SHAWNEE — 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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