Since the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s arrival in Indian Territory, the Tribe has experienced trials and adversity. Rather than succumb to those difficulties, leaders employed new tactics to help the Tribe grow and thrive. During the 20th century, CPN established a sound government, and the foundation created continues to direct the Nation. The Cultural Heritage Center’s final gallery, Seventh Generation, celebrates the Tribe’s successes as well as educates the public on the Nation’s strength, endurance and perseverance.
The gallery’s name harks back to the CHC’s initial gallery, Seven Fires. The seventh and final prophecy says that there will be a generation that comes and goes along the path of the ancestors, picking those traditions, teachings, language and culture that the ancestors were forced to put down. The Potawatomi believe they are in the early stages of the Seventh Fire, and while many see modern CPN as prosperous, the Tribe’s contemporary status did not happen overnight.
After Oklahoma became a state, Native and non-Native leaders alike had difficulty understanding where city, county, state or tribal government jurisdictions began and ended. This created negative implications for the tribes located within Indian Territory.
Federal allotment policies also plagued the tribes in Oklahoma by dismantling communal culture. However, the Citizen Potawatomi learned how to leverage resources to enact change. As soon as Citizen Potawatomi settled in present-day Oklahoma, Tribal members exercised their sovereignty through letter-writing campaigns and building relationships with all levels of government, and that tenacity remains today.
Numerous pieces of legislation continued negative policies into the 1900s, as discussions around federal Indian affairs began to evolve. Realizing these policies were less than optimal, the government began developing new strategies. In 1934, the Indian Reorganization Act put an end to land allotment and provided the Tribe an opportunity express its sovereignty through the development of an official constitution. The IRA re-recognized tribes as well as provided a format to help Native nations develop their governments in a structure similar to the U.S.
Although the IRA generated some beneficial changes, the Tribe still struggled to gain a solid base. When CPN’s current Chairman, John “Rocky” Barrett, joined the Nation’s business committee as a 26-year-old in the 1970s, CPN conducted business with a few hundred dollars to its name out of a trailer borrowed from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Under the direction of Chairman Barrett and Vice-Chairman Linda Capps, CPN revised its constitution again in 2007, which established a base for the Tribe’s 21st-century resurgence. This constitution creates greater checks and balances, and by developing a legislative arm with representatives across the United States, members can connect to the Nation no matter where they live.
CHC staff strategically placed the 1938 Tribal constitution developed after the IRA’s passage in front of a mural of the trailer as a juxtaposition — reminding visitors how far the Tribe has come. Barrett became CPN’s Chairman in 1985, and since then, the Nation has grown to contribute an economic impact of more than $500 million annually.