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Potawatomi in leadership for both OK legislative bodies

Two Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal members currently hold leadership positions in both chambers of the 2019 Oklahoma Legislature.

First elected in 2012, Rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore) currently serves as an assistant floor leader and chair of the Appropriations and Budget on Education Committee. Outside of his position at the statehouse, he owns and operates McBride Homes and Roofing. McBride is a descendant of the Boursaw family on his father’s side.

Sen. Jason Smalley (R-Stroud) serves as majority caucus chair. He is in his second session as a senator, having served as house representative for District 32 from 2012 to 2014 before filing to run for his current position. He serves constituents in parts of Lincoln, Pottawatomie and Seminole counties including communities like Tecumseh, Pink, Earlsboro and Bethel Acres. Smalley is a Peltier-family descendant.

In addition to the state legislature, Oklahoma’s executive branch has new leadership under recently elected Governor Kevin Stitt and Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell. Governor Stitt’s focus on a more efficient state government is winning plaudits from many tribes. This new tact, when it comes to Indian Country, is best exemplified with the governor’s appointment of Lisa J. Billy as Secretary for Native American affairs.

Billy, a former state house representative from 2004-2016, served as floor leader, deputy whip and vice-chair of the Republican caucus. She is also a founding member of the body’s Native American caucus alongside former state legislators Paul Wesselhöft, a Citizen Potawatomi member, and Shane Jett, a Cherokee Nation citizen and current head of the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation. Secretary Billy is a member of the Chickasaw Nation and serves as an elected official on the tribe’s legislature.

There is hope amongst tribes in Oklahoma that Secretary Billy will have genuine support from the governor’s office to work with the state’s Native nations. Past governors’ appointees for Native American affairs received little support or authority, with the state’s executive branch reserving tribal relations to attorneys.

It is an important year in Oklahoma for Indian Nations with gaming operations. Compact negotiations are set to be renewed and possibly renegotiated in 2020, and there are concerns that state government officials will look to Oklahoma’s tribes to increase funding.