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Quapaw Chairman Joseph Byrd resigns amid recall efforts

Joseph Byrd
Quapaw Nation
Quapaw Nation Chairman Joseph Byrd.

During a regularly scheduled Quapaw Nation Business Committee meeting, members discussed purchases, replacing tile and a recent Easter egg hunt.

Then, Chairman Joseph Byrd addressed everyone in attendance and tendered his resignation.

The previous week, a recall petition had been filed with the amount of required signatures to call a special election.

"For my entire time in office, my character, integrity and morals have been questioned," said Byrd as he read from a prepared statement. "I've received death threats and many friends have become foes. Instead of giving in, I chose to double down and be the leader that was needed during a time of much unrest. And throughout my time as chairman, I have made good decisions and some not so good decisions. But right or wrong, I own all of them.”

According to Quapaw Nation code, registered voters of the Quapaw Tribe have the right to recall any elected official by filing a petition with 250 signatures with the enrollment and election committee. Those signatures must then be verified by both committees.

On April 11, the election committee declared the petition was valid and that a special election must take place within 90-days. Byrd could have remained in his seat until that election and re-run for his position.

The reason for the recall was not known. KOSU reached out to the Quapaw Nation and officials responded that they would not speculate, and pointed to the recent business committee meeting where Byrd outlined his reasons for resigning.

"The reality is that I can no longer do what is necessary because it requires me to stay on the warpath. And even though it's something I am good at, it's a path I'm unwilling to continue down, especially while I help my partner raise our two daughters," Byrd told members at last weekend's meeting.

In a recent interview with The Quapaw Post, the tribal nation's news outlet, Byrd was questioned about his decision to run for a District 3 seat on the Cherokee Nation's tribal council. Byrd's Indigenous heritage is Quapaw, Osage and Cherokee, and he is enrolled as both a Quapaw Citizen and a Cherokee citizen, making him eligible to run.

That decision left citizens speculating as to why he would run for an office with another tribal nation, given his commitment to the Quapaw.

"It is not a decision that I came to lightly, mainly because I acknowledge and understand that the Quapaw people have placed their faith in my leadership. I want people to know that this was not a hasty decision. I thought about it, I prayed about it, and it seemed like the right time," Byrd told The Quapaw Post.

Byrd stated the passing of two people in the past year greatly affected him — his grandmother in the spring of 2022 and the passing of Mike Shawnee, a business committee member who was elected in the summer of 2022 to replace longtime council member Lloyd Buffalo.

"With Mike's passing, not only did I lose that mentor, and that guidance from an elder tribesman, who was revered and respected in the tribal community, but with that I lost the ability to be most effective," Byrd said.

Shawnee's passing left a vacancy on the business committee that has yet to be filled. A special election for his seat will take place on June 23. Zack Turley, another business committee member whose position was empty, was recently replaced by Linda Davis in a special election last weekend.

Byrd has one year and three months left in his position. He was elected in the summer of 2020, unseating longtime incumbent John Berrey. KOSU later reported that Berrey and the Quapaw Tribe's former secretary treasurer were alleged to have illegally doled out more than $34 million worth of pay raises, bonuses and severance pay.

Since his time in office, the tribal nation has paid down significant debt on their Downstream Resort and Casino, which straddles the border between Oklahoma and Missouri. A deal with the Bank of Oklahoma allowed the Quapaw Tribe to save $55,000 per day in interest they were previously paying on the loan.

Byrd's tenure also saw the opening of the Saracen Casino and Resort in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, amidst the spread of COVID-19.

Byrd did not immediately return a message for comment. Officials from the Quapaw Nation said in a written statement that Byrd resigned voluntarily and that they are appreciative of his service.

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Allison Herrera covered Indigenous Affairs for KOSU from April 2020 to November 2023.
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