By Suzie Campbell and Alex Sloan, Countywide & Sun
Countywide & Sun originally published the following photograph and stories on Nov. 5, 2020, and the Hownikan is reprinting a compilation here with permission and light edits.
Every decade, the Countywide & Sun newspaper conducts the Pottawatomie Power Polls. Readers and residents nominate Pottawatomie County leaders and then vote to determine the top 10. In 2020, two of Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s executive team received rankings as the county’s two most powerful people.
Vice-Chairman Capps soared to the top of the polls and accepted first place during a gala held Oct. 10 at Crossing Hearts Ranch in Tecumseh, Oklahoma. Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett came in second.
“I like for my directors and managers at CPN to think of me as ‘working with them’ instead of them ‘working for me,’” Capps said. “That attitude changes the whole undertone with relationships in the workplace. I want to have a supportive role, and I want our employees to feel empowered to make decisions on their own. I think if you have done your job as their leader, they should know the limitations of that empowerment.”
Capps believes growing up and living in a small town gave her ample opportunities to be a leader. She attributes part of what she learned about leadership skills to her family. She said, “As the youngest sibling of seven, I learned a lot from watching my brothers and sisters achieve throughout the years.”
Before being elected to Tribal office in 1987, Capps spent 25 years as an educator in Pottawatomie County and held several other jobs — all of which she said prepared her for the next challenge.
At the ceremony, Barrett said her new title was well deserved.
“Having experienced and long-tenured people in office has really helped us, you know,” Barrett said. “We don’t reinvent the wheel every two years.”
Capps said Barrett’s place at the top of the Pottawatomie Power Poll was also well deserved.
“CPN is fortunate to have Chairman Barrett as an outstanding leader, one with great visionary skills that have brought CPN to where it is today,” Capps said. “It has been somewhat of a roller coaster, whirlwind, or a combination of the two.
“There were many important projects that the Chairman implemented for his leaders to work on until perfected,” Capps said. “CPN progress has been a true team effort. In fact, our CPN workforce could be labeled ‘Leadership’ because there are leaders in every department who work diligently in the community. It has been an exciting journey to be a leader of such a great Tribe.”
Through their work, Barrett said he hopes that the people of Pottawatomie County see the Tribe as a benefit to the whole community.
“I hope that people in the county begin to realize that it’s not a zero-sum game,” Barrett said.
He said the Tribe’s success enables it to create jobs and pursue investments that benefit the county as a whole.
“The rising tide lifts all boats,” Barrett said.
Capps is proud of several initiatives she brought to CPN, including working with Tribal Rolls shortly after 2001 to develop picture ID for Tribal enrollment. “This was a huge undertaking for thousands of Tribal members,” Capps said. “Charles Clark, director of Tribal Rolls, has done a tremendous job with that endeavor.”
Capps was also instrumental in acquiring the Knight Farm, the Giverny Golf land, and the Luman property — all important parcels of land for CPN. She was involved with the electrical project to “bring CPN out of the dark” in 2005, installing streetlights on Hardesty Road from Gordon Cooper to Highway 177 as well as Gordon Cooper past CPN.
If there’s a theme to CPN Chairman Rocky Barrett’s legacy, it’s the philosophy of reinvestment in the community. He was elected to his current office in 1985 and has worked to improve the Tribe and Pottawatomie County ever since.
“I had the privilege to write the new constitution that the Tribe operates under,” Barrett said. “And that’s made all the difference in the world.”
He said the re-written constitution established the legislative and executive structure that are still in place today. Since then, Barrett’s philosophy of community reinvestment has put the CPN on an upward trajectory. One of the earliest such investments, Barrett said, was the purchase of First National Bank in 1989.
“And it was a little double-wide trailer in a gravel parking lot,” Barrett said. “And it’s grown to over $300 million in assets that we have now.”
In addition to First National Bank, Barrett said the Tribe has established other entities to promote growth and opportunity in the community.
“The Community Development Financial Institution is a treasury department entity that is designed to make higher-risk loans to individual Indians or businesses, or to tribes,” Barrett said. “We’ve used that money to help our people develop their own businesses.”
It now has $27 million in lending capital. According to Barrett, it’s the largest and most successful CDFI in the United States. Capps felt called to assist the greater community through her work with the CPCDC as well.
“My heart was in the middle of establishing the employee loan program at CPCDC, our Community Development Corporation, to help our employees with low-interest loans that can be repaid by payroll deduction,” Capps said.
Barrett and Capps have also worked to restructure the Tribe’s legislative and election systems, expand the Nation’s scholarship program and switch the Nation to descendancy enrollment.
“If there’s something they can do to help fellow Potawatomis out or help the Tribe out, then that’s one way you can pay it back,” Barrett said. “The idea is, pay it forward.”
The two-forward thinking individuals have accomplished a lot over the last decade — separately and as a team — which was seen by this year’s voters in the Pottawatomie Power Poll.
“The banquet (the Countywide & Sun’s Pottawatomie Power Gala) was so nice, and it was sheer joy to break bread with such wonderful people,” Capps said. “My heart is overflowing with gratitude.
“What a tremendous honor and total surprise for me to be part of the top leaders in Pottawatomie County,” concluded the ever gracious, leading lady of Pottawatomie County. “I certainly will try to live up to this recognition.”