In addition to the annual Tribal budget, Citizen Potawatomi voters will cast ballots for two races for Oklahoma’s at-large legislative seats this June. The Hownikan asked the candidates about their backgrounds and reasons for running for Tribal office.

Paul Wesselhöft (incumbent)

Where are you from?

“I’m a fifth generation Oklahoman from the capitol.”

What Potawatomi family are you a descendant of?

“I’m from the Burnett family. I’m the great-great-great grandson of Chief Abraham Burnett. Linda Capps gave me my Indian name, Naganit, meaning ‘Leader.’”

Tell us about high school, college and other educational achievements.

  • Graduate: U.S. Grant H. S., OKC, 1966
  • Graduate: U.S. Basic Infantry Training, 1967
  • Graduate: U.S. Radio Relay & Tactical Circuit Controller, 1967
  • Graduate: 7th U.S. Army Non-Commissioned Officers Academy, 1968
  • B.A., speech/drama, minors in psychology, sociology and religion, University of Central Oklahoma, 1972
  • M.A., religion, Southern Nazarene University, 1976
  • M. divinity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Massachusetts, 1979
  • Graduate: U.S. Army Chaplain Officer School, 1980
  • Graduate: Clinical Pastoral Education, 1981
  • Graduate work: Public Administration, University of Oklahoma, 1982-1983
  • Graduate: U.S. Army Chaplain Officer’s Advanced School, 1984
  • Graduate: U.S. Army Airborne Jump School, 1984
  • Graduate: Ranger Indoctrination Program, 1984
  • Graduate: U.S. Army Advanced Chaplain School, 1985
  • Graduate: Emergency Medical Technician Course (EMT) 1985
  • Graduate: U.S. Army Combined Arms & Staff School, 1988
  • Courses: U.S. Army Command & general staff College, 1989-1991
  • Doctoral work: San Francisco Theological Seminary, 1992-1995

What do you do for a living?

Retired, 20 years, U.S. Army Chaplain & Pastor, Major
Retired, 12 years, Representative, Oklahoma House of Representatives

What experiences do you have that can be applied to a legislative position with the Tribe?

“I served and was re-elected to 12 years as a representative in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. I was the chairman of several important committees. This, and my years of experience as a representative in the CPN legislature, position me as an experienced legislator prepared for any resolutions, circumstance or events we face. I have authored many bills and resolutions in the Oklahoma House as well as our CPN legislature.”

Describe your first experience truly appreciating what it was like to be a Citizen Potawatomi.

“I grew up knowing that I was a blue-eyed Potawatomi. It took me a while to get involved with my Tribe. However, when I learned that we were going to vote on a new constitution, I was excited to see the changes. This constitution and the fact that we are the only Tribe with a national legislature persuaded me to give my all to the Tribe. I love my heritage and desire to make a significant contribution to my Nation.”

Jay Laughlin (challenger)

Where are you from?

“I live just north of Edmond, Oklahoma, in Logan County. I was born in Duncan, Oklahoma, and moved to Lexington, Oklahoma, soon after.”

What Potawatomi family are you a descendant of?

“My lineage is traced back to Kesh-now-quah — Angelique (Afternoon Woman), the daughter of Potawatomi Chief Waubansee and Pierre Navarre. Both my father and grandfather were born in Wannette, Oklahoma, where my family was resettled in the late 1860s. My great-grandmother Emily (Weddle) Laughlin is listed on the 1937 rolls, and her grandmother Frances (Navarre) Milot is listed on the 1887 rolls.”

Tell us about high school, college and other educational achievements.

“I graduated high school from Lexington High. After graduating high school, I pursued my degrees at Oklahoma City Community College, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Central Oklahoma, and Oklahoma Christian University. I currently have a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering and a Master of Business Administration degree with an emphasis in finance. I’m licensed to practice biomedical engineering, environmental engineering and petroleum engineering.”

What do you do for a living?

“I’ve worked primarily in the oil and gas industry, and lived in various places across the U.S. and France. After making it back to Oklahoma in 2009, I’ve continued to work in the oil and gas industry, focusing on the environmental sector and in the government contracting sector. I’m an engineer, investor, activist and small business owner.”

What experience do you have that can be applied to a legislative position with the Tribe?

“I have directed multi-million-dollar projects in various capacities, been on the boards of and supported non-profit organizations, raised children, been married, failed and got up again to succeed.

“I have the experience and education needed to move our Nation forward. Most importantly I understand humility. I listen and understand I do not have all of the answers. I’m a team player and know we can and will succeed together. By electing me to District 9, you will bring a fresh perspective to our legislative body.”

Describe what it was like when you first truly appreciated what it was like to be a Citizen Potawatomi?

“When I was a young child (5 or 6), we would drive to an old white school near the town of Pink in Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma once a month. We would go there for food, and I was appreciative. At the time, I had no idea that we were picking up commodities provided to Native Americans.

“When I got older, I truly started to understand and appreciate what it’s like to be Citizen Potawatomi. One of these memories was when I first went to our Cultural Heritage Center. I remember feeling proud, feeling strong, and knowing I’m not alone.”