May 26, 2022
hato saawanooki (Hello Shawnee citizens)
The past couple of months has been a blur, and June looks to be more of the same. In late April, I was privileged to join President Fawn Sharp (National Congress of American Indians) and Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin (Cherokee Nation) at the United Nations in New York City to deliver remarks to member states and representatives of the Indigenous peoples of the world. President Sharp reiterated her previous calls for member states to adhere to the principles of “free, prior, and informed consent,” while Chief Hoskin described the fantastic work his nation has done by creating jobs centered around preserving the Cherokee language.
I spoke to the assembled nations of the world and her Indigenous peoples about boarding schools, reeducation centers, and manual labor camps used by member states to indoctrinate and assimilate Indigenous peoples. As you’re more than likely aware, these historic and ongoing practices remove children from their communities and deprive them of their languages, traditions, and cultures. In too many instances, these practices expose children to abuse. I called upon all member nations to cease these harmful practices and immediately return the stolen lands upon which the perpetrators built these so-called educational institutions.
Then on May 12, the Shawnee Tribe was one of six parties asked to share testimony regarding HR 5444, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act. Second Chief Baldridge and I flew to Washington DC at the invitation of the US House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Indigenous Peoples of the United States to speak to members of Congress about the impact of the Shawnee Indian Manual Labor School. As the only tribal leader in attendance, I testified for our Shawnee children in solidarity with boarding school survivors Jim LaBelle (Inupiaq), Dr. Ramona Charette Klein (Turtle Mountain Chippewa), and Matthew War Bonnet (Oglala), Dr. Janine Pease (Crow), and the CEO of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, Deb Parker, (Tulalip).
During my time in this office, I’ve been forced to reckon more than ever with the intergenerational effects that boarding schools and other assimilation methods have imposed on our people. From the coercive push on Shawnee families to abandon their identity and culture to pernicious ideas passed down that claim learning saawanwaatoweewe (the Shawnee language) is “useless” or even “no good.”
But in these past few weeks since our return from Washington, Business Council members and I traveled to Topeka, KS, to meet with Governor Laura Kelly and witnessed her signing Senate Bill 405, which returned to the Tribe a half-acre cemetery where members of the Parks, Silverheels, and Bluejacket families are buried. The next day, our Business Council gathered for a weekend of special planning sessions to discuss the Tribe’s growth over the past year and lay out strategic goals for the next. Our administrative staff continues to roll out new housing assistance and social service programs. We have close to 5% of our citizens participating in the Shawnee Language Immersion Program, and scores of Shawnee students are now receiving meaningful financial aid for their continuing education.
I am tremendously excited about these developments, and we will be adding even more opportunities as our programs continue to grow. If you or a loved one need information about higher education assistance (summer deadline is June 15!), contact Joshua Shawnee at firstname.lastname@example.org. All of our staff’s contact information is available at shawnee-tribe.com.
It is truly an honor and a privilege to serve you as well as to represent and defend the interests of our Shawnee people everywhere.
niyaawe, (thank you)
May 26, 2022
hatito caaki wiyeefa, (Hello everyone,)
I hope that all is well for you and your families. Since my last letter, many of the programs mentioned at that time have now been implemented. It is our hope that those can not only be sustained but expanded and that other programs can be added to meet our citizen’s needs.
In addition to the implementation of programs, many of you have noticed changes to our tribal website allow for greater accessibility to information regarding news and programs. The noticeable changes are to result of a new Communications Department headed by Maggie Boyett. As I write this letter, Language Director Joel Barnes and his staff have made amazing strides towards the revitalization of our Shawnee language by offering virtual classes to citizens across the country.
Many of you have also noticed that the number of staff has increased at the tribal offices here in Miami and in Guymon. This expansion has occurred with the intent to better serve the citizens of the Shawnee tribe by delivering services that have been needed and deserved for some time and are finally possible. As with any change or growth, occasional hiccups can be expected. It is our goal to address situations as they occur.
Over the last couple of years Chief Barnes, the Business Council, our staff and I have worked hard to reinstitute lost programs and add new ones. I am witness to the countless time put in by Chief Barnes beyond normal business hours. I have witnessed many 4-hour monthly Council meetings that have occasionally required additional dates to ensure that programs developed by staff were ready for implementation.
Every day, I remember and appreciate the hard work that has been done by previous Council members and staff. Their efforts have made today possible. As our Tribe moves into a more complicated future, I have to say that it is an honor to work with them, Chief Barnes, the current Business Council and staff as we continue to work for a sustainable future for you, our children and future generations.
niyaawe, (Thank you,)
Roy D. Baldridge