1861 ushered in many changes for the Potawatomi in Kansas. Some decided to begin the U.S. citizenship process established in the Treaty of 1861 and 1866, thus creating the first Citizen Potawatomi tribal members. However, negative repercussions of the two treaties caused most to move to Indian Territory.
Despite the hardships in Kansas, Joseph Welch and his family thrived. On Aug. 11, 1865, Welch received 240 acres, and 120 acres of that allotted land has never left the family. One of his descendants continues to own, operate and live on the allotment today.
“It is an honor for me to be a descendant of Joseph Welch, still on the original farm,” said CPN member Greg Riat. “Farming is a great way of life that I have been involved in since I was a youth.”
Riat purchased his first herd of livestock in the late 1970s, and although it was a lot of money and work at the time, he never looked back.
“I can’t imagine how much work our ancestors had to do to produce a crop,” Riat said. “They would have done most all their work with animals and by hand. They had a hard way of life.”
Riat started his career in agriculture at a young age, helping his father and uncle on the family farm. At that time, they had two combines that could only cut about 14 feet of wheat at a time. His grandmother had Riat start farming the Joseph Welch Farm on his own in the early ‘80s, becoming the fifth generation to cultivate the land. And since then, modern equipment has made planting and harvesting easier with self-guiding implements.
“There is great satisfaction in raising a crop, working with nature and having God’s help,” he said.
Riat said he is grateful to keep the legacy going, and he is proud of his son’s desire to continue the agricultural tradition for future generations. Today, the Riat family produces corn and soybeans across 428 acres, including his great-grandfather’s 120 acres that remains in the family. Riat employs modern techniques to ensure his descendants will have an opportunity to live off the land as well.
“We are minimum and no-till. We have evolved over the years,” Riat said. “There are many benefits to this way of farming including reduced erosion and better moisture retention. We do a corn, soybean rotation.”
In addition to his agricultural pursuits, Riat is currently serving his fifth term as the Pottawatomie County, Kansas, sheriff.
“I have been with the Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office since 1989,” he said. “During this time, I have worked as deputy, patrol supervisor, detective, and for the past 18 years, sheriff. My plans are to retire from the sheriff’s office in two years and farm full-time.”
Since attending his first Gathering of Potawatomi Nations held at the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation last summer, Riat started learning more about his Potawatomi heritage.
“I am very proud to be a Citizen Potawatomi member and of my family. … I have much to learn about our past,” he said. “It means a great deal to me, but I also believe there is a responsibility to learn. And that’s what I am working on. It’s so important to learn where we come from.”
Along with Riat’s farming legacy, he desires to leave a lasting impression across Pottawatomie County, Kansas.
“If we try to effect a change for the positive, I believe we can make things better — especially for our coming generations,” he said. “I hope that over the past years, I have made a difference with what I have done at work but also at home. I want to leave a better, kinder and safer place for our next generation.”