the center.

The Tribe also has been involved in several activities with area schools, like cooking demos, gardening, kids camps, health fairs, resume building, etc.

Sac and Fox Nation

Principal Chief Justin Wood, formerly a state Representative, wrapped up the event.

Despite the frustration involved with the current tribal gaming compact dispute, Wood said one of the greatest highlights of his time as principal chief so far has been the ability he has had to spend time in the room with area tribal leaders — getting to hear from one another, getting to spend time with each other and be able to talk about economic development and what's important to their people.

“We don't just serve the Sac and Fox people in our jurisdiction,” he said. “We serve everybody.”

He said the tribe has a unique ability to work within the framework toward economic development.

“With every disadvantage we've been given, we do have a few advantages when it comes to economic development,” he said.

Wood said, besides gaming, plans include putting people to work, providing resources and expanding business.

He also stressed the importance of education and dialogue with the tribes, learning more about them and how they operate and govern, and working with them.

“We are all sovereign governments,” he said. “We are equal partners with the state and with Federal governments.”