For such a small department in terms of employee numbers, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Economic Development and Planning Department has a lot of irons in a lot of fires. In addition to overseeing the development of Iron Horse Industrial Park, the department’s staff of two full-time employees and one intern are often out meeting potential industrial park tenants or fellow economic development staff from sister agencies and investigating new avenues for the tribe to sustainably grow its economic footprint. Helping Director James C. Collard Ph.D. is Courtney Palmer, the department’s executive assistant.
Palmer was born in Lawton, Oklahoma at the Lawton Indian Hospital. Her mother and father are both members of the Kiowa Nation. She said her family had always encouraged her to work for a tribe, with her father and mother both working for the Kiowa Nation and other tribes. As a result of her father’s profession as an attorney for tribes across the U.S., Palmer spent time as a child living on reservations as far afield as the Dakotas. She lived on the Standing Rock Sioux’ reservation in North Dakota and the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas reservation.
She graduated from high school in Moore, Oklahoma before completing a degree in psychology at Oklahoma City University.
“I think people are interesting,” she said of her desire to pursue the degree. “Finding out about their lives, what’s going on with people, where they’re from in terms of their relationships, I always found that very interesting.”
While she started on graduate school, the ebbs and flows of life came along. She met her future husband during this time and then went in to business helping her parents manage their Oklahoma City-based restaurant.
“We worked long hours for about a year, and just decided that wasn’t working for us and talked to my parents about taking a vacation. I told my dad and he said ‘Go ahead!’
“So we booked a one-way flight to Hawaii. We had two guitars and two suitcases between us and just went.”
They stayed in Hawaii for three years, working odd jobs wherever they could find them, travelling around the islands when they could.
Eventually, they returned home to Oklahoma and Palmer took a position as drilling technician with Devon Energy, then a fairly unknown energy company based in Oklahoma City. Today’s visitors to Oklahoma City may know the energy titan for its ownership of the state’s tallest building in Oklahoma, the Devon Tower.
Palmer worked for 16 years with Devon, seeing the once largely obscure Oklahoma firm transition into a global energy player as it rode the fracking boom to commercial success in the first decade of the 21st century. Like all peaks though, Palmer fell victim to the cratering of global oil prices that sunk the company’s worth in 2015. She was one of many longtime employees laid off as a result.
Her role as a drilling technician centered on assisting engineers in the offices who coordinated work with employees in the oil fields, maintaining the office’s needs and engineers’ assignment as necessary.
Yet her time at Devon ultimately paid off when it came to her joining CPN as an employee. A former coworker from the energy company was leaving a position in the tribe’s planning and economic development department and knew of Palmer’s work.
She notified Palmer of the job, and since summer 2016 the Kiowa Nation member has served as the executive assistant for the tribal program overseeing CPN’s planning and economic development initiatives, including Iron Horse Industrial Park.
“I love it here, it’s definitely a different atmosphere than the energy industry,” said Palmer. “The people here, it just feels like a family.”