(Hello, my friend),
During the “Termination Era,” the federal government, under the authority of the U.S. Congress, managed to eliminate more than 100 tribal nations under the auspices of mainstreaming Indians into American society. According to the American Indian Relief Council, approximately 2.5 million acres of trust land lost its protected status while around 12,000 Native Americans lost their tribal citizenship because their tribes were no longer recognized by the U.S.
The federal government’s 1956 Indian Relocation Act’s goal was to cut subsidies to those living on reservations in order to achieve tribal termination. Essentially, by getting American Indians off reservations and out into cities with non-Natives, the goal was to breed Native nations out of existence.
Even for those who endured the trials and tribulations of such policies, the ticking time bomb of federal government-established citizenship policies began to catch up with tribes like Citizen Potawatomi Nation near the end of the 20th century.
By the late 1980s, our Tribal population totaled around 5,000 members. Due to blood quantum restrictions, CPN was steadily growing older. The average age of its members was 44-45, and very few members’ descendants met the blood degree requirements.
In late 1988, we sought a change that would return the Tribe’s constitution to pre-1961 standards of enrollment by descendancy. The blood-quantum requirement was imposed on the Tribe as a prerequisite for distribution of Indian Claims Commission payments during the 1960s.
Our enrollment change was part of an overall effort by the Tribe to control its own affairs in the decade after the passage of the Indian Self-Determination Act. The campaign turned into a long slog of legal cases and meetings with federal officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs. At that time, the BIA believed the Tribe would simply add all descendants to the rolls without applying its normal enrollment criteria.
In late 1988, Oklahoma Congressman Wes Watkins and Senators Dan Boren and Don Nickles wrote to BIA Assistant Secretary Ross Swimmer, encouraging him to allow the Citizen Potawatomi to hold a secretarial vote that would decide the membership question. The BIA reversed an earlier decision to oppose the vote and helped pave the way for its undertaking, which it would supervise.
By spring 1989, the ballots were counted, and by an overwhelming majority, Citizen Potawatomi members voted to open Tribal enrollment on the basis of descendancy. By a count of 1,912 for to 343 against, any person who was enrolled, or entitled to be, on the January 1937 tribal rolls thereby qualified for membership. On May 5, the BIA passed into law the constitutional change concerning enrollment.
In 2007, tired of a failing constitution that did not meet the cultural needs of the Nation, CPN citizens ratified a new governing document that resulted in a significant transfer of power and realigned the constitution to Citizen Potawatomi culture.
The Nation moved from a five-member business committee with representatives only from Oklahoma to a 16-member legislative body with regional representatives for all CPN citizens, wherever they reside.
Our services are growing for Tribal members in Oklahoma and across the world. With more than 34,000 members, the Tribe’s vibrant and growing community is a testament to the vision of our members at that pivotal moment in CPN history.
Along with the privileges and benefits of being a member of Citizen Potawatomi Nation comes great responsibility. One of the ways you can be a responsible citizen is to be engaged and vote. We are only a tribe with universal representation if our members participate.
If you wish to vote by absentee ballot your request must be postmarked by June 4, 2018. Once you receive the ballot, complete it and mail it back to the Election Committee. Your completed absentee ballot must be received by the Election Committee in the Post Office box by 10:00 a.m. on June 30, 2018.
I look forward to watching our Tribe continue to grow, and I am thankful that we have made changes to solidify our sovereignty.
As always, it is an honor to serve as your Tribal Chairman.
John “Rocky” Barrett
(He Leads Them Home)