In summer 2020, Grand Travel Plaza Manager Diana Dotson reached 35 years of employment with Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She has held many different titles throughout her time at the Tribe, but customer service remains the centerpiece of her career.
“Every day’s a new day. I never come in expecting just to have a boring day. There’s always something going on or something happening,” she said.
Dotson grew up in Moore, Oklahoma, and graduated from Moore High School. In 1985 at 21 years old, she moved with her 2-year-old son to Pottawatomie County to live closer to her parents. Not long afterward, CPN hired her as a cashier at the former Potawatomi Tribal Store.
Working for the Tribe has passed through the generations. In 1987, she had her second son, and they moved into their own home. In 1994, Dotson married her husband who has worked for CPN for 23 years. She helped raise her two stepsons and stepdaughter as well. Now, she has seven granddaughters, ages 2 to 21. All five children and one of her granddaughters have worked for CPN.
Dotson enjoys regularly meeting new people and building relationships with her friends and co-workers. Before working as a cashier, she had a reserved personality throughout school. Dotson believes working at CPN helped her become more social in adulthood.
“I think it’s kind of brought me out a little bit to be not so much shy, more outgoing and able to talk and engage with strangers … because you have to in customer service,” she said.
Dotson has held positions at several CPN enterprises in addition to the Potawatomi Tribal Store, where she worked as a cashier, shift supervisor and assistant manager. She then became the manager at the Tribe’s smoke shop in Tecumseh. When FireLake Express Grocery replaced it, she managed the smoke shop there as well. She then worked at FireLake Discount Foods as smoke shop manager and loss prevention.
She began managing the Grand Travel Plaza in 2012 after much consideration. Dotson oversees its large staff, including six supervisors and two assistant managers who welcomed her and helped her transition into her new position.
“They’re all good people as well as professionally and personally. It’s your second home, so you’ve got to enjoy who you work with. … It’s good to have other people who you work with that are wanting to work for the company long term also, and it’s their second home too,” Dotson said.
She grew alongside the Tribe during the last three decades. The Nation owned a few businesses and a small store in the mid-‘80s; now, with two casinos, a hotel, three grocery stores and many restaurants, it is the largest employer in Pottawatomie County.
“It’s just amazing how they’ve come. I mean, when I started, there was the bingo hall, administration, and the museum and gift shop. Along with the convenience store that was about it” she said.
Family Reunion Festival through the decades
Dotson began serving Family Reunion Festival attendees in the ‘80s when people knew it as the Citizen Band Potawatomi Celebration and All-Nations Pow-wow. As a public event, people paid for concessions and other keepsakes while attending. The Nation renamed it the Family Reunion Festival in 1998, welcoming only Tribal members.
“We would have a small convenience store-type down at the festival grounds, and we would sell the pop and chips and candy bars,” Dotson said, describing setting up and stocking a small, wooden building for the weekend.
While the Nation no longer sells food and refreshments on powwow grounds, she still participates and serves food and drinks. She appreciates the opportunity Festival provides to meet Citizen Potawatomi from all over the country and world in her position.
Although a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Dotson never anticipated a career at a Native American tribe. The store happened to be the first position she applied for in her new hometown, and she received the job on the same day. Her promotions and memories remind her that Tribal leadership views her as a dedicated, hard-working employee. Dotson said she owes much of her growth with CPN to FireLake Discount Foods Director Richard Driskell.
“It’s a good place to work, and I never felt that I needed to go anywhere else. Didn’t have any desire to, I guess. I felt at home and welcomed here — and appreciated,” she said.
To look at a full list of CPN businesses, visit potawatomi.org/enterprises.