An ordained Southern Baptist minister who spent nearly two decades as a U.S. Army Chaplain, Representative Paul Wesselhoft (R) is one of three members of the Statehouse who is also a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
Entering his fourth legislature and eighth year there, Wesselhoft represents District 54, which covers Moore and southeast Oklahoma City. Wesselhoft also serves as the Chairman of the General Government Committee, and is an Assistant Majority Floor Leader. In 2004, he cofounded the 21 member Native American Caucus at the capitol.
His CPN lineage stems from the Burnett family, and Wesselhoft is a descendent of Chief Abram Burnett (1812-70). Chief Burnett was a well-known Potawatomi chief who led the tribe during the turbulent 1860s, and is known for having kept the Tribe out of the American Civil War.
Wesselhoft’s Indian name, bestowed on him by Vice-Chairman Linda Capps, is Naganit meaning leader. In addition to being an Oklahoma lawmaker, Wesselhoft has been an elected legislator to the Citizen Potawatomi since 2007. He represents District 9, which is Oklahoma.
“Every time I vote in the CPN Legislature, make a governmental decision or exercise leadership in my tribe, I do so in the spirit of Abram Burnett,” said Wesselhoft.
The former Airborne Ranger chaplain served almost two decades in uniform, ministering to soldiers from Vietnam to Desert Storm. He served as a sergeant during his enlistment years from 1967 to 1969. The U.S. Grant High School alumni spent 16 years as an Army chaplain until retiring as a major in 1995. Following a seven-year stint working for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, where he was the State Coordinator for the Oklahoma Abstinence Education Project and a member of Governor Frank Keating’s Council for Prevention of Adolescent Pregnancy and STDs, Wesselhoft began his career at the Statehouse. He chose to enter state politics out of a desire to be a conservative champion of small enterprises.
“I really admire these business entrepreneurs for the courage they demonstrate daily in such a competitive environment,” he added Wesselhoft says he believes the Citizen Potawatomi Nation is on the right track when it comes to diversifying its own commercial interests.
“Chairman John Barrett has done an excellent job leading the Tribe’s efforts at building up its business and government. It is really impressive what the Nation’s businesses look like now compared to just a few years ago.”
For the new legislative session, Wesselhoft is considering introducing a bill that would elevate the Office of Native American Affairs to a cabinet position under the governor. His legislation last year created the office of Native American Affairs.
“I have a bill this session in the Oklahoma legislature that would elevate the Office of Native American Affairs to a cabinet post. However, I may wait another year in order to determine if the current secretary will be an effective leader for our Indian population.”
In addition to his chairmanship of the General Government Committee, Wesselhoft is also a member of the committees on Appropriation and Budget, Energy and Aerospace and the Veterans and Military Affairs. The CPN Legislature appointed Wesselhoft to the Education and Economic Development Committee for the National Congress of American Indians, where he was an elected delegate for the Sixty Fifth Congress.
Wesselhoft is also an author of numerous articles, essays, short stories, plays and poems, having been published on a number of topics throughout Oklahoma. An Oklahoma City native with degrees from the University of Central Oklahoma, Southern Nazarene University, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, he is also an ordained minister of the First Southern Baptist Church of Del City and resides in Moore, Oklahoma.