One of the eldest representatives on the Citizen Potawatomi Legislature, Kansas City, Missouri’s Roy Slavin has seen the vast changes Native Americans have gone through over the past century. Born in St. Joseph, Missouri, Slavin has served as the District 1 representative since the August 2007 revision of the CPN Constitution, which created the current Legislature.
Though he had long been affiliated with the tribe and its activities, he saw the opportunity to serve the tribe in which his family was one of the founders.
“We had scheduled our Slavin family reunions around the old Potawatomi pow-wow during the summers in Shawnee, so I had plenty of time to attend and see the tribe grow over theyears. When they created the legislature, I saw it as an opportunity to serve despite my location in Kansas City.”
A member of one of the larger founding families, Slavin’s great-grandmother was a survivor of the Potawatomi Trail of Death. His uncle, Jim Slavin, was with the original settlers who set out from Kansas to establish what is today the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in Oklahoma.
“My father was always proud of his Potawatomi heritage,” remembered Slavin. “But it was during a time where we didn’t advertise it. As kids we knew we were, but it wasn’t something we talked about a lot. Though growing up, I would on occasion tell people I was ‘half Catholic and Indian’.”
Entering the U.S. Army at the age of 17, Slavin narrowly missed serving in the Korean War. His orders having already been cut, the Army Signal Corps member was sent to serve on the then-classified Operation Greenhouse.
Taking place on Enewetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands, Operation Greenhouse was the early 1950s testing program for thermonuclear tests. His presence during this operation gives Slavin the distinction that not many CPN members or human being can claim, that of an eyewitness to four thermonuclear explosions.
Slavin’s time in the Army also provided training that would shape his professional career later in life.
“I was fortunate enough to attend two of the best radio operations and repair schools around when I was stationed at Ft. Monmouth,” he said.
Once out of the service, Slavin utilized his expertise as a radio repairman in Kansas City. He worked for a number of shops around the city before owning his own, eventually finding his way to Trans World Airlines (TWA) as avionics technician. Slavin retired from TWA after 28 years of service, and sought a new opportunity when Legislature was created in 2007.
Now in his third term as the representative for CPN members in the country’s northeastern and midwestern states, Slavin has been a witness to the significant changes Native Americans have endured over the past half century.
“I’m glad to see my kids, grandkids and great-grandkids involved with the tribe in ways that those people my age just weren’t able to back then,” he said. “I look at my great-granddaughter Mollyann, who has never missed a CPN Family Reunion Festival, who knows how to dress in proper regalia for Grand Entry, and it makes me proud to see how far we’ve come.”
Slavin is a staple at many regional and tribal gatherings, along with his longtime wife Julia, and looks set to continue his service for some time as he was unopposed in last year’s tribal election. If you are a member of District 1 or would like to learn more about the CPN Legislature, please visit www.potawatomi.org/government/legislature.