PRESS RELEASE Shawnee, November 23rd –
The Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and Copper Bear Consulting LLC are working together to pursue tribal nation building in central Oklahoma. Due to a 1998 legal ruling, known as the Collier Case, the Absentee Shawnee are prohibited from putting their lands into federal trust because of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation (CPN).
Governor John Johnson of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe describes, “The last 24 years of being landlocked by the Citizen Potawatomi has diminished generations of Absentee Shawnee people and its leaders from exercising sovereignty. Our Executive Committee pledged to members, through our recent constitutional change, that we would find a solution.”
The CPN has been a success story in navigating the quagmire known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Fee to Trust process. The CPN is the 8th largest tribe in the United States and has converted thousands of acres into trust over the last 24 years in and around Shawnee. The Absentee Shawnee Tribe has 4,576 tribal members.
Trust lands are under the jurisdiction of a tribe, like lands that make up a state, county, or city. A tribal government can apply to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to convert land it owns into trust. This process is called Fee to Trust.
Typically, tribal governments hire law firms to create these complicated federal Fee to Trust applications and wait years to get a single title converted, if ever, and at considerable expense. The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ process of converting land title can be difficult, lengthy, expensive, and contentious.
The easiest way to get land in trust is on land that was once reservation, however, and much more difficult of an application, is putting lands in trust outside of a reservation. On trust lands, tribal leaders create laws and exercise policing, zoning, permitting, taxing, environment authority, land use, etc. Trust lands can also be used as Free Trade Zones for international shipping, receiving, and manufacturing.
Governor Johnson emphasizes, “Trust title conversion is how a tribe grows its land base and legal jurisdiction. Without the ability to grow vital community services such as healthcare, housing, and farming and grazing, our tribal government is not doing all it can for its members. We need tribal businesses to support a diverse economy and provide local jobs. We can’t build these services and businesses because we need our lands placed in trust. With Lisa’s background and her career in helping several other small tribes in Oklahoma, we hired Copper Bear Consulting to help us strategize a way forward with our land development.”
Lisa Kraft, founder of Copper Bear, is a former 14-year elected CPN legislator. Kraft is no stranger to challenging the status quo in Indian Country. She ran for Chairman of the CPN in June 2021 and lost to the 40-year incumbent John “Rocky” Barrett (79). Barrett is responsible for litigating the Collier case and keeping it in force these past 24 years.
Joseph Blanchard, Treasurer of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe explains, “historical evidence supports the Absentee Shawnee as prospering in the Shawnee area prior to the 1867 Citizen Potawatomi Treaty. The Potawatomi had been assigned a new Indian Territory reservation on Cherokee land, but when they saw the rich river valley, a flowing north Canadian River and trade route, and the Shawnee trading post,
Potawatomi delegates went back to the Secretary of the Interior and asked for the Shawnee village lands instead of the one they had been assigned. Shawnee tribal members outnumbered the Potawatomi people three to one, yet we were told to leave. Then the Land Run came.”
Absentee Shawnee Secretary Alicia Miller says, “I want to be part of history making for our Absentee Shawnee people and break the hold the Citizen Potawatomi have had over our lands and our leadership’s development options.”
“The time is now,” according to Absentee Shawnee Representative DeWayne Wilson, “We all need to work together for a stronger central-Oklahoma economy and fix what we can ourselves; our youth and their families depend on us.”
“Many Oklahoma tribes have jurisdictional problems with other tribes because of how their reservations were created by the government, Kraft says from her 16 years of grant writing for Oklahoma small tribes. Tribes can bring in millions of federal infrastructure and development funding through grant writing—water and sewer, roads, community facilities, healthcare, education, housing, and new businesses. For the last 155 years, the Absentee Shawnee have been losing the fight with the Citizen Potawatomi over land, and more harshly these last 24 by not being allowed to expand their tribal land base.”
“There are some in tribal leadership who think tribal prosperity is a zero-sum game—someone has to lose for someone to win,” Kraft disparages. “In my opinion, that is an outdated way of seeing today’s world. The CPN have almost 40,000 members compared to the AST, who number less than 5,000. Its David versus Goliath.”
The Absentee Shawnee Tribe have exclusivity with Copper Bear Consulting’s new Fee to Trust expertise. Kraft brings with her a team of realty experts with over 75 fee to trust applications under their belts and can process Fee to Trust applications in about 12 months.
Absentee Shawnee Lieutenant Governor Ezra DeLodge says, “We needed an innovative plan for our future and chose to work with the future leadership of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Ms. Kraft and her realty experts have given us more hope than we have had in 24 years.”
For more information on the Absentee Shawnee Tribe please visit astribe.com. For information on Copper Bear Consulting go to copperbear.com.