John “Rocky” Barrett has been tribal chairman of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation for 36 years and is running for re-election against two challengers: Lisa Kraft, a 12-year tribal legislator, and Steve Castaneda, who unsuccessfully challenged Barrett in 2017.
Election Day is Saturday, June 26, and voting is open to all CPN citizens over the age of 18. In-person voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. at FireLake Arena, in Shawnee. In-person voters must bring their official tribal ID. More information on voting is available at the CPN website.
In addition to the tribal chairman election, Saturday’s ballot also includes approval or rejection of the tribal budget, which includes national service projects and appropriations for the executive branch of the tribe. District elections will take place in Districts 1 and 4, which lie outside Oklahoma. Districts 2 and 3 (also outside Oklahoma) were scheduled to have elections, but the races drew no challengers against the incumbents.
The Citizen Potawatomi Nation is headquartered in Shawnee, with tribal jurisdiction in Pottawatomie and Cleveland counties.
Below are details on the three Citizen Potawatomi Nation chairperson candidates, who are presented in alphabetical order. The information on each candidate was gathered from publicly available sources. Veteran journalist Gloria Trotter of the Countywide & Sun has also published a helpful overview of the election.
John “Rocky” Barrett
Profession: Tribal chairman of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
Experience: Elected as tribal chairman in 1985, Barrett has served in the office for 36 years. He was first elected as vice-chairman in 1973. Barrett’s bio on the Potawatomi heritage site states that, under his leadership, the tribe has gone from having assets totaling $550 to having an “annual economic impact of exceeding $550 million.” In 2009, he spoke about his political history for more than an hour during an interview with the Native Nations Institute of the University of Arizona.
Platform: Barrett’s campaign focuses on reconnecting CPN members with one another following the COVID-19 pandemic. Barrett calls “disconnection” the most pressing issue facing the tribe.
In a May issue of the Hownikan, the Citizen Potawatomi newspaper, Barrett mentions plans for the construction of an “outdoor performance venue backed up by a drive-in theatre on a new frontage road from the Grand Casino,” a medical clinic in Choctaw, an emergency care facility and a new medical administration facility at Mission Hill Hospital.
Profession: Tribal legislator; owner and president of Copper Bear Consulting.
Experience: Kraft served as a Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal legislator from 2007 until she resigned to run for the chairperson position. Kraft also served on the board of directors for First National Bank and Trust of Shawnee from 2002 to 2008. In 2006, she launched Copper Bear Consulting — which specializes in strategic planning and grant writing for Native American tribes — in Stillwater.
Platform: Kraft’s platform focuses on governmental transparency, new approaches, better representation of CPN citizens and a “need [for] change in leadership,” per her website.
In the same issue of the Hownikan, Kraft said her administration would feature a new press secretary and a news media outlet “independent of the government.”
Profession: Prior to moving to Oklahoma in 2009, Castaneda worked on road maintenance crews in California. According to a CPN website post about Castaneda during his 2017 campaign challenging Barrett, he served as a member of the City of Shawnee Roads Department.
Experience: Castaneda was the runner-up for the chairperson position in 2017, finishing with 306 votes to Barrett’s 1,689.
Platform: Castaneda’s campaign is focused on increasing senior housing and expanding medical care and education benefits for CPN citizens, according to a post on the CPN blog.
In 2017, his focus was to have the tribe give back to its members, through either a per-capita payment system or a long-term payment plan.
Castaneda does not have a presence on social media.