The Embassy Suites in downtown Oklahoma City was filled with some of the state’s well-known public, private and non-profit leaders on Feb. 18 for The Journal Record newspaper’s “Most Admired CEOs” award banquet. Amongst those honored for their leadership was Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s John “Rocky” Barrett, who has led the Nation to incredible growth in more than three
decades as tribal chairman.

“It’s humbling to be recognized along with so many capable and talented leaders,” said Chairman Barrett. “It was always vital that we put our Nation on the right track as a business, service provider and tribal government. To be honored along with such accomplished people, it shows we have taken the right path in these areas.”

Since his first election as leader of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in 1985, the tribe, its commercial enterprises and public service programs have grown exponentially. In the early 1970s, CPN had assets totaling just $550 and less than three acres of land.

Today it is a vibrant tribe of more than 32,000 with an annual economic impact of more than $550 million. Through deft leadership  and business acumen sharpened by years in the private sector, Chairman Barrett has been at the forefront of making the tribe the largest employer in Pottawatomie County, with more than 2,200 Oklahomans working in its enterprises and programs.

First National Bank and Trust Co. President Larry Briggs endorsed the chairman’s nomination, writing “I have…had the opportunity to observe Mr. Barrett’s leadership of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Under his leadership, the Nation has prospered. Most people are in awe of the success that the nation has experienced.”

While the state’s energy-reliant economy has slowed, business in Indian Country remains steady. Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation was also recognized as one of the state’s most admired CEOs, further emphasizing the impact that Indian Country has on Oklahoma.

The tribe’s growth percentages under Chairman Barrett are impressive. From 1985-2014, CPN’s revenue growth increased by more than 700,000 percent. In that same amount of time, funds increased by nearly 4,000 percent. During his tenure, the tribe has opened enterprises like FireLake Casino and the Grand Casino Hotel Resort, FireLake Golf Course, FireLake Arena, FireLake Discount Foods, Iron Horse Industrial Park and First National Bank and Trust Co., the largest tribally-owned national bank chain in the country.

The Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation, established in 2003, is another innovation begun under his leadership. The CPCDC has assisted more than 50 Native American businesses nationwide with working and startup capital. These commercial and economic endeavors compliment the expansion of social and public services that have grown under his leadership.

The tribal police force employs 25 CLEET-certified officers and more than 10 dispatchers and support staff for the Pottawatomie County 911 Dispatch Center, which is housed in the CPN Police Department headquarters.

Longtime colleague Linda Capps, who serves as tribal Vice-Chairman, supported the nomination, saying “He has led the CPN out of poverty into one of the most advanced tribal entities in the State of Oklahoma. His amazing ability to envision what Indian Country now knows as ‘Nation Building’ began for his own tribe in the 1970s. He has grown his tribe from a mere 2.5 five acres in ownership to an astounding 11,500 acres of land… In so many ways he will always be considered the hero of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a role in which I know him best.”

“I am proud of my accomplishments and what we have helped build at the Nation, but I couldn’t have done it without great leaders like Vice-Chairman Linda Capps, Secretary-Treasurer D. Wayne Trousdale, our tribal legislature and my fellow Potawatomi. I am thankful for being elected chairman and am honored to serve,” said Chairman Barrett.