Messages from

howesi kiiseki caakiwiyeefa (Good day, everyone)

The Shawnee Tribe’s license plates have been a topic of much discussion in Oklahoma. While tribal nations have been discussing this issue in a public forum, I am sure those at home are having conversations about what this rhetoric we have heard from Governor Stitt means for us and our ability to issue Shawnee license plates. 

This past month, the Oklahoma Senate proposed a bill, SB1907. In the simplest terms, it would have allowed the state to scan a tribal tag at checkpoints along turnpikes and send toll gate charges directly to your home. On its face, that does not seem terrible. However, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) was going to accomplish this by taking data from the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (OLETS) without any discussion or even notification to the tribal nations who voluntarily submit tag data to OLETS so that law enforcement can run our plates specifically for traffic stops—a blatant disregard for tribal sovereignty. 

OTA and the Governor presented SB1907 as a “public safety” bill; however, the proposed legislation had nothing to do with ensuring the safety of law enforcement or drivers but instead was a sweeping overreach into all the personal data tribal nations send to OLETS. Once again, the 38 federally recognized tribes of Oklahoma had to remind the Oklahoma Governor that he is only governor of the state of Oklahoma and not the tribal nations that happen to have governmental headquarters in the state. 

Fortunately, the tribal nations of Oklahoma heard about SB1907 as it passed out of the state senate and moved to the house chamber. My office, as well as the office of the Muscogee Nation’s Chief David Hill, acted jointly with the United Indian Nations of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Intertribal Tax Association to lobby House members and educate them on how this bill had not been discussed with tribal nations as had been represented to their colleagues in the Senate. We will continue our dialogue with the state capitol and OTA leadership as turnpikes cut through several reservations in eastern Oklahoma. The impacted tribal nations need to have a conversation about this and discuss revenue sharing from the taxation created from tribal tags under the new plate-pay system. 

As for the overall future of tribal tags in Oklahoma, I am certain we will have more battles to fight in the coming year. Unfortunately, Governor Stitt does not see our tribal nations as valuable partners in improving the state for all Oklahomans. We will remain committed to extending a hand of friendship to all of Oklahoma’s elected leaders, but they must be willing to deal honestly and fairly with our tribal nations and not try to “slip in” harmful legislation that affects our citizens. 

wiikoci nikocaye (I am trying very hard), 

Chief Ben Barnes

Chief Ben Barnes

hatito caaki wiyeefa, (Hello everyone,)

Throughout the history of our Shawnee people, we have depended upon our relationship with other tribes to survive. Whether it was the Delawares, Miamis, Seneca-Cayuga, Cherokees or the Muscogee Nation (Creek), we have always supported other tribes while protecting our own interests. 

As I have written in the past, when we separated from the Cherokee Nation, we did so with the agreement that we would not try to place land into trust within the Cherokee Nation or any land occupied by any other tribal nation. Several years after our separation from Cherokee Nation, Chairman/Chief Ron Sparkman was invited by the leaders of the eight tribes of Ottawa County, Oklahoma, to relocate to jointly owned lands near the turnpike entrance in Miami, Oklahoma. The Inter-Tribal Council of Northeastern Oklahoma often pools resources to help citizens of the member tribes and the community in general. At the time of his retirement, Chief Sparkman had been elected Chairman of the Inter-Tribal Council. 

Due to that relationship, many of our citizens receive treatment at Northeast Tribal Health Services in Miami today. In the past, Chief Sparkman held a board seat at the clinic, and during the same period, Councilman Scott Secondine held a board seat at the Claremore Indian Health Hospital. Today, Secretary Carolyn Foster represents our tribe on both boards. 

On the state and national level, our Chief Ben Barnes has been elected to the position of Chairman of the United Indian Nations of Oklahoma. This organization’s current membership consists of 27 of Oklahoma’s 39 tribes. UINO engages with both state and federal issues that occur daily. On the state level, for example, these include attempts by the current governor to force tribes to renegotiate casino profits, the governor’s current attempt to attack tribal tags and his recent efforts to join the State of Texas to kill the Indian Child Welfare Act. On the national level, UINO also joins other tribal organizations across the country in working on issues that affect all tribes, whether it is protecting sacred sites, confronting fraudulent tribes, boarding school reconciliation or inequitable funding for tribal programs. 

For years, our tribe has been part of the National Council of American Indians, which was founded in the 1930s to fight the Indian tribal termination effort that was occurring across the country. Today, the organization is a place where tribes across the country can come together to address national and international issues. It is also a place where tribal representatives can find solutions to problems that affect many tribes. From 2001 until recently, Chief Sparkman and Greg Pitcher were our tribe’s representatives. Today, Chief Barnes and I have been attending the sessions. At NCAI, I have been involved in the promotion of the Federal Farm Bill Extension, which has the potential to assist tribes and tribal citizens individually. I have also been involved in the Missing and Murdered Women’s Task Force. Chief Barnes has been active in Indian Boarding Schools and the Tribal Recognition Task Force, as well U.N. Declaration of Indigenous Rights Task Force. As a result of his efforts, he was invited to join the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition board of directors. 

As I write this report, I’ve recently participated in the Oklahoma Sovereignty Symposium Planning Discussion at Oklahoma City University School of Law. Councilor Keni Hood and I are preparing to attend a workshop at Oklahoma State University. OSU is creating a program where certificates or degrees can be obtained from floor to management in casino careers. The following week, Councilors Hood, Mclean, and I will attend Bridging the Gap, a conference sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and the Caddo Nation in Oklahoma City. It is this conference that is responsible for the current forestry paraprofessional program at our tribe. For the past couple of years, through a relationship with the Forest Service, temporary employment has been provided to some of our tribal citizens in several of our national forests. We expect other forests to become partners at this next conference.  

In June, several councilors will attend the Oklahoma Sovereignty Symposium, where tribal leaders, politicians and attorneys discuss tribal issues. Again, these are examples of our tribe engaging with other tribal nations and the local, state, and federal governments to better serve our community. I will also point out that some of these events are paid for by the inviting party such as the Sovereignty Symposium Planning Group. 

niyaawe (thank you), 

Roy D. Baldridge
Second Chief

Second Chief roy baldridge