Potawatomi Books, Gary E.  Mitchell]


Go back to previous page Return to table of contents

The Indian version of the body politic is no different than the white version.

People are elected on the merits of potential. Sometimes it is fruitful and other times not. It is a sometimes tasteless and most times a thankless job with few rewards, which is why most Indians stay about as far away as they can get.

But there are some who go into this business anyway. Many only serve their time with no real contribution to improve Indian society, while others "rise to the top" as leaders.

A top notch leader is rare in Indian politics, as well as white politics. Minnie Evans was one of the few with successful political careers.

In politics, a thick skin is needed to survive the verbal abuse, the disappointments and the sometimes hopeless situations, but Minnie Evans did what was necessary to make her 35-year political career a memorable one. Minnie Evans, whose Indian name was Ke Waht don no quah, had the internal fortitude and true leadership abilities needed during those turbulent political times after World War II.

In her role of tribal chairman, a rare appointment for a woman in those years, she fought long and hard for the rights of the tribe. It took a special person to endure the long trips to committee hearings, court sessions, and council meetings.

This was a time when traveling was slow, usually by car or train. In addition, driving on the poor reservation roads was an adventure in itself.

She lacked a formal education, but made up for this with sheer determination. She applied herself to understand the complex issues facing the tribe. She compensated for her shortcomings with wisdom and common sense, attributes that could benefit all politicians.

When the government thought it would have its way on treaty claims in the 40s and termination issues in the 50s, it failed to anticipate a challenging and tenacious fighter of Potawatomi rights: Minnie Evans. By not giving in at the negotiations table, she made life better for future Potawatomis.

Knowing their limitations in the area of law, the Potawatomi employed the Topeka law firm of Stone, McClure, Webb, Johnson & Oman, to help their cause. This firm was hired during an elaborate ceremony at the old Dancing Grounds in 1938, and they represented the tribe in treaty claims until 1979. The Potawatomi called Stone "See-nees" or "Little Stone."

He would report on his activities twice a year to the tribal membership at the old community building. The entire treaty claims was a tedious process.

There were ten treaties in question, and they had to be broken down into two phases, a title phase and a valuation phase. The Stone law firm had to advance all the cost of litigation and all the necessary expert testimony used to show government shortcomings.

Robert Johnson, a member of the law firm, stated how the government "drug their feet and asked for extension after extension, which made it more expensive."

It dragged its feet because this was how the Justice Department defended past actions of the United States. It was originally thought that the case could be handled easily with each side presenting a few facts followed by a quick decision made based on those facts, and the award, if any, would be given to the tribe concerned.

At that point, the United States would be free to sever its relationship with the tribe, having corrected any wrongs that it had historically committed against the Indians.

But the Justice Department saw its job as militant defender of the United States interests. It was rarely prepared to go to court against the tribes.

Accountants searched the century-old records for any payments in goods or services that the United States had made to the tribe which could be set off against the tribal claim. The anticipated claims cases lapsed into struggles between sets of accountants preparing massive memorandums listing every blanket, kettle, and plow that was ever exchanged between the Indians and the government.

While the government used the bureaucratic process to its advantage, it was a frustrating process for the Potawatomi leaders who grew old fighting for this cause. They could have very easily given up the fight, but to them this claims fight was the future for the Potawatomi.

The Potawatomi reservation was desolate and offered little in the way of natural resources, and no employment opportunities existed at all. A large claims settlement meant a small disbursement, called "per-capita payments," for each enrolled member.

These astute leaders recognized that by giving something to each tribal member, poverty and unemployment would be alleviated, at least for a while. Improving conditions in these two areas would, no doubt, help advance their own political careers.

Indian politics is no different than its white or black counterparts. Political survival depends on coming through on campaign promises. And just as true with all politics, offices are sometimes attained by lies and innuendoes, but political regimes with weak foundations never last.

These old leaders, wise in their ways, worked hard with no pay to realize their dreams.

In short, the entire process took twenty-three years to resolve in the court system with the tribe winning a large multi-million dollar settlement on all the past claims against the government.

While it may seem like a retribution, the settlement represented about 25 cents an acre. The entire process was a tribute to what Indian leaders are capable of achieving when they work together for a goal.

First published in the Topeka Capital Journal Thursday, June 29, 1995
Go back to index - - 30 - - Go on to next page

Return to: Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe Language
A Kansas History & Kansas Heritage Group site.