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Tribal candidate Q&As: April 2020 — District 9

In addition to the annual Tribal budget, Citizen Potawatomi voters will cast ballots for two races for Oklahoma’s at-large legislative seats this June. The Hownikan asked the candidates about cultural connections, challenges and the future.

Paul Wesselhöft (incumbent)

What piece of history or tradition makes you feel closest to the Citizen Potawatomi Nation community?

“The history of my Tribal family — the Burnetts — makes me feel as a contributing member of my Tribe. I’m so proud of my great-great-great grandfather, Abraham Burnett, a former chief. He still inspires me. I feel bonded to him, and his DNA and blood flows through my veins!”

As at-large legislators, what do you think is the most difficult thing for CPN members who may live in Oklahoma but may feel disconnected from the Tribe? How can you as legislators help with that?

“I once felt disconnected from the Tribe. I read every issue of the Hownikan for years and saw how divisive the governing committees were. There were news stories about this and that argument or verbal fights for and against different personalities. It was a real turn off, and that’s exactly what I did for years.

“I enquired about the new constitution and immediately knew that such a constitution would heal, prosper and propel our Tribe into the future as a real Nation with great promise. I immediately knew that I wanted to be a significant part of our revised Nation.

“I hope Oklahomans realize our Tribe is the only Nation with a national legislature willing to serve their interest. I hope Oklahomans will never feel disconnected from our wonderful Nation and great culture. I stand willing to help any member to integrate and find help within our government and culture.”

What do you see as the biggest short-term challenge facing CPN?

“Educating our young future leaders is the biggest challenge! There is nothing that excites me more than knowing that, as a legislator, I have always supported our executive branch by resolution and budget by increasing the number and amount of school scholarships available to our members.

“We must fund more college and vocational graduates and prepare them to make contributions to our Tribe and enter the national workforce. I want to continue to increase the number and amount of future scholarships. This is, indeed, the future of our Tribe.”

What do you see as the biggest challenge that the Tribe will need to deal with in the coming decade or longer?

“I feel a strong obligation to members outside of my state. Therefore, I want to extend more of our services to CPN members nationwide!

“I will propose by resolution or executive order that we do not make medical, dental or eye appointments, except emergencies, for greater Shawnee area residents during the week of Family Festival. This will free up and allow more of our out of state members to take advantage of our services during their brief visit to the festival.

“Also, we can increase the amount of our death/burial stipends to every member nationwide.”

To you, what does an effective Tribal legislator look like?

“An effective Tribal legislator is one who is responsive to the needs of every member. Also, an effective Tribal legislator is one who is always thinking of ways and means and resolutions to improve services and to enhance our cultural traditions and history. I believe I’m such a legislator.”

Jay Laughlin (challenger)

What piece of history or tradition makes you feel closest to the Citizen Potawatomi Nation community?

“Being a part of our annual Family Reunion Festival, visiting our Culture Heritage Center, learning our language, learning our history, and meeting family and friends really makes me feel closer to the Citizen Potawatomi Nation community.

“Each time I learn something new about our history or make a new connection within our community, I become closer. Our entire community becomes closer. As these connections are made, and I learn more about others, I can see how traditions were passed down and how close we truly are.

“We’ve all had traits, lessons and traditions passed down from generation to generation, even though this was greatly hindered by forced assimilation. On a daily basis, I strive to live by the Seven Teachings of love, honesty, bravery, respect, humility, wisdom and truth. I also instill these values in my children.”

As at-large legislators, what do you think is the most difficult thing for CPN members who may live in Oklahoma but may feel disconnected from the tribe? How can you as legislators help with that?

“Making connections within our Tribe and then staying connected. We offer a tremendous amount of opportunities through the Elders Center, the Child Development Center, and the Language Department to enhance our culture and community. This gives our citizen’s a chance to really get to know someone as person and learn and grow together. It’s very important to get connected and stay engaged and develop these relationships. However, a large portion of this is done near our Tribal headquarters, and I would like to see this branched throughout our Nation.

“It’s a challenge to make those personal connections when you’re several miles away. Work, family, and the day-to-day take up most of this time. We must leverage technology, culture, communication, and offer incentives to promote these much needed bonds. We all have a part.

“I encourage you to reach out to me at jaylaughlin4cpn@gmail.com or on Facebook @JayLaughlin4CPN to learn more.”

What do you see as the biggest short-term challenge facing CPN?

“Short-term leads to long-term. We are faced with so many challenges at this time from getting our youth and middle-aged more involved to developing our defense against the immediate economic attack.

“Before the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest short-term challenge was addressing the gaming compact. When the compact renewed in January 2020, the state of Oklahoma disagreed, and we were forced, along with other tribes, to file a lawsuit. Losing the compact and exclusivity to operate our gaming would have a devastating effect on services provided to both our citizen’s and the local communities where we operate.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is and will drastically affect all of the communities we live in. This pandemic along with the recent flood of oil into the global market is drastic. As a people, we will get through this together. We will prevail together. We must stay strong, diligent, and aligned.”

What do you see as the biggest challenge that the Tribe will need to deal with in the coming decade or longer?

“Economic prosperity and sustainability. As mentioned in my previous response, our prosperity is under attack. In order to protect and nurture our culture, identity and services, we need to greatly expand our economic presence in various sectors and regions in order to sustain, grow, and mitigate risk.

“Our enterprises provide economic sustainability for our citizens and the communities we live in, making our Nation stronger. As your legislator representing District 9, in all of Oklahoma, I will promote the expansion of our enterprises in farming, gaming, technology, commercial and the industrial sectors for a balanced portfolio. This will bring success and stability to our Nation through investment returns for generations to come.

“We must maintain, develop, and promote alliances with other tribes, the State of Oklahoma, and the U.S. government in order to advance our people and the interests of the communities that we live in.”

To you, what does an effective Tribal legislator look like?

“An effective legislator must represent the people. They must be of the people. They must have the ability to influence others and receive buy-in to reach a common goal. They must have passion, integrity and the ability to communicate. They must draw the best out of people and empower them to reach our common goal. They must have real-world experience.

“I have the real-world experience and education needed to move our Nation forward. I have directed multi-million-dollar projects in various capacities, been on the board and supported nonprofit organizations, raised children, been married, failed and got up again to succeed. I’m a team player and know we can and will succeed together.

“By electing me to District 9, you will bring a fresh perspective to our legislative body and a legislator that plans for the future.”