from The Chiefs

Chief Barnes
Ben Barnes

In this sit down interview, Chiefs Baldridge and Sparkman tell a bit of the tribe’s history, as well as how fast we’ve grown. The Shawnee Tribe has nearly doubled our population of citizen since 2019, and so, I think the retrospective that the Chiefs have offered is not just timely, but informative. In my short message, I want to do likewise. 

Chief Sparkman left the tribe in an excellent position for growth, but we could not foresee exactly how we would grow. Not just our population, but the economic benefit of the casino did not take the seven years we anticipated it would for us to retire the debt. We immediately began to see distributions to the tribal nation. The Business Council was ready, as we had spoken to other tribal nations that had traveled the road that we now found ourselves on. Prior to the casino opening, we had set up the regulatory body, tribal court and codes, as well as a fiscally responsible plan based on the best advice available to us in Indian Country. 

A few years ago, at the General Council, we introduced our revenue allocation plan that would take stock of our citizens’ needs through a census, as well as budgeting the future casino distributions into three buckets: government, economic development, and strategic reserve. I know that this Business Council, as well as the team of Shawnees we have serving on Shawnee Development, have been tactical in our administration of the Tribe’s resources. Very soon, there will be some exciting details announced about a future expansion that will further increase the Shawnee Tribe’s ability to provide for her people. 

This expansion will add stability and longevity to the strength of the economic engine we have built, as has the work this Business Council has done to protect our tribe against the occasional misguided policies from our trustee in Washington. The Business Council were warriors for the Shawnee people during the coronavirus pandemic when the United States’ Treasury said we were a zero people, that we had no right to any monies for coronavirus relief through the CARES Act. Even when we lost our initial lawsuit, there was not a single moment of hesitancy from them. The Business Council of that time unanimously decided to appeal. And we prevailed. 

Since then, we have seen more than five million dollars in relief go out to our people, thanks to our staff’s hard and swift work. We also obtained an additional seventeen million dollars, and we are excited to announce very soon the details about how we will utilize those funds to further improve the lives of Shawnee People. 

The future of our nation at the Shawnee Tribe is extremely bright, and it is because of the leadership we have seen from this Council, both present and past. 
niyaawe, hiini leki. nekocaye. 
Chief Ben Barnes 

Roy Baldridge
Second Chief

caaki wiyeefa (everyone)— 

I hope that all are doing well. Although we are still playing catch-up from the COVID epidemic, the Shawnee government and staff have been working hard to continue providing new programs and services, many of which were added in just the last year. For those citizens who still have a copy of the 2018 General Council report, you can see how incredible 2022 was in comparison. We have gone from a staff of 11 to a staff of 50, not counting the employees at Golden Mesa Casino in Guymon. 

Led by Chief Barnes and supported by the Business Council, the Shawnee government has been working with Shawnee Development, led by Chris Floyd and Global Gaming (Chickasaw Nation), on a casino expansion to include the construction of a new hotel on our Guymon property. We have been, and will continue, managing our growth by reviewing and approving policies & controls for the tribe’s personnel, government, and business operations. 

We have come a long way in a short time to get where we are today. It was not easy by any means. There were times when it looked like we were not going to make it.  

In the 2000 omnibus bill that allowed us to separate from the Cherokee Nation, there were specific mandates stating that we could not place land into trust (i.e., the first step to opening a major gaming operation) without Cherokee Nation’s permission. It further stated that we could not go anywhere in Oklahoma currently occupied by any other tribe. That left two areas in Oklahoma—the panhandle and Oklahoma County. 

Since the 1990s, the Shawnee Tribe has made efforts to engage with the State of Kansas, because our last reservation is inside Kansas’ borders. In the 2000s, the Shawnee Tribe fought the State of Kansas and the US Government over the Sunflower Ammunition Plant, which was on Shawnee territory and being decommissioned during that time. We have never forgotten our Kansas reservation and our ties to that place. Many of us have family buried there, as with the Shawnee cemetery that was returned to our tribe through an act passed by the Kansas legislature approximately one year ago. 

In closing, I will say that I see firsthand how hard Chief Barnes and our staff work every day. I see how dedicated and engaged our Business Council are in trying to do what they feel is right for our families/citizens. We are here because of the hard work done by our staff and our leaders, past and present. We are in a good place today, and we all share the same goal of building and preserving a future that is filled with opportunity and security. 

niyaawe (thank you), 

Roy D. Baldridge 

Second Chief