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Quapaw Nation holds elections for Chairman and Secretary-Treasurer

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Quapaw Nation
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Nearly two years after defeating longtime Chairman John Berrey, Joseph Byrd is asking for another term. He and current Secretary-Treasurer Guy Barker are campaigning for Quapaw votes in the election that takes place on Saturday, July 23.

Byrd and Barker face challengers Buddy Schapp and Wena Supernaw, who have combined experiences in law enforcement and business. Both candidates say they want better communication between citizens and leadership, and are advocating for some kind of term limits on the nation's highest offices.

Byrd and Barker came into office on the heels of a forensic audit that led to an indictment of Berrey and former Secretary-Treasurer Tamara Smiley Reeves. Berrey is currently facing 11 charges related to mishandling of more than $7 million. He denies those allegations and says they're about political grievances. Berrey pondered a run for Vice Chairman last year, but was ultimately disqualified from running after the indictment.

Currently, there are 1,500 eligible Quapaw voters — an increase of 1,200 from the last election for Chairman and Secretary-Treasurer.

During Byrd and Barker's term, Quapaw’s reservation was ruled never disestablished for purposes of criminal jurisdiction. Jeremy Lawhorn appealed his conviction of lewd acts with a child because he is Native American and the crime occurred within the Quapaw Nation's boundaries. Last fall, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld that ruling. The tribal nation began staffing their criminal justice department, entering into cross-deputization agreements with surrounding counties, and opened the new Ki-ho-ta Center that houses three judges and a court clerk.

Two candidates are also running for one seat on the business committee: incumbent Lloyd Buffalo and challenger Mike Shawnee. Buffalo has nearly 50 years of experience on the Business Committee. He says his priorities for the tribal nation are more housing for elders and taking care of those who are unhoused. During a candidate forum that took place at the end of June, challenger Mike Shawnee, who has a background in business, said he wants to see the nation's beef processing plant be more profitable by going after government contracts.

Betty Beard Gaedtke is a Quapaw citizen. She says paying down the tribal nation's debt on its two large casino resorts is a priority.

"My whole goal is I want to see us completely debt free as a nation," said Beard Gaedtke, who voted for Barker and Byrd in the 2020 election.

She says the two need one more term to make even more improvements.

"Because once we have all that money coming into the tribe, I mean, the sky's going to be the limit for how we can help our people," said Beard Gaedtke, who wants to see the tribal nation invest in more housing and scholarships for young people

Current leadership struck a deal with the Bank of Oklahoma to refinance the debt on Downstream Casino and Resort, the 14-year-old property that borders Oklahoma and Missouri. The casino was supposed to be paid off in 20 years, but documents emerged earlier this year that showed Quapaw Nation was making interest only payments that amounted to $55,000 per day. The new deal allowed them to pay down the debt and refinance the interest rate.

"We're on the precipice of destiny right now," said Byrd, talking about paying down Downstream Casino debt. "I can see the light at the end of the tunnel that's been hiding out from us for the last 13 years. And the result of that is going to be increased revenue streams back to the tribal government. And that goes to increase and really augment all of our services, all of our programs, ranging from elders all the way down to our youth."

A new constitution committee was formed in the wake of the scandal with Berrey, the former Chairman, to be able to better hold leaders accountable and be transparent about projects and processes the tribal nation undertakes.

That's one issue that Supernaw, a candidate for Secretary-Treasurer, wants to see more. During the Quapaw candidate forum, Supernaw was asked about how she would handle communicating with citizens about projects without breaching confidentiality.

"The whole idea is to communicate what can be communicated at every step of the process," said Supernaw during the volley of questions she and Barker were asked during the forum. "There are clearly situations where confidentiality, proprietary information cannot be shared. However, you know, when any time that there is a project, a proposal, an activity that's underway, go ahead and share that progress without breaching confidentiality."

Another question asked of all candidates was about term limits. Last summer, a survey was circulated asking citizens about their views on term limits for all Business Committee. Currently, Chairman and Secretary-Treasurer serve two-year terms.

"The individual needs to sit out a term. Before they can run again. And I understand that causes disruption in government, but I think that downside is not nearly as great as the upside when you're bringing in new objectives and fresh ideas to the table," said Supernaw.

Byrd disagrees. Quapaw Nation holds elections every year, something Byrd says creates chaos and instability. He is advocating for people to serve three or four years terms before another election.

"I'm very proud of what we've accomplished in such a short first term," said Barker, who ran in the primary for Markwayne Mullin's vacated seat in Congressional District 2.

During their term, Barker and Byrd, Quapaw Nation's gaming activities went through a National Indian Gaming Commission investigation. Their office also went through a forensic audit.

"We've spent a lot of time these first two years really cleaning the house. I think now hopefully it's our opportunity to decorate the house," said Barker.

KOSU reached out to both Schapp and Supernaw for an interview for this article. Both declined.

Watch the candidate forum and learn more about the races below:

Voting Information

Polls are open from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Saturday, July 25 at the Quapaw Tribal Complex.

More information can be found here.

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Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs desk.
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