In February 1996, Citizen Potawatomi from across the United States cast their votes during a special secretarial election to reflect the Tribe’s sovereignty as a tribal nation by officially changing its name from the Citizen Band Potawatomi Tribe of Oklahoma to the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
The U.S. Secretary of the Interior authorized the special election, which differed from the Nation’s annual election because members voted to revise the Tribal constitution with two separate amendments. First included the name change.
CPN Tribal Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett wrote in his January 1996 Hownikan column, “The first issue is very basic: correct the name given our Tribe by the War Department in 1867 when we split from the Prairie Potawatomi and came to Oklahoma. When a group of Indians split off from the main group and have no organized government, the U.S. Government calls them a ‘band.’ The word used to mean ‘renegade’ in common usage.”
Chairman Barrett noted that the Citizen Potawatomi were and never will be a group of unorganized deserters.
“We are a tribal Nation that signs treaties and agreements as a sovereign with the United States government. To be called a ‘band’ is an insult to the hard work and dedication of the many people over the last 130 years who have put a part of their lives into making us a tribal Nation. … We must retain the unique aspect of our history in our name ‘Citizen Potawatomi’ as the first Tribe to take U.S. citizenship. That we are a ‘nation’ there is no doubt.”
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines nation as “a tribe of Native Americans or a group of Native American tribes that share the same history, traditions or language.”
Chairman Barrett’s column continued, “That describes us exactly. That is why we are asking you to vote for this change.”
The second constitutional amendment of the secretarial election decided whether all members could apply for Tribal scholarships, regardless of age. According to an article published in the February 1996 Hownikan, “While there aren’t enough funds to award all eligible applicants money, the Business Committee said at their November meeting that they are particularly concerned about middle-class students who aren’t eligible for Pell Grants.” Changing the constitution would allow more students to receive educational assistance.
Out of the 13,969 mailing notices sent to members, approximately 4,000 Potawatomi returned their registration forms to become eligible to vote in the special election.
A three-person election board made up of Shawnee Area Bureau of Indian Affairs Supervisor Robert W. Jones, Joe LaReau and Tribal Vice-Chairman Linda Capps counted the ballots, and the local BIA agency posted the results before forwarding to officials at Washington D.C. for final approval.
More than 1,500 were in favor of the name change, and 1,813 approved removing age restrictions on scholarship funds.
CPN’s seal prior to 1996 featured a black circle and included the words “Great Seal of the Citizen Band of Potawatomi Indians of Oklahoma.” After the renaming, a new seal was created with colored pencil, pen and ink by hand. Designers crafted a digital version, which became the official symbol of CPN in 2003 and is still in use today. It serves to visually represent the Nation’s sovereignty and strong, rich history and culture that will continue for generations to come.
Learn more about the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and read previous versions of the Hownikan at potawatomi.org.