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CARES Act funds create busiest year in last two decades for Tribal Rolls Department

Jocelyn Blackwell, a temporary worker for CPN Tribal Rolls, processes tribal citizenship applications at the CPN Cultural Heritage Center, Monday, Nov. 23, 2020.

Since the mid-1970s, Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s member enrollment numbers have increased by tens of thousands. In 2020, total citizenship surpassed 35,500 due to the global pandemic and need for CARES Act funds. Charles Clark has been director of the CPN Tribal Rolls Department for 19 years, and this past year has been the busiest yet.

“Usually, a month’s work has turned into a week’s work,” Clark said.

Applications and other requests decreased at the beginning of the pandemic when most of the country was in lockdown. However, the Tribe then announced the first phase of its CARES Act funds programs in April.

“Once (quarantine) got lifted and people started coming back and requesting cards and sending applications, it was kind of like business as usual,” Clark said.

However, when people found out about the CARES Act programs, “it didn’t rain. It poured. It was a tsunami,” he said.

To keep up with the Tribal Rolls Department’s increased workload, staff take turns with various tasks, such as making Tribal ID cards.

Federal stimulus

An increased number of Tribal enrollment applications came in soon after the Nation rolled out multiple phases and 11 CARES Act programs available through CPN.

“The Tribe was real good about announcing this to the people, and they’re trying to get themselves enrolled and their kids enrolled before the deadline,” Clark said.

Tribal Roll’s work increased as the year continued. At one point in November, they received 300 applications in one week. By comparison, Clark estimates that a pre-pandemic monthly enrollment workload would be 45 applications.

The combination of new programs and the Tribe’s heightened effort to communicate with members about enrolling their children led to an increase in infant and school-age children applications.

“I’ve got some applications where you might have four or five kids enrolling under one family at the same time,” Clark said.

The essence of speed

Tribal legislators approve applications for citizenship during a legislative session. While that typically happens once a quarter, legislators began meeting once a month through the end of 2020 to vote on CARES Act programming and membership requests. As a result, Clark started sending more than 100 forms for approval every two to three weeks due to the demand.

“We’ve been enrolling everyone as quick as we can,” he said.

Existing Tribal members also updated their addresses and requested new ID cards in record numbers to meet the CARES Act funds application requirements.

“The phones are nonstop, and the emails are just piling up,” Clark said.

“It’s kind of hard sometimes that (applicants) don’t understand the amount of work that we have. And I know that everybody wants their applications placed at the top of the stack, but life doesn’t work that way. And they just have to be patient.”

With a small staff of five, Clark and his employees took turns with different tasks to avoid burnout.

“We’re a tough crew; we can handle it. We’re a salty crew. We can take the hardest of the weather,” Clark said.

Due to the CARES Act funds, more out-of-state Tribal members contacted Tribal rolls to update their information or apply than normal. Clark believes it shows an increased desire to participate and learn about CPN as well.

“They’re getting their applications or their addresses updated and brand new cards and enrolling their children,” he said. “And I guess that once they go on the Internet, then they actually start seeing what we have to offer. And that will probably make them a little bit more adept to keeping up with what we’re doing here.”

Clark encourages everyone to take their time completing the enrollment application, read the forms thoroughly and turn in all necessary documentation at one time for a smoother and faster process.

The CPN Tribal Rolls Department is available by email at tribalrolls@potawatomi.org. Find more information regarding Tribal membership — including enrollment applications, information change request forms and more — at cpn.news/citizenship.