The Citizen Potawatomi Nation Election Committee released the unofficial results of its 2021 tribal election Saturday, which included the race for tribal chairman and CPN Legislature elections for District 1 and District 4, which lie outside Oklahoma.
John “Rocky” Barrett, a 36-year incumbent, won another four-year term as tribal chairman by topping Lisa Kraft, a 12-year tribal legislator, and Steve Castaneda, who challenged Barrett in 2017.
Barrett received 1,867 votes (66.6 percent) in Saturday’s election, while Kraft and Castenada received 869 votes (31 percent) and 67 votes (2.4 percent), respectively.
The results are unofficial — and do not include “challenged ballots” — until they are certified by the CPN Election Committee in the coming days.
Requests for a statement from Barrett about his re-election victory did not receive a response prior to the publication of this article. Barrett was sworn into office for his 10th term Saturday, despite the unofficial nature of the electoral results, said Jennifer Bell, CPN director of public information.
Citizen Potawatomi Nation voters were able to cast their ballots for tribal chairman on Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. at FireLake Arena in Shawnee. Tribal ID’s were required to vote. Districts 1 and 4 were elected by tribal members within their districts. With no incumbent in the race, District 1 is headed to an Aug. 25 runoff, while the District 4 incumbent prevailed outright.
Kraft: ‘I am emotional, but I’m mad’
Kraft spoke to her supporters Saturday afternoon after the unofficial results had been announced. A video of her speech was posted to Facebook and is embedded below.
“I’m disappointed in [the election result], but I’m fired up. I’m going to lick my wounds,” Kraft said. “I’m emotional, but I’m mad — mad that we were… in my opinion, there are so many irregularities to our system. There is a level of disconnect between the leadership and the people.”
On Kraft’s Facebook page, she also posted a Google form asking for CPN citizens to report whether they experienced any issues with their absentee ballots or voting on Election Day.
Asked if she had any additional explanation of her statement about “irregularities,” a spokesman for Kraft’s campaign did not respond by the publication of this article.
Rocky Barrett re-elected by two-thirds margin
First elected vice chairman in 1971, Barrett has served the Citizen Potawatomi Nation for 50 years as an elected official. Barrett won his first bid for chairman in 1985.
When Barrett first took office, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation had assets totaling just $550, according to the Potawatomi Heritage site. Today, the nation’s assets “exceed $900 million with a net worth of more than $400 million,” Barrett wrote in his most recent column of the Hownikan, the CPN newspaper.
The tribe owns more than a dozen businesses as well as 33 federal compact and contract operations with 2,400 employees — making Citizen Potawatomi Nation the largest employer in Pottawatomie County — according to the Native Nations Institute of the University of Arizona. The tribe has seen a 20 percent average annual growth in revenue over the last 30 years, according to the May issue of the Hownikan.
A bulk of the economic growth from the tribe is held within the First National Bank and Trust Co., the largest tribally-owned bank in the United States. Then called First Oklahoma Bank, Barrett initiated the purchase of a controlling interest in the bank from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1989. The bank “has grown from its original $16 million asset size to its present $300 million in assets with seven branch banks in six communities in the state,” according to the Native Nations Institute of the University of Arizona.
Barrett kickstarted the CPN constitutional reform in 2007, which addressed the lack of participation from members living outside of Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s jurisdiction, among other changes.
In his May column of the Hownikan, Barrett said he hopes to finance and develop new housing as well as provide on-reservation jobs for CPN members within his next term. In his April column of the Hownikan, Barrett called “disconnection” the most pressing issue facing the tribe following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“An entire generation is missing the benefit of shared experiences, learning from stories of an elder, reading books and magazines, singing, dancing, music, daydreaming, or learning a skill. They have ‘disconnected,’ and they are missing out on the good stuff, the real joys of life,” Barrett wrote in the Hownikan. “I hope that the appeal of their tribal identity, their ‘warrior spirit’ or their ‘woman’s power,’ will come into their lives and save them.”
The Citizen Potawatomi Nation is receiving $170 million from the American Rescue Plan.
“These funds represent a historic federal investment in Indian Country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Barrett said in a statement. “We have an opportunity to meet some of the needs of our tribal members and invest in the future of our tribe in order to impact the lives of future generations of Citizen Potawatomi.”
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District 1 heading to runoff
CPN District 1, which includes 16 states in the northeastern United States, will head to runoffs on Aug. 25 between Alan Melot (101 votes, 34.5 percent of votes) and David Slavin (77 votes, 26.3 percent of votes).
Two other candidates competed in the District 1 race: Jon. A Boursaw (58 votes) and Kevin Roberts (57 votes).
Boursaw holds onto District 4
Eight-year incumbent Jon Boursaw won District 4 — which covers Kansas — outright with 213 votes over Elexa D. Dawson with 57 votes.
Districts 2 and 3 also were scheduled to be up for election in 2021, but they drew no challengers. Eva Marie Carney of District 2 and Robert Whistler of District 3 will retain their seats.
As noted above, these results are unofficial until certified by the Citizen Potawatomi Election Committee.