A Potawatomi's Journey To The White House
Introduction from Pokagon Times. It is rare that you get the experience of reading the writings from how tribal politics works, or the writings from a tribal historian. To be able to read the life a tribal chairman, is a treat that many will only encounter once in their lifetime. I am honored and privileged to know such a man.
Gary Mitchell's words:
In my younger days, I tried to become a very serious baseball collector and of autographed baseballs. I use to go to baseball card shows with my brother Eddie, (His blog link) , my nephew Clint and also my daughter Martie, that way we could get two autographs instead of one, my other brother Larry did the same, and then we would trade baseballs. I had baseballs from Mickey Mantle, Harmon Kilebrew, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Johnny Bench, Brooks Robinson and many others. I shook hands with most of these people. I was in awe to see somebody like Mickey Mantle standing in front of me. It's hard to describe what it was like to see a great man like that.
In my early years of tribal politics I got to met Roger Jourdain, Wendell Chino, and De la Cruz at different times. They were in the twilight of their political careers, and they still had a lot of fight in them. Their political delivery was close to the fire and brimstone preachers you once saw in old movies, but their message wasn't about the lord, it was about Indian sovereignty.
I jumped into the political fires of the Prairie Band politics way back in 1986 and continued until 2010. You have to have a very thick skin to handle politics, rest assured they're not lying to you. It seems like the personal attacks start when you enter the door and don't stop even after you have left the door. One of the great sayings of a politician came from Woody Guthrie, he said, "I'm going to stick around to see what the hell happens next."
During the early years of my journey, I finished the unexpired term of chairman after the position opened itself up to me. In less than two weeks, I was on my way to Washington, D.C. for a Tribal Leaders Summit at the White House, so many leaders in one place. The newspapers said it was the first time a standing president met with the Indian tribes since James Monroe did so in 1822. That day we all rode a bus to the White House, from the hotel we took a tour. We were escorted to a large tent in the Rose Garden, which is located on the South side of the White House, and were seated in sections.
After about an hour of waiting, President Bill Clinton, his wife Hillary and Vice-President Gore and his wife came out to sit on the stage. It truly was a magical moment to see the most powerful man walking out there to see Indian leaders. The MC announced the agenda. It started with Chairman Wallace Coffey, in his tribal regalia complete with a war bonnet, singing an honor song. It was so impressive to see Coffey sing that song. I felt so proud to be an Indian and to be a part of that event. After this, several speakers spoke about Indian issues and then President Clinton addressed the crowd.
After the speech, he shook hands with all 322 tribal leaders. Some of the tribal leaders had on their tribal regalia and others had on business suits. I was in the latter group and could kick myself for not wearing our tribal gear. Well, anyway, I stood in the line waiting to shake hands with the Preident and thought, "Oh, he's going to get tired of standing there and leave," but he didn't. I got closer and could see the secret service personnel around him. One guy looked like a man you wouldn't dare mess with. He had that no-nonsense look about him - a cold, hard look in his eyes that reminded me of the shark in "Jaws."
I finally made it to the front of the line and could only mutter, "I'm honored to meet you, Mr. President," and shook hands with the President of the United States and just like that, it was over. I know the old leaders in the 1800's met the president before, but up to that point I was the only Potawatomi leader in modern times to shake hands with a president. So this experience was similar of the accidental fame of a guy named Forrest Gump.
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