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Shawnee-based Indian tribe is an economic giant for community

With an annual economic impact of more than $500 million in the state of Oklahoma, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation is an economic giant that capitalized on its gaming success to form a diverse financial portfolio.
by Andrew Knittle Modified: February 16, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: February 16, 2014

While many Oklahoma Indian tribes struggle to control and manage their gaming enterprises, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation has used theirs to create a diverse financial portfolio that includes a huge grocery store, a golf course, banks and entertainment venues.

In the early 1970s, the tribe had almost nothing. Its trust land had dwindled. The tribe's bank account had a balance of less than $600.

But then things changed.

In 1971, the tribe's current chairman, John “Rocky” Barrett, was first elected to office. Once in a position of power, he acted swiftly to make changes within the tribal government, eventually running an administration that championed sovereignty and shrewdly exploited advantages afforded to Indian tribes as separate, independent nations.

As the changes took hold, the tribe began to turn things around. With the coming of Indian gaming, which was initially permitted in 1987 following a Supreme Court ruling, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation began to flourish.

Gaming quickly made the Potawatomis rich, but the tribe became wealthy by diversifying its portfolio.

Today, the tribe owns FireLake Discount Foods, billed as the largest tribally owned grocery store in the United States. The 84,000-square-foot store is visible from the tribe's headquarters on Gordon Cooper Drive and features a bakery, deli, drive-thru smoke shop and a built-in dollar-store.

To be able to compete against other grocery store companies, Barrett said he buys all of his food from Texas, in bulk. He partners with other independent businesses and grocers to buy products in larger quantities in order to remain competitive.

The tribe also owns First National Bank and Trust Company, including a branch in Shawnee, right out in front of the government administration building.

All together, the tribe's banking business contains branches in Shawnee, Holdenville, Granite, Mangum and two in Lawton.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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