The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma hosted the 35th Annual Sovereignty Symposium June 13 and 14 at the Skirvin Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma City University Law School will become the sponsor of the event in 2024.

As usual, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation played a significant role in the symposium that shines a light on the 39 tribes in Oklahoma and the legal and social issues they face. CPN Director of Planning and Economic Development Dr. Jim Collard moderated two panels on the first day of the event. They focused on symbiotic economics as tribes in Oklahoma work with other governing bodies to build and advance the communities inside their territories.

CPN Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett was featured on the first panel Tuesday morning. He discussed the Tribe’s difficult relationship with the City of Shawnee in the past. However, the community and CPN have formed a close bond and strong partnership throughout the last five years.

“We have a wonderful mayor now and a new city commission,” Chairman Barrett told the packed room.

With almost 2,200 employees, CPN is the largest employer in Pottawatomie County. Chairman Barrett listed some of the many projects the Tribe is hoping to finish by the end of 2024.

“We are in the process now of building a new casino and a hotel and restaurant complex and retail center,” he said. “And we have a complex of turf softball parks being built. Oklahoma is the best girls’ softball state in the union, so it made sense to highlight (those teams’ successes) at our parks.”

The Chairman also spoke about the Tribe’s investment in a new behavioral health center, two new childcare facilities, and the recent purchase and plans for a new branch of Sovereign Bank in Oklahoma City.

“I hope every tribe represented here today is a self-governance tribe, because it makes a huge difference in how you can do business,” Chairman Barrett said. “There were some tough times at the start of the bank in 1985 when it was a $14 million bank in a double wide trailer on a gravel parking lot. This year, we expect to surpass $900 million in market value.”

Chairman Barrett also pointed to the Tribe’s $65 million Community Development Financial Institution, the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation.

“Our CDFI is expanding greatly, and we hope that we can be of service to all the other tribes in the state,” he said.

Barrett also discussed the Tribe’s significant investment in Iron Horse Industrial Park and Sovereign Pipe Technologies as well as the short CPN railroad line that serves the industrial park. He said CPN is working with state, federal and other tribal governments in an attempt to reopen a rail line between Shawnee and McAlester that would benefit several tribes and add transportation capabilities for Sovereign Pipe and any future industry that locates inside the industrial park.

Chairman Barrett pointed out that partnering with tribes in Oklahoma offers a safer bet for the state and federal government than depending on major industries that could choose to leave at any time.

“I think the state government is beginning to realize what an asset it is to have tribes as partners,” he said. “We’re not only contributing to the economy, but we’re not going anywhere. We’re locked into that piece of land that is held in trust for us. When times get bad, we’re not going to leave. I think we are headed toward great times, and I think it’s going to be an exciting period for all of us.”

This was the 18th year that Dr. Collard moderated sessions like these on behalf of CPN. The first session also featured Reggie Wassana, Gov. of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes; Deborah Dotson, President of the Delaware Nation; Bill Lance, Secretary of State for the Chickasaw Nation; Leslie Osborn, Oklahoma State Labor Commissioner; and Carly Griffith Hotvedt, Associate Executive Director of the University of Arkansas School of Law’s Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative.